When A Friend Asks For Help, Respond. Is The Mississippi River Your Friend?

John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company. Photo by DELTA BOHEMIAN

John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company on the Mississippi River at sunrise. Photo by DELTA BOHEMIAN

By Magical Madge

(Clarksdale, Mississippi) VIDEOS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE POST

I had just emailed John Ruskey an apology for neglecting to do something today I had promised although I knew he would understand. Still. When a friend asks for something, I want to respond. It disappointed me that I couldn’t, didn’t remember to do this one small thing that would have really helped him out.

So, there I sat, feeling all funky about it when the door to the Delta Bohemian® Gift Shop opened, after dark, and in he walked with an outstretched hand and an open and lively spirit. “Hello, Madge. It’s Big Muddy Mike!”  I have heard John speak of him often over the years.

Mike Clark canoeist and owner of Big Muddy Adventures. Photo courtesy of Mike Clark

Mike Clark canoeist and owner of Big Muddy Adventures. Photo courtesy of Mike Clark

My conversation with this man so full of vitality and gratefulness pulled me out of my funk and got me back on track, a track I have been wanting to get on all week…a track that has the words Big Island in it.

Big Muddy Mike of Big Muddy Adventures and John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company are about to embark on yet another spectacular, promising, unusual, educational and fine thing on the Mississippi River. Remember when they traced in their singular canoe the Lewis & Clark Expedition back in 2004, I think, and used satellite phone hookups to classrooms all over the country allowing kids to enjoy a virtual experience with them? I do.

They have taken many trips together since then. However, Monday, February 18, 2013, the two are going to embark on a circumnavigation of a big island. The trip is going to take them 10 days. A team of Mighty Quapaws and some KIPP students will be with them. Other students will experience their virtual adventure from the classroom. It begins in Rosedale but will end with the first documented circumnavigation of Big Island in the history of its existence.

WHY? They love our mysterious lady, The Mississippi River, and are patiently raising our awareness of her majestic beauty while letting us know that she needs our help. Will you be a Friend of the Mississippi and help fund this project?

It’s simple. 4 explorers. 3 rivers. 2 schools. 1 big island. A Learning Adventure for St. Ann School (St. Louis) and KIPP Delta Public Schools (Helena, Arkansas).

The vivid descriptions John Ruskey paints of this upcoming experience are spectacular to say the very least.

Here is an excerpt: “The explorers will next paddle up the great Arkansas River 43 miles, around several dozen giant river meanders in the fashion of Lewis & Clark. This portion will involve very difficult upstream paddling, poling and cordelling (the French word for pulling a boat with a long rope). At Base Camp #2 the adventure duo will continue research and documentation in the dark heart of the deepest woods of Big Island. Finding sign of the reclusive Louisiana Black Bear will be one of the tasks at hand, as well as conducting a bird and amphibian count. The team will be collecting pallid sturgeon data for US Fish & Wildlife as well as participating in the annual bird count for the National Audubon Society. The next challenge will be to locate a suitable back channel oxbow or wetlands to cross over and reach the White River. A route will have to be scouted through the briars, snake-infested woods and alligator swamps. The explorers will then manually portage all of their gear and canoes from the Arkansas River to the White River, a process that might require one long dirty day.”

You can help by making a donation to the newly formed 501(c)3 non-profit, the Lower Mississippi River Foundation, which is presenting this expedition. See below for levels of Sponsorship. It’s not too late.

A UNIQUE SIDE STORY TO THE MAIN STORY….you won’t want to miss.

Big Muddy Mike told me about the day he first met John Ruskey. It was November 3, 2001. They met in the middle of the Mississippi River.

Mike, a veteran of the river and a virtual teacher, was paddling down the Mississippi in a canoe with some friends and had entered into the waters skirting along our state. It was remote. He had started his trip way up North and had yet to encounter another paddler. He didn’t expect to.

There he was in a secluded part of the river, near Island 68 or 69, when he saw from afar what looked to be a canoe with a lone man, docked on the island. What a shocker.

He shouted to the man, “Hey! We are lookin’ for Quapaw Landing. You know where that is?”

The man simply pointed up river. Damn. Up stream.

Mike decided to paddle in a bit closer.

“Hey. You ever heard of a fella named John Ruskey?”

With a simple tip of his wide brim hat the man indicated yes.

Mike decided to come ashore.

With the same open and generous spirit that Big Muddy Mike showed me today as he came into my shop, the man approached Mike with an outstretched hand and said, “I’m John Ruskey.”

Thus began a friendship that has become much more than that. These two are brothers in the deepest sense of the word–Big Muddy Mike and Driftwood Johnnie. Since that day in 2001, they have logged over 10,000 miles together on the river. Any words I would write about all they have done would not do justice to their gift to us and to the river.

When John and Mike are on the river together, often for miles and miles and days and days, they have learned how to be married to the river and how to get along. Their sense of time becomes the river’s and they let the blessings from God flow over and by and through them as they paddle along.

Mike told me about a 90-day period when the two of them paddled in temperatures which never got above 32º. He recalled pulling their canoe in to a small river city in Montana and while walking into the town they could see flashing on a bank sign thermometer -4º. They had no idea.

Sunrise on the Mississippi River. Photo by The Delta Bohemian

Young & Free writer Corinne Vance at sunrise on the Mississippi River. Photo by The Delta Bohemian

Will you help them raise money for this Mississippi River Learning Adventure?

Participation level:

____Corporate Sponsorship $2500

____School Sponsorship $1000 (Sponsor one of the schools involved)

____Individual Sponsorship $500 (Sponsor one of the classrooms involved)

____Business Sponsorship $250

____Private Individual $100

____ Other: $__________

 “Thank you! Any donation will help bring our kids to the river — and the river to our kids. Leave no child on shore!” – John Ruskey and Mike Clark

The Lower Mississippi River Foundation
291 Sunflower Avenue
Clarksdale, MS 38614
john @island63.com
662-902-7841

IMPORTANT: Tomorrow, Saturday, February 16, 2013 at 2pm on the bank and the bluff of the Sunflower River and right across the street from the Delta Bohemian Gift Shop, Friends of the Sunflower River will gather to give thanks. We may share a story or two together. We may discuss the future. We will be sitting in the cave underneath Quapaw Canoe Company amongst many treasures John has gathered from his days on the river. If you have never been to this special place, I hope you will drop by tomorrow. Everyone is welcome! I  also pray you will come with a donation, whether big or small, it doesn’t matter, for the Big Island Circumnavigation. Won’t you consider helping out these friends?

Sunflower River in downtown Clarksdale. Photo by The Delta Bohemian

Sunflower River in downtown Clarksdale. Photo by The Delta Bohemian

Mr. Lil John McKee on the Sunflower River. Photo by DELTABOHEMIAN

Mr. Lil John McKee on the Sunflower River. Photo by DELTABOHEMIAN

Poor William helping Magical Madge at the end of their day's journey on the Sunflower River. Photo by Lil John McKee

Poor William helping Magical Madge at the end of their day’s journey on the Sunflower River. Photo by Lil John McKee

In the thick of the Blizzard from the 2nd Street Sunflower River Bridge in Clarksdale, MS in the heart of the Mississippi Delta

In the thick of the Blizzard from the 2nd Street Sunflower River Bridge in Clarksdale, MS in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. Photo by John Ruskey

The Sunflower River in Coahoma County near Clarksdale, MS. Photo by The Delta Bohemian

The Sunflower River in Coahoma County near Clarksdale, MS. Photo by The Delta Bohemian

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