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Lower Mississippi River Dispatch No 414

Earth's Eye: the Depth of our own Nature

Wednesday, July 12, 2017 ~ Clarksdale, Miss ~ Helena, AR

On the Day of Henry David Thoreau’s 200th

A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature.
It is earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.
(Henry David Thoreau)

In honor of Thoreau’s 200th bicentennial, I asked several friends and acquaintances a couple of questions, their responses below. (Note: I will publish others in next dispatch if you feel like contributing!)

1) What would be your recommended Henry David Thoreau read?


2) what you will be doing, if anything, in celebration?

For me:

1) I would have to recommend Walden — for the wonderful intermixing realities between the pond and the sky, between motions in the water and the motions of the universe; Walden turned my world around when I first read it in High School, and opened my eyes to something I had always seen, but never had been able to put words to.

2) And for celebration I am going to initiate a long fast. This fast will be a way of opening the spirit — and simultaneously a protest of the US withdrawal from the Paris Accord.

Ben Price:

It's been a while since I read Thoreau, but of his books I'd suggest "In the Maine Woods." It takes readers back in time -- but not far enough -- to when settlers pushed native Americans onto river islands to live, claiming the rest for themselves. Thoreau was the precursor of many writers from the settler population who wanted to reconnect with nature. In my view we need to do more than that. I think we need to become re-indigenous: connected to the Earth and to all life in ways that have been taken from us by the genocide of ancestral knowledge, the materialism that continues to kill the living world to make dead things to buy and distract our souls into believing existence is an entertainment and our purpose is to be amused.

I'll be working toward framing my manuscript about part of this situation and why we're in the mess we're in. And I'll keep working to help communities claim the rights of nature as a baby step toward reclaiming the primacy of the living world.

(Ben Price is the National Organizing Director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund,, which is dedicated to developing constitutional rights for natural places like rivers and mountains)

Libby & Paul Hartfield

We're observing Thoreau's 200th birthday by going on the river! Plan to meditate on the big muddy and check on the humble little fresh water shrimp-part of the assemblage of invertebrates forming the base of the food chain on which the bigger creatures depend.

The Tennessee Aquarium wants a research colony of freshwater shrimp to raise there at the aquarium. They will attempt to take the shrimp through their complete life cycle, as they study these secretive little animals.

Libby Hartfield was the Director of the Mississippi Natural Science Museum (1978 to 2016) and hosts "Creature Comforts" Thursday mornings at nine on Mississippi Public Broadcasting’s Think Radio. Her husband Paul is an endangered species biologist and visionary river rat.

Chris Battaglia:

1) I recommend Walden because I’ve read it the most, and thus gleaned the most lessons and insight from its pages. But right now, in the spirit of American conservation, I recommend The Maine Woods, most notably “Ktaadn,” as the Katahdin Woods and Water National Monument is under review for its designation as a national monument. Many of us have written to local government to quash this! So this is very timely, especially for those who don’t know much about Maine or the beautiful peak itself.

2) I am going to try to go to at least one event in Concord, as the Thoreau Society is hosting a week of activity and events to celebrate the Bicentennial! I am too close not to take a drive for 2 hours to get to his birthplace and attend a reading or a walk in the woods.

Film-maker Chris Battaglia designed his business around Thoreau’s basic tenants of Shelter, Clothing, Food, and Fuel, and is making a documentary about the Rivergator: Paddler's Guide to the Lower Mississippi River. Go to

Thomas Jackson

I would first of all recommend Walden as the first book to read both for the beauty and gracefulness of the sentence structure, particularly his balanced sentences, and for the startling freshness of his ideas, but also because it is one of the most important books ever written by an American writer. I have continued read this book again every two or three years as a mental tonic. His work continues to influence writers today. For sheer fun, his Cape Cod provides great pleasure too.

I will celebrate on my tractor by discing 48 tons of cow manure into one of my organic fields in preparation for fall planting of alliums and cover crops. Despite the tractor noise, I find great inner focus out in the center of the field from where I can see the birds, deer, and other wildlife here on Jackson Farm and meditate on the teeming life beneath me in the soil.

I expect you feel the same way on that great, living river of yours. We all march to our own drummer.

Tom is an old hippy who finally found his home, after 50 years of a mostly academic life, right where he started, on his family farm where his Scots and Irish ancestors began living on the land during Jefferson's presidency, not long before Thoreau was born.

Carol Andersen

I am conflicted about Thoreau (this makes me wonder…actually, readers’ defense of Thoreau are a great read, too! And also this about a book entitled, “Dark Thoreau” by Walter Bridgman), but I am definitely up for a HDT200 challenge. So, I don’t have a recommended Thoreau text, but I’ll pledge to read “Cape Cod” and to read from Walden to my girls during an upcoming trip to my home farm in Iowa.

Carol Andersen is the deputy director of the Mississippi Humanities Council

Boyce Upholt:

1) My favorite is "Walking," but I've been reading bits from his journals lately, and they're very illuminating and inspiring.

2) I wasn't actually aware of the anniversary until you notified me! But I will be getting out on the river with Layne on Wednesday, I think, while I'm visiting Vicksburg for a story. Thoreau has always been a reminder to me to get out and take advantage of the wildness that is close at hand.

Writer/Editor Boyce Upholt is the creator of “Between the Levees,”

Donovan Hohn

Good question. I think I may have celebrated a bit early by writing that piece for The New Republic back in 2015. (Everybody Hates Henry) It’s been nice to see other writers celebrating his career in recent weeks.

I suppose for HDT's birthday I’d be inclined to reread the “Spring" chapter of Walden, with its vision of never-ending creation, and then, also, his late essay “Walking.” I won’t be fasting this week, but I think maybe a long, commemorative walk would be in order.

And then back to my writing desk.

Donovan Hohn is the author of Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea & of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists & Fools Including the Author Who Went in Search of Them.

Kevin Smith

Indeed this is an important occasion for a man as relevant today as Henry David Thoreau -- someone so ahead of his time that we could rightly call him a prophet. This is even more so when one contemplates the global suicide of our planet that so many of our brethren today seem so self-righteously determined to ignore.

I think I will read "Civil Disobedience" -- more significant today than ever and a work that inspired the likes of Gandhi and MLK among so many others. It appears that we are in another time when government and our leaders are so dysfunctional in the United States that only the work of local governments, businesses that realize the significance of climate change and are not waiting on government, and people who live the spirit of Thoreau, to act with all due haste to prevent the destruction of the planet upon which all life depends, but especially our own.

However, this is by far my favorite Thoreau quote, and in my top five all time ever quotes from anyone:

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of things."

- Walden Pond, or Life in the Woods.

It should be mandatory reading and memorized by every young person before allowed to have a graduation certificate of any kind. Long before the self-help gurus and "The Secret" New Age guides to living your dream, this man gets it.

Finally, I think I will donate to the Catholic Climate Movement in his honor. That will be my challenge to others as well and here is where they can go and -- in Thoreau's spirit -- take action immediately: They are doing great work. I will also pledge to see Al Gore's new movie coming out and to take someone with me.

5-term Arkansas Senator Kevin Smith runs Smith Insurance in Helena, AR, and is President of the Lower Mississippi River Foundation.

Jay Schoenberger

Hi John - great to hear from you! I like this idea a lot. I particularly like The Maine Woods. In celebration I'm going to be doing some hiking in the White River National Forest near Aspen. Not a bad spot to appreciate America's protected places. Hope you are well.

Jay Schoenberger is creator of I AM COYOTE: Readings for the Wild (, a collection of wilderness writings for outdoors lovers.


As for Thoreau, I just have the usual thoughts and reads. I will tell you that in this time of rasslin' with the Devil on Heart Attack and Vine, I have been noticing the natural beauties dazzling before me. I do believe that the desert is trying to tell me something about toughness and tenderness... and life. It's also 115 here so everything is "qualified" by the intense heat. What I hope for the earth is what I hope for my wife: a recommitment to healing something beautiful and extraordinary.

Anonymous is a visionary educator and deep-hearted philanthropist

Tony Long

1. My recommended HDT read? - 'Civil Disobedience', 1849. Why? To better understand and appreciate the context for this short extract which is almost perfectly prescient for our political situation today:

"But, to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves non-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government. Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step towards obtaining it."

2. What will you be doing, if anything, in celebration?

I am not a citizen of the USA so I have no way of taking direct actions through the political systems there. But I am a citizen of Belgium and of Europe where I live currently. I pledge to take direct action in Europe to say what kind of government in the United States "will command my respect." I shall write personally to every US Ambassador in every European country expressing my outrage at the Trump administration's withdrawal from the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change and ask them to exert their influence and authority to reverse that unilateral, hostile and deeply de-stabilising decision.

My big, big thanks and blessings to you for opening these big, big doors of perception, reflection and action… Tony

(p.s. incidentally, from Wikipedia........

"Thoreau was an early advocate of recreational hiking and canoeing, of conserving natural resources on private land, and of preserving wilderness as public land. He was himself a highly skilled canoeist; Nathaniel Hawthorne, after a ride with him, noted that "Mr. Thoreau managed the boat so perfectly, either with two paddles or with one, that it seemed instinct with his own will, and to require no physical effort to guide it." [63]

Tony Long is a Brit living in Belgium, a passionate bicyclist (pedal for peace), pro-European seasoned traveller and life-long environmental campaigner and political activist.

Erickson Blakney

Solitude (fr Walden) And Civil Disobedience… I am going to commit to reading Proverbs...and something else -- not sure what that will be yet perhaps the Greeks. Proverbs I always start but never finish and it is such a wonderful and powerful roadmap for being. In celebration, I'm going to commit to do more reading!

Erickson Blakney is a journalist, film-maker and founding board member of the Lower Mississippi River Foundation.

Michael Orr

I don't think I am well-versed enough in Thoreau to offer a recommendation but I will take your email and the bicentennial as inspiration to read something new as well, perhaps Life Without Principles.

I wish you luck on the fast, an admirable endeavor. There seems to be much to protest with this new administration. I hope we, as a country, find a way to move forward, together, somehow.

The unfortunate state of our communities in 2017 seem poignant:

Reserve, LA

St James, LA

St Gabriel, LA

Michael Orr is a leader in the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, and the Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper Program.

Vance Martin

#1 is easy .. Walking....."I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and for wildness…"

#2 is less easy because I am unsure what we will do organizationally...but personally I am taking a little bit more time in Nature this summer than I usually do (which is an easy thing to do, given my lack of vacation days in my life). I'll be in Yellowstone ;late this week, and then in the Canadian Maritimes (specifically Newfoundland) in late August.

Vance Martin is the President of The WILD Foundation and International Director of the World Wilderness Congress (since 1983), and has has served on the board of directors of numerous other organizations including the Cheetah Conservation Fund (President for 10 years).

David Hanson

1) I haven't read much of him since college literature courses, so I'm not an expert by any means. But I do like "Ktaadn" and I just spent a long day climbing one of my favorite peaks, the Olympics' Mt Brothers, with a few friends (businessmen, similar to Thoreau's buddies in Ktaadn).

2) Now that you mention it, for Thoreau's birthday I will try to find a quiet, dark place to throw down my Paco pad for the night. I am currently filming a small project about food bank breakfast programs for kids and I'll be traveling from Seattle to eastern WA tomorrow night. I have my pad and sleeping bag from the Mt Brothers trip so I plan to find somewhere en route where I can look at the night sky.

Good luck on your fast. Great idea and more power to you.

David Hanson is dedicated to exploring wild landscapes and the people connected to them as film-maker, photographer and writer.

Rebekah Pickard

Thanks so much for including me in your thoughts, John. What springs immediately to mind in these dark times is Thoreau’s blistering essay in defense of John Brown after his heroic raid on Harper’s Ferry in an attempt to arm slaves for rebellion. Brown was vilified by the press, many prominent Americans and ultimately the justice system, which condemned him to hanging. Thoreau delivered the essay as a speech in Concord, Massachusetts and several other places before Brown’s execution. It is one of the greatest appeals for justice in American letters, in that it questions the very meaning of justice when the State is sponsoring injustice. Thoreau believed that Brown was acting out of acute moral conviction that slavery was a violation of the U.S. Constitution. I’ve included two links: the first is the text of the essay, the second a brief wikipedia article that gives context and synopsis. There is so much I love about this essay, I don’t know where to begin. Essentially it forces every open-hearted reader to examine his or her own conscience, to ask the toughest questions about what it means to be a citizen in a democratic country where we are morally responsible for the fate of our fellow citizens as well as for harm done in the name of our country.

For me, the gift here is that you’ve reminded me of Thoreau’s 200th, which hasn’t been on my radar, and I’m terribly grateful. So I’ll be celebrating by re-reading this essay that is so relevant to what all concerned Americans are facing right now, and by returning also to Thoreau’s journals, a book I keep out on my table as a resource for nature writing. Thoreau was a wonderful naturalist and wrote so beautifully about his observations. He always inspires me to look more closely and think more deeply. I also love that he was a difficult personality. It helps me accept my own frailties when great people have their share of them too.

The U.S. breach of the Paris Accord left me devastated, as it did for so many Americans. Thoreau’s plea for John Brown feels perilously close and intimate to me now, as I think about what kind of sacrifices are appropriate for what I believe in. I’ve been searching for ways to respond to the destructive aspects of the Trump administration, even as I see him as primarily a symptom of deep divisions in the country that have been created by money-hungry people on all sides of the political spectrum. I hate the polarization, I want to find ways for people to understand each other’s points of view. I’d like to be a part of facilitating that wherever I can.

I’ll be thinking of you in your fast as you open your spirit in search of wisdom, and protest the despoliation of the earth.

Fiction writer Rebekah Pickard is currently working on a novel with the working title of I Am My Brother’s River, the story of two brothers growing up together in rural Missouri in the 1920s.

Dear River-rat readers: Do you have responses to the above questions? It is not to late to share! If inspired, I’d love to hear your thoughts about Thoreau’s 200th, and share in the next Dispatch.

Also — Next week I intend to write more about my fast (if I have the strength).

Big River Blessings,


Repel the Repeal

Speaking of action, you can help us Repel the Repeal!

Dear River Citizens,

The latest attack on clean water and our tributary streams and wetlands is underway. Your support is needed now.

Polluters and other opponents are pushing repeal of the 2015 Clean Water Rule as part of a huge assault on basic protections for clean water, including the Clean Water Act. They even are demanding that the federal government be required to ignore the economic benefits provided by wetlands.

Unfortunately, US EPA Chief Scott Pruitt has listened to polluters not the public and started the repeal process. Act now to repel that repeal.

Repeal is a massive waste of time and taxpayer money that will put the drinking water of 1 in 3 of us at risk while a much weaker rule is proposed.

Brooke Thurau
1 Mississippi Campaign Manager
Mississippi River Network

The Mississippi River Network is a coalition managed by Bluestem Communications,
a leader in building creative
public communications campaigns to protect North America's
most precious land and water resources since 1995.

Solar Eclipse of the Century — on the Mississippi River!

Solar Eclipse on the Big River Sunday Aug 20th - Tuesday Aug 22nd. View the Total Solar Eclipse August 21st from the middle of the mighty Mississippi River! We will paddle to remote Mississippi River island and set up an eclipse-viewing camp to observe this incredible phenomena from the perspective of the biggest river in North America. 3 days/2 nights. Rain or Shine. (Note: the effects of the eclipse will be seen and felt regardless of sky cover. In cloudy weather it will become even darker.) Contact John Ruskey,, to reserve your seat in the big canoe, or for more information.

Other Upcoming Events:

Aug 18: Rivergator Celebration Exhibition: On Friday, August 18th we will be celebrating the Rivergator with paintings, photos, writing, film, music, food and drinks! Starts 6pm at Catalpa House in Clarksdale, Miss. 6-9pm. Featuring paintings by John Ruskey, writing by Boyce Upholt, photos & film by Chris Battaglia, and adventure stories from John and LaNae Abnet. Music TBA. Catalpa House is located at the corner of Riverside & Catalpa (110 Catalpa Street — across the Sunflower River from downtown Clarksdale). For more information contact John Ruskey,, Lena Von Machui,, or Mark River

Aug 19th: Quapaw Canoe Company's annual Canoe, Kayak & SUP Safety Workshop -- in the Helena Harbor 12noon to 5pm. Meet 11am at Quapaw Helena headquarters 107 Perry St in downtown Helena, last building on levee headed to river. Open to public, $50/person for one-on-one instruction in what to do when your vessel flips over in the big river. Other topics covered include navigation, big river protocol, and emergency medical considerations.


Rivergator Update: We are on company vacation for the next 3 weeks. I am going to fast, and one of my goals is to complete the story. It has been surprisingly difficult to get this settled in my mind.... what happened? ...and even more tricky: why? In addition we had to jump back into a very-busy Spring/Summer season of guiding & outfitting on the Lower Mississippi River, and leave the story behind for a minute. At Quapaw Canoe Company guiding & outfitting is our bread and butter — the activity that keeps us alive and enables us to engage in community-based projects like the Rivergator and our all of our youth training and outdoor education. When you go on a trip with Quapaw you help us out with our strong ethic of community service. This year has been especially tough for us. We have dedicated all of our resources and energies to completing the Rivergator and are returning to find our business suffering from neglect and inattention. In addition, several major European expeditions have cancelled on us — due to what they described as the “unfriendly political climate in America” — partly due to travel restrictions, and partly due to our pullout from the Paris Climate Accord. This is alarming for us. A significant portion of our clientele comes from oversees. Besides the rejuvenation of the spirit that always comes with fasting, I will be making my fast as a protest of this bad decision, unfair to everyone else in the world. If nothing else, we at Quapaw are team players. We are all in this canoe together!


You can however, read Boyce Upholt’s description in Canoe & Kayak Magazine, beautifully illustrated with Magique's (Chris Battaglia’s) photos.

Beyond the Levees: the Crew reaches the end of their journey down the Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

May 30, 2017 by Boyce Upholt, photos by Chris Battaglia


Nov 1-Nov 10: Continuation of the Rivergator Expedition: We will return to Bonne Carre Spillway in early November and resume the expedition to the Gulf of Mexico. More details forthcoming, but dates are approx Wed, Nov 1 to Fri Nov 10th, weather dependent of course.


Next Week in Maine!

July 20th - Inaugural Talk & Adventure Presentation Series

Portland Gear Hub

85 Anderson St, Portland, ME 04101

What: Presentation and story-sharing from the Rivergator Celebratory Expedition. Focus on gearing up for the expedition, lessons learned about the basics of Shelter, Clothing, Food, and Fuel, and “where do we go from here?”

Where: Portland Gear Hub’s new Bike School location, 85 Anderson St, Portland, ME. Portland Gear hub is a non-profit bike and outdoor gear shop powered by Camp Ketcha. The Bike School is a dedicated program and class space.

For more info please go to

July 24th - A Mississippi River Pop-Up Dinner

FORK Food Lab

72 Parris St, Portland, ME 04101

What: Pop-up dinner celebrating the stories and flavors of the 2017 Rivergator Celebratory Expedition. Images, video, and words to bring to life the Lower Mississippi River, as seen from a 30’ voyageur canoe between St. Louis and New Orleans. Three course meal - details coming soon.

Where: FORK Food Lab, 72 Parris St, Portland, ME. FORK is a community shared kitchen and tasting room, located in Portland’s West Bayside neighborhood.

When: Monday, July 17th, 2017. 7pm

More: Ticketed event, with tickets being released soon.

For more info please go to


Meet Timothy Winter-Nelson, our summer intern from Carleton College:

If you do anything with us this summer you will meet Timothy Winter-Nelson. Tim is undergoing rigorous hands-on training with Quapaw Canoe Company as part of his higher education. Tim is sharing the experience via an online blog, which you can see at:


Quapaw Canoe Company - Carpenter Art Garden took 1st and 2nd place at the

Outdoors Inc Canoe & Kayak Race

Photos and Story in Commercial Appeal:

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