We are ending. This trip is nearly a destination. The we that we’ve been for 68 days is almost you’s and I’s. There is something pleasant and exhausting about being a we. Personally, and I’d say this likely goes for everyone, I’m ready to just be a me again.
I’ve been filming the exit interviews, or the sterniviews, as I call them because I film the sterner from the duff seat in the middle of the boat. This is an intentional choice. We’re most comfortable there. All we do is paddle and talk, or maybe paddle and not talk. The camera is less invasive when we are in our element, surrounded by the river, all the familiar sounds. We move to our own rhythms, each person’s paddle stroke being as unique as their being. The conversation flows like the current, faster around our outer edges, and more gently as we move inwards.
Though each interview takes its own meanders and bends, the words overlap and compound- we speak about the same things. And only I have had the privilege of hearing these trends. And it is a privilege.
Standing on the levee in Natchez, looking down at the scope of the river, I felt a similar coherence. The eddies gave way to smooth water, the waves smaller from up above. Likewise, each person on our trip has had different struggles, a different journey, but we also tell the same story.
We recently met a few other river travellers, with stories of their own. The Strayers, four Canadians from Montreal, canoed the Illinois River to the Mississippi. We met them the morning we left Vicksburg. They’ve been on the water roughly the same number of days as we have, yet they’ve done half the mileage. They call us Fast Forward. What have their days been filled with? Floating, reading, making elaborate breakfasts. Mmm!
On the same day, we also met the infamous Marsh Barge, a couple of band mates headed south. They began almost a month before us, lost three members to other interests, tossed their canoe, and were gifted a sailboat. Was I jealous? Absolutely.
All three of our groups converged in Natchez, and at Under the Hill bar, we discussed the finer points of river travel. We talked about Lake Winibigoshish, the frigid October snow day, and the Artic Blast, our duff day, when winds were gusting up around 40 mph. We talked about the places we’d stopped and the places we hadn’t. Some of us were still wearing our City Museum wristbands from St. Louis, and again, the consistency of the river echoed through our conversation. Different trips, yes, but the same trip too.
There is something about water that promotes interconnectivity. For example, a few nights ago, we stayed with some hunters near Cat Island, Louisiana. Not only did they open their camp to us, but they also opened up themselves. And how refreshing. So much of our world, the real world, is about barriers and boundaries, about keeping others out, but Dennis welcomed us right in. Leroy made us coffee in the morning, Charlie made us sausage. Small acts, big actions.
Throughout this trip, I’ve noticed it is the small gestures that are the most starkly contrasted with my life in Minneapolis. It’s not that people are unkind, but we, myself included, aren’t necessarily intentionally kind either. The river is a great place for breaking that habit, for shameless sharing. Be that between two people in a tandem canoe, an odd amalgamation of travellers in a dive bar, or around a campfire with compassionate strangers. Go to the water. Go and listen. Go and share. Go and find your we.