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  • Writer's pictureRoberta Rathert

Turkey River.

It was eight when I pulled the kayak off my small island beach all loaded after a protein bar, applesauce, and water for breakfast. The river surface was glassy and slick looking fun to slide across in sock feet. Only one old fisherman was in a quiet cove, his boat a cared-for sixties model Lund, maybe his first and last boat ever.  He nodded, I waved.

I made my way across the Turkey River confluence knowing it rises from a spring two miles from my birthplace. I remember my dad standing on the low-head dam there at the spring-fed lake we called Vernon Springs. He was likely hoping for walleye or bass, yet the Turkey River is also well-known for rainbow and brown trout. I’ve thought often how he would love this river trip whether joining me or observing from home. My vision of him fishing and always outdoors is the same all the time, maybe because I was a child when he died. This little river runs 153 miles from where he stood before it pours into the Mississippi a quarter mile from my small island camp. Maybe why it rang home to me.

After the Turkey and Mississippi Rivers joined, I paddled through Cassville, a linear town running parallel to the river, protected by levees, and without a bridge to cross. Even though the Cassville Ferry was built, it's clear the people did not spread to the other side. One side is all town and the other all wild.

To the south, I took Picayune Chute to edge around Sweezy Island to avoid the main channel. A barge was a quarter mile behind me already and I couldn't manage that traffic all day. Picayune was a muddy slough, quiet and calm compared to the channel opposite the island. Along Picayune, I witnessed five bank swallows attacking an eagle without any let-up. The eagle put up his left wing then ducked as they came at him. He pressed his wing hard in the air but they just came around the back. The eagle pushed one foot at the birds while clutching a large fish in the other, refusing to abandon it until he was so off-balance, he ran across the rocks and flew off, the swallows still chasing. I looked at the fish laying on the rock feeling sorry he lost it there. No one was going to eat it now. 

There were a couple kingfishers fighting over fish after one emerged from the water. It looked as if it just stepped out of the shower, its head feathers soaked and dripping. The dry one was waiting to swipe the food without working for it. I passed by it before that fight was resolved. It's curious how much conflict humans make together. We go to the wild for peace but find the animals at it, too!

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