I find peace on the water. There is a stillness in my soul as I slice a paddle through the smooth glassy surface of the water. My spirit is tranquil even when the river is turbulent. I see the reflection of the trees and the sky and imagine that dipping my head below the surface will take me to that inverted universe, like Alice through the looking glass. She and I both know that things are not always what they seem.
Old Man River, the Mighty Mississip, the river of southern folklore and the scene of ageless adventure stories. Alice and I, we believe in possibilities. We can include Mr. Clemens in our collective of believers. How else would Huck have found his way onto that muddy stream? And there are current believers, those who see the inverted universe too, those who know that adventure and excitement as well as peace and tranquility lie just around the bend. The folks at Quapaw Canoe Company are on a mission to share the love of the big river with the world from right here in our own backyard out of the port at Helena, Arkansas.
Tranquility was not what I felt as I watched Kellee Mayfield, the Delta Moxie, appear on the stairs of the lovely Edwardian Inn with her hippopotamus swim ring around her slim waist. Giddiness would be a more appropriate description of the mood. She was decked out in skinny camo pants and mud-boots, ready for the water but she knows that safety and photo ops come first. Hence the hippo.
A group of eight women from the Arkansas Women Bloggers group were about to embark upon an excursion with the Quapaw Canoe Company. I seriously doubt these water guides knew what they were in for. We climbed aboard two canoes, one group behind river guide John Ruskey and my group in behind our new friend Chris, AKA Wolfie. Poor Wolfie would find little peace with this giggling, singing group of women either. As we chattered about our own paddling experiences, I realized I might be the only one in the vessel, besides the guides, that had spent much time paddling. I should not have been surprised that all the women but myself opted to walk instead of paddle when met with the option of continuing on foot down the beach to our dining spot after stopping for a firewood search.
As we paddled into the sunset, I was expecting to find my peace without the singing and laughter, I was met instead with curiosity about these young men playing the role of pilot and rudder for me. What drew them to the river? It seems a wind was blowing Wolfie back to his southern home after years in the northeast pursuing a love of writing and art. It was meant to be a detour but the river chose him and was holding onto him for just a while longer than he expected. Our rudder, a quiet but obviously strong armed young man called OJ, was a local boy who had gone to the Outdoor Leadership School to feed his love of the outdoors. The siren call of the mighty river does not discriminate. Her disciples are an assemblage of students, teachers, adventurers, buccaneers, gamblers, scholars, crafstmen and lovers.
The moon rose while we set up tables, made a circle of our camp chairs and started a crackling fire. As we sat by the campfire enjoying a lovely dinner with our guides, Canadian expatriate and poet blogger Kyran Pittman of Planting Dandelions was reminiscing a childhood fascination of the the south and the big muddy river. To a kid growing up in Canada, the Mississippi River really was a literary legend. And in the quiet of the crackling fire and the gentle waves lapping at the sand of Buck Island, she said “I’ve got to come back and bring my boys to do this.” And I’m certain that she will return to share the experience with her family. I’m certain because I watched her become quiet and still, enjoying the moonlight, envisioning the adventures her boys could have on the big river and its islands. Adventures like the ones she’d read about and lived in her own imagination.
If you would like to go on a river excursion of your own, you’ll find information on the company website. Quapaw Canoe Company will rent equipment or take you on a guided trip. Want to make a vacation of it? There are options on the website from day trips to multiday excursions as well as a tip on cycling before or after your water expedition :
“You can pedal from our outpost directly onto the levee and then follow the levee north to the beautiful St. Francis National Forest, where miles of dirt roads and the deep forests of Crowley’s Ridge await your exploration.”
Looking for a custom trip or hoping for some assistance while on your own journey? Give them a call. Looking for hands on experience? Check out the Red Cedar Dugout workshop.
I had a great time on my short canoe ride with the girls but if I had my way, I would have been doing this with them.
For more information about the great things Quapaw Canoe Company is doing besides guiding chatty bloggers out on the muddy water, please check them out at Canoe and Kayak Magazine.
They recently completed three week long trips along the Lower Mississippi River Trail. River Gator is a guide for folks wishing to paddle the 1100 miles between St. Louis and the Gulf of Mexico. Sounds like a bucket list trip to me, how bout you?
This trip was sponsored by the Helena Advertising and Promotion Commission. All opinions expressed here are my own.