Old Man River

It was always part of life in a River town. There was a time
when he cursed the spring flood season. It disrupted lives, damaged homes & caused great inconveniences’ for everyone.

Once the snow melt began up north it was a matter of time and luck for Folk’s in the River cities up and down the Mississippi. A spring with heavy rains like this one, almost assured it were going to happen again.

Most of his friends and relatives made their livings on the River, or benefitted from it as a byproduct. Crops were irrigated from it; folk’s studied either the Farmer’s almanac or followed closely the channel maps to navigate the barges from here to New Orleans. Either way the river affected them all.

He remembered his Father and how he taught him to carve out a niche as a diesel mechanic on the tug-boats. Guess they all owed their good fortunes to the rise and fall of the river in one way or another. His Father used to say “The River giveth, and taketh away son.” It was as close to scripture he had ever been since.

This life though, it was a damn far cry from the Huckleberry Finn of Mark Twain. It was that damn book that lured him to it. and cemented his fate to actually wanting this life. Yep, Samuel Clements could kiss his ass. Life on the river, were surely easier in those days he speculated.

And that damned Army corps of engineers, they have done more damage to the river with their damn levees and locks. Water has a way of making man’s attempts to control it look foolish on a regular basis. In his lifetime alone he had witnessed at least four so called “Hundred Year Floods.” Judging by the currents and the height of the water this evening, He was certain he were about to witness the fifth. All of this despite the best effort of the Corps of Engineers. Hell they were blowing up levee’s up river and flooding hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland. But he knew, he could see what were to come.

He made his preparations at home, moving the household belongings to a storage unit. He made the boat ready. He would ride this one out downstream; maybe go all the way to New Orleans. It would be just like he did during the flood of 98. It was the first time he needed the Flood waters to cover up his little mess. And he swore if he got away with this one, it would be the last.

As he left the dock in Cairo, he could feel the power of the water, as the twin diesels on the tug strained against the strong currents.
Most of the smaller boat’s and pleasure craft would not be out this late in the day, and with the rapidly rising water level it was likely most barges were moored as well.

The cool spring night and the northern winds whipping off the muddy water made it unpleasant but bearable to have the cabin of the tug open. The smell of diesel fuel still turned his stomach, despite working with it for 40 years. It also helped to mitigate the other terrible odors from the cabin.

The water off the starboard side glistened in the few remaining beams of sunlight. It cast an eerie light on the ever increasing amount of debris now visible in the rushing river water. Flooding upstream had carried tree’s, pieces of lumber, an old tire, and hundreds of other remnants of people’s lives or remains of their waste. It was going to get a lot worse he thought to himself. He was thankful to be out in front of the massive debris soon to follow. He got the old Tug in to the main channel and opened up the twin diesels full bore.

As dusk gave way to nightfall he passed just south of St. Louis.  The river had risen to the steps leading up to the Gateway Arch. He pushed on, the channel wide open with no obstacles thanks to the high water. Summer would make navigating the channel more challenging.
Shallow water exposed sandbars and outcroppings of rocks to be avoided. But in high water it made captaining the tug an easier adventure. The Current speeded his progress.

He saw the bright lights of Memphis on the horizon. He would drop the repaired Tug there and pick up another to deliver to New Orleans. A good payday and the Commodore hotel awaited his arrival.” But first to clean up this little bit of unfinished business.

He turned the tug around, facing the oncoming current. He idled the diesels at 3 knots. The Tug sat in suspended animation as the force
of the current fought the power of man-made diesel engines. The big moon illuminated the deck of the boat as he slid the body from Cairo over the back.
It sank and was carried downstream by the current. “See you in New Orleans in a few days he muttered, with all the other trash.”

As he pulled into the Marina, Bob the deckhand tossed him a
line to tie the Tug up. “How goes it old man river?”

“ You know son, this old River, she giveth and she taketh


~ by onthedarkside on May 6, 2011.

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