Sunday, January 13, 2008

She just keeps rolling

I remember those lyrics every time I'm up on the levee - so simple yet so profound. The constant, dependable nature of the Mississippi is that it is always there, channeling billions of gallons of water from the the Northernmost states to the Gulf of Mexico, providing commerce, transportation and recreation.

On a hike I took near Taos, N.M., a few years ago, the trail ended at the point where the Rio Grande intersects the Red River, which was thrilling, but not nearly so impressive. In fact, the Rio Grande dribbles into a mere stream before meeting the Gulf.

I can compare the Mississippi to the Golden Gate. No matter how many times I crossed that bridge, it was never less amazing - its vivid coloration, expanse and dramatic environs. Sometimes brilliant red in the sun or half-concealed in fog - it always spectacular.

I would say the same of the Mississippi. Though not as flashy, the river can look as placid as a lake or black and stormy, with whitecaps like the ocean, as little red tug boats relentlessly push barges against its current. I notice people experience the river in various ways. Some sit alone on benches, just staring, trying to regain their internal clarity, I suppose. They bring books, newspapers, boom boxes and cigarettes to help in their meditations. Many walk their dogs along the top of the levee, while others settle on blankets, picnicking, waiting for sunset. Very early in the morning, there are usually one or two people who have brought folding bag chairs up to the edge to read the Times-Picayune.

In Audubon Park last summer, I spoke with a 95-year-old man, who was using a walking stick to make the tour. He told me he graduated from Tulane Medical College when it was still on the Uptown campus. (That's a long time ago.) I asked what he had found that day. First off, he said there was little chance of a freeze! Second, he said the water was still flowing downstream.

These are two facts that we can take great comfort in, despite whatever else happens.

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