• Roberta Rathert

Lost and Found. Day 7.


Waters are high, very flooded in some areas. In certain wild locations, the Mississippi River channel is obliterated by flood waters. Forest and pasture lands have become one with the river, turning it into a giant's lake.


Boomerang-shaped ponds constructed on ground along the river, from up north to Louisiana, are called logans or oxbows meant to catch overflow and hold it.


Water is so high now, one thing is no longer differentiated from another. Islands, logans, riverbank, forest - they all look the same. One big sea. Water is moving every which way, crisscrossing currents, flood current weaving with calmer river current. No more oxbows.


Only constant GPS monitoring allowed me to stay within the river channel, keeping my boat moving above submerged banks. Nearly obsessive checking GPS, hovering over the blue ribbon of the river on the screen, paddling, repeat. It was slow and precarious, not too successful. Suddenly, my phone screen went black. My watch screen indicated it was still working, but I could not see it. Whatever the cause, I had no more navigation assist. A friend later suggested an overheated screen. Or maybe God was saying, "Look to me."


All moving water masqueraded as the true river. No dry land in sight for hours. As time passed, I found myself coming around bends I'd been around before. Fallen trees were becoming familiar landmarks although I thought I'd been paddling south for miles.


I feared the worst - I'd have to sleep in my boat, or just keep paddling in the dark, as if that would make this better.


I was so worn but the speed of the water didn't stop just for me. As I headed toward a tree in the middle of a channel, I put my arm out and hugged it. My boat stopped as if I slammed the brakes of a car. There we sat, raging waters around us.


I had prayed for some help long ago. Now, hanging onto a tree, I got rude again, "God, come on, I'm crying OUT!" I felt an idea come over me. Look down. Grasses!


I did look down. There was a large patch of river grass, an elementary lesson for any paddler, "Let the grass point the way." It was pointing behind me. I let go of the tree, paddling in turn-around style to follow the grass. These grasses became my GPS.


No matter wind direction, flood direction, surface speed. Underneath, the natural current of the Mississippi River was flowing like it always does. The grasses continued to point in unison with the flow, turning to true point at every bend. Grasses in flood water only mimics the river, but reveals itself by fluttering every which way. Real Mississippi current grasses point true. I followed the grass for five miles ending up at Swimming Bear camp just before dark, a place 10 feet above the river, big enough for just one. I welcomed the bear, the mosquitos and ticks, any creature could come, but nothing would disturb me now. This dry land was the blessing that follows my every test.


If you dare, look below at the GPS impressions of my hard day.



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