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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

River Tripping

Air Date: Week of October 1, 1999

Commentator Susan Carol Hauser travels by boat down the length of the Mississippi River and finds that, even when standing still, it’s hard not to get swept away by the current.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Commentator Susan Carol Hauser has been spending time in a boat on the water. She lives in northern Minnesota, near the headwaters of the Mississippi, and recently she traveled the great river from St. Paul to the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way she studied nature, met people who live on the river's banks, and even discovered a few things about herself.

HAUSER: Captain Bob swung our boat, a 50-foot trawler, around into the vigorous current of the Mississippi River, and snugged it up to the abandoned barge we would tie up to for the night. The barge itself was moored to the riverbank, and to the floodwall that protects Cape Girardeau, Missouri, from the whims of high water.

I stood at my post on the side walkway of the boat, rope in hand, and readied myself to step over onto the barge, where I would loop the rope around a bollard, holding the boat in place until Bob joined me and secured it with proper knots. We had been on the river for ten days, and I had not once been afraid. Not even when a mad wind came up while we were crossing a four-mile-wide pool above a lock and dam. Or when we bobbled like a cork in the crossing wakes of two towboats passing each other while passing us, each of them pushing acres of barges.

But as I stood poised to step off our undulating boat and onto the undulating barge, I looked down into the space between them. The boat strained against the current. The barge strained to go with the current. The abyss between the two widened and narrowed, widened and narrowed, from two feet to a few inches and back to two feet, as though the river were gasping for breath between the rigid sides of both vessels.

I gasped myself and was afraid. A drop of water on the boat's walkway, or a loose bolt on the warped surface of the barge, could deprive me of my footing and propel me into the water. If I wasn't ground up between boat and barge, I would be sucked into the current and hauled like driftwood away from all that I loved.

Determined to be courageous, to straddle the breach between boat and land, I took one deep breath, then another, which I held as though holding onto life itself, and waited for our boat to kiss, one more time, the cold edge of the barge. And when it did, I stepped firmly from forgiving wood to hard steel, my rope coming with me, which I looped and looped and looped again around the nearest bollard. Then I stepped back, away from the edge, and stood with my feet wide apart, feeling the pull of the river and even the pull of my heart, both yearning toward the delta at the Gulf of Mexico, toward the necessary encounter of fresh water and salt.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Author and commentator Susan Carol Hauser comes to us from KNBJ in Bemidji, Minnesota. It's NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

 

 

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