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  • Margaret Wiseheart Anderson

The Mighty Mississippi

Ever since I learned to spell Mississippi at the speed of light in 1st grade, I didn't give much thought of the river or the state with one exception, my friend who lives there - Hi Ken! (He lives in the state not the river just to clarify)


So, in reminiscing with my sister and friends back from my costume design days for Main Street Theatre in Quakertown PA, I was reminded of the incredible score from the musical Big River; the Adventures of Huckberry Finn. There are 2 camps on this show: A. Go see it B. Don't. So, while yes, certain parts of the play are extremely hard to swallow because of the slavery theme, it's still a literary masterpiece with a story about friendship and dreams. It's a period of time which depicts more than any one story can render, but this captures the essence of this dark period in a richly dramatic and upbeat way. The beautiful and talented people who bring this production to the theatres are why I say Go see it if you can find a summer stock production. Just thinking about it makes me want to see the Mighty Mississippi.

Muddy Water/River in the Rain from the original Broadway cast of Big River.


Heading South on Rte 5 out of Effingham (Effing Brew, Effing Everything, lol) Illinois I had decided that my journey would take me to Memphis. There I would see the Mighty Mississippi for the first time and check it off my bucket list. I couldn't understand why no one ever really talks about going there though. Isn't Beale St cool anymore? Birth of the Blues? I should see it for myself. I have plenty of time tomorrow to get to Arkansas


Cruising along into Missouri, I glanced at my GPS map which showed that the MM does a loop type thing. Wow, I could gamble and try to see it there, or go on to Memphis and save the time before dark. I still have several hours until When the Sun Goes Down in the South.


Heck, I'm going to the loop...in a town called New Madrid. Only a short detour off Rte 5, I arrived to see the Mighty Mississippi in it's grandeur, in all it's BLUE color reflecting the gorgeous BLUE sky, and the little blooms of summer on the shores. Stunning. After not really caring too much my whole life about it, I'm now here. I'm amazed. I, Huckleberry, Me.


Careful! The town -- it's not to be pronounced like the city in Spain. It's New MAH-drid as I was corrected by my new friends and lifetime locals, Jackie and Lila, married since 17.


Ok, so maybe I looked like a kooky tourist with an old school fashion vibe or something...Sperrys, tartan jeff cap, Nikon 3500, crossover baggallini...anyway, they pulled up and welcomed me and said that there was an observation deck on the other side. We had quite a nice chat and I learned so much about this particular place.


As it turns out, New Madrid is the location of a sequence of 3 earthquakes (1811-12) that have the distinction of being the largest in American history, and where the river flowed backwards. Nice to take a gamble on a place with some history, and to get an incredible up-close view of the mighty old gal. I had a deeply meditative moment as I looked out over these waters, which are deep and rich beyond words. It was a moment to sketch. Ah the serenity...


...rumbling of a truck getting louder, louder, "hey, wanna draw a picture of a catfish?".


Ok, what was I supposed to say? "Heck yeah". Truck pulling boat pulls up with about 15 beauties flip flopping around.


So I got the low-down on the catfish in the MM.

  • You can get blue ones that are much smaller but oh so pretty

  • You can get about 15 catfish in an hour on a line (they caught these all while I was there!)

  • There's nothing else you really need to fish out of the river. Catfish is all you need.

I also learned from these two brother fisherfolk, that there are two times a year that the river is at high tide: November and May/June. It rises substantially, over the banks and first tree line -- which is why there are no buildings along the river as in say, the Delaware and New Hope. See it has the name Mighty for a reason.


I've made it a rule to not try to draw moving objects and since most of the catfish were acting still alive, they wouldn't be great plein air subjects. So, I held one up to fake somebody out someday for April Fools Day or something.


Not sure why Ken, the brothers, and Jackie and Lila told me to be really really careful in Memphis. Or don't go. Wow. Nag. Hmm. I'm going. Still have time before sunset.


Memphis has infrastructure issues. The main bridge? Closed. Why? A crack in it like the Liberty Bell. Yep. Oh, but guess what Memphis has? An Effing glass Pyramid with a fish on the front of it. And inside, it's like fake Jurassic park for wealthy fishing families!


So, it is blocking my view, everyone's view of the river because it is so bodacious. Yet, it is part of the skyline where the bridge is broken. I didn't take many pics. I didn't venture out to Beale St that night, opting instead to see what it looked like the next morning. Oh my. It smelled. Need I say anything more?


So, while Memphis might be singing the blues, I saw the blues in the river they said was brown. This is what I like about being an artist. If I want to paint it blue or brown, it's entirely up to me, but it doesn't really matter. It's something different to everyone.

World's Apart


Stay tuned for my next visit to places I've never been before! Seeing these sights as an artist, and in going solo across country, across the Trail of Tears (I'll address in the next segment) brings anticipation for each new sunrise and a new appreciation for what I've always just taken for granted.













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