After The Flood – Driftwood Johnnies Lower Mississippi River Dispatch

Bereaved Fishing Camp with highwater mark halfway up its walls. Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company

Bereaved Fishing Camp with highwater mark halfway up its walls. Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company

By Driftwood Johnnie Ruskey

Congrats to Atchafalya Basinkeeper Dean Wilson who was awarded the 2011 River Heroes Award. For full story CLICK HERE.

 

After the Flood

We’re still drying out here, but seeing the lull at the end of the crest.  Of course, who knows what’s coming behind this wave — Was this the highest wave?  Or is this just the beginning of a long train of waves?  Surfers say big waves come in series of seven, the seventh being the biggest & the strongest. There is a lot of evidence that we’ll be seeing more flooding in association with global warming.  Utram Bibis? Aquam an Undum?  (Which do you drink, the Water or the Wave?)

 

As we emerge from the muddy waters and shake off like a wet dog in the sun, several thousand miles upstream in Montana a similar flood scene is replaying itself across the great valleys of the Upper Missouri and the Yellowstone, the Rockies bulging with up to 2000% of their normal snowpack. See attached report from the Missouri.  We’ll see all this water in another month or so of course, but our huge valley will absorb it, and unless the Ohio is rising simultaneously, we won’t feel much effect.

Last week the river dropped below flood stage (44 in Helena) and the big sandbar islands started demonstrating their resilience in the face of the highest water on the biggest river in North America.

One by one the islands and the highest bluffs of sand have been re-emerging, its kind of like Christmas time around here for us river-rats, its like opening Christmas presents each time an island reappears after having been underwater for over a month and subjected to the power of the biggest river in North America.

When the wind shifted to a steady northerly breeze, I couldn’t stand it any longer, I closed shop, loaded a canoe and my good friend Brother E drove me out to the river — a perfect day for a long run downstream.  I made a thirty mile canoe run and saw an amazing variety of creation — and destruction.

The bad news: a lot of man-made property is gone or severely compromised.  Notably  are the places where once-productive fields have been scoured clean, all of that rich topsoil the Mississippi Delta is famous for swept away and are now probably blown out over the Gulf of Mexico somewhere between the Chandeleur Islands and the Texas Coastline.  You can clearly see how farm nutrients will be leading directly to an algal bloom in the annual Dead Zone.

The good news: the trees are re-leafing and re-flowering and the animals are continuing their life cycles. The willows have an amazing vitality, the cottonwoods following suit — I was surprised to see them setting forth their annual snowstorm of cotton fluff.  There is nothing like the feeling of paddling through a flooded forest shafts of humid sunlight slicing diagonally across the tree trunks and flurries of cottonwood fluff drifting softly in the gentle breeze.  The oaks, sycamores, hackberries and underbrush are slower than their willow & cottonwood friends, but they are displaying the promise of fresh life vibrating under the coat of mud and browned, bruised & blackened branches — with tiny green buds and slowly emerging tender pieces of green leaf.

The first life I found on Island 64 was a beautiful luminescent Green Snake climbing a cottonwood.  Turtle tracks everywhere.  It looks like turtles have made a quick & full recovery.  Later I discovered and then captured a Mississippi Map Turtle.  After documenting his presence with a photograph, I let him return to his suntan session on a newly emerged pristine bluff of yellow-white sand.  Other tracks I discovered: White Tailed Deer, Raccoon and of course lots of birds.  I scared away two Canada Geese, maybe they are nesting here somewhere.  Definitely missing was any sign of wild pigs, coyote and beaver.  I take that back, I saw evidence of one beaver in an area of flooded woods with some beaver-chewed trees.  It will be interesting to see how long it takes each member of the various animal families to return to the islands which they must enjoy as much as we do.  More then enjoy: many of these animals depend on Mississippi River Islands for their survival.  Particularly the Least Tern.  Watch out for tern nests if you are on any river islands in the next two months, they nest in the middle of the sandbars and their eggs are difficult to see, especially in the mid-day sun.

Precaution to anyone who plans to explore Mississippi River Islands: I did find a lot of unsettled sand, ie: quicksand, surely there will be a lot of places where sand & mud are piled higher than they have been in a long time and they will require a lot of time to settle back down and solidify.  Also, there has been a hatch of some kind of biting gnat or black fly, its the worst bugs I’ve ever experienced on the Mississippi, it reminds me of the tundra, swarms of flies that will follow you across the water and into the full sun of the sandbar.

What were the river conditions like?  Even at this somewhat lower level the river is still exploding with all of its famous fury at predictable places, like the strong currents pushing outwards around the edges of all the wing dams, and the powerful eddies found around the outside of tight bends and along the break points in various revetments.

–Driftwood Johnnie

Note: if you have emailed me in the past 2 weeks and haven’t heard back from me, please send another email, I recently lost all incoming emails.  Thanks!

 

Driftwood Johnnie (aka John Ruskey, owner and operator of Quapaw Canoe Company, is a regular contributor to The Delta Bohemian. John’s columns are found under our Guest Bohemian page. Take a trip with Ruskey; you’ll be glad you did.

WE HIGHLY ENCOURAGE COMMENTS!!

Round Bales Carried by the highwater behind Old Levee and deposited on road to Burke's. Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company

Round Bales Carried by the highwater behind Old Levee and deposited on road to Burke’s. Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company

The first thing that caught my eye coming out of Quapaw was that the old levee had been cut in half. My friends the Cliff Swallows were hanging on though -- they like to burrow into steep muddy banks. Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company

The first thing that caught my eye coming out of Quapaw was that the old levee had been cut in half. My friends the Cliff Swallows were hanging on though — they like to burrow into steep muddy banks. Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company

You can feel the force of the water as it was pouring through the woods along Burke's. Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company

You can feel the force of the water as it was pouring through the woods along Burke’s. Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company

These once productive fields near Elaine Arkansas have been trashed by the flooding river -- all of the rich soil & fertilizers are now blown out over the Gulf of Mexico somewhere between Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula! Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company

These once productive fields near Elaine Arkansas have been trashed by the flooding river — all of the rich soil & fertilizers are now blown out over the Gulf of Mexico somewhere between Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula! Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company

Wow, things don't look so good with the things made by man along the side of the river, the old levee, the fields, the hunting camps, the access roads -- what about in the forests and on the islands, how is the animal kingdom doing? The first tracks I found upon landing on the first bluff of sand I found -- Island 64. Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company

Wow, things don’t look so good with the things made by man along the side of the river, the old levee, the fields, the hunting camps, the access roads — what about in the forests and on the islands, how is the animal kingdom doing? The first tracks I found upon landing on the first bluff of sand I found — Island 64. Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company

Oh, okay, it was this guy -- a Mississippi Map Turtle -- enjoying the first sand to be uncovered -- the feeling of the full sun on his cold shell (cold water) -- and life goes on... Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company

Oh, okay, it was this guy — a Mississippi Map Turtle — enjoying the first sand to be uncovered — the feeling of the full sun on his cold shell (cold water) — and life goes on… Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company

Oh, okay, it was this guy -- a Mississippi Map Turtle -- enjoying the first sand to be uncovered -- the feeling of the full sun on his cold shell (cold water) -- and life goes on... Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company

Oh, okay, it was this guy — a Mississippi Map Turtle — enjoying the first sand to be uncovered — the feeling of the full sun on his cold shell (cold water) — and life goes on… Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company

...life goes on... Why was the Mississippi Map Turtle digging this hole in the sand? And thewn covering it up? To bury her fresh laid eggs!! Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company

…life goes on… Why was the Mississippi Map Turtle digging this hole in the sand? And thewn covering it up? To bury her fresh laid eggs!! Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company

Deer Tracks!! Amazing creatures -- the deer survived the flood -- either hanging onto driftwood or swimming back from shore -- either way what an amazing creature! Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey

Deer Tracks!! Amazing creatures — the deer survived the flood — either hanging onto driftwood or swimming back from shore — either way what an amazing creature! Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey

Not surprisingly, old man raccoon has been wandering the newly exposed landscape -- he's a tough survivor of almost any situation... Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey

Not surprisingly, old man raccoon has been wandering the newly exposed landscape — he’s a tough survivor of almost any situation… Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey

Who else is enjoying the dry ground? A Rough Green Snake climbing a cottonwood. Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company

Who else is enjoying the dry ground? A Rough Green Snake climbing a cottonwood. Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company

And yes, sadly enough man has already made his mark on the otherwise pristine island landscape -- I would be more upset about this display if it hadn't been so artfully created -- was this some redneck's spin on the bottle-tree? Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company

And yes, sadly enough man has already made his mark on the otherwise pristine island landscape — I would be more upset about this display if it hadn’t been so artfully created — was this some redneck’s spin on the bottle-tree? Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company

Is the water still moving strong? Hee-hee, we are talking about the Mighty Mississippi -- and the "mighty" part isn't any exaggeration -- colossal convulsions of water exploding upwards & outwards from unseen depths the raucous spiraling and wave-making! Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey

Is the water still moving strong? Hee-hee, we are talking about the Mighty Mississippi — and the “mighty” part isn’t any exaggeration — colossal convulsions of water exploding upwards & outwards from unseen depths the raucous spiraling and wave-making! Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey

What about the migrating Terns? (Who come in all the way from Patagonia) Will they find sandy places to make their nests? Yes! They are everywhere busy in their displays of courtship, which will soon lead to nest building... Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey

What about the migrating Terns? (Who come in all the way from Patagonia) Will they find sandy places to make their nests? Yes! They are everywhere busy in their displays of courtship, which will soon lead to nest building… Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey

Bereaved Fishing Camp with highwater mark halfway up its walls. Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company

Bereaved Fishing Camp with highwater mark halfway up its walls. Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company 

Its still high water -- this is all that remains of Is. 67. Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company

Its still high water — this is all that remains of Is. 67. Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company

I'm happy to report that the Sean Rowe Monument survived: Utram Bibis? Aquam an Undum? Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company

I’m happy to report that the Sean Rowe Monument survived: Utram Bibis? Aquam an Undum? Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company

Elm Tree with its roots & trunk scoured clean & exposed from the flood of 2011. Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company

Elm Tree with its roots & trunk scoured clean & exposed from the flood of 2011. Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company

 



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Comments

  1. mr. john ruskey and the delta bohemian….you guys win my award. it’s just a big thank you for bringing all your information and photos about the great flood of 2011 to us all.
    thank you.
    jimbo.

    • Jimbo…we appreciate your taking the time to read and enjoy The Delta Bohemian and becoming a Subscriber. We are grateful too for John’s regular contributions as a Delta Bohemian from his unique and wonderful bohemian perspective in our Mississippi Delta. Your words encourage us to continue to share. Spread the word. It helps.

      And, you are welcome! 😎
      Magical

  2. Jerry Litton says:

    Nature/River – 1, us – 0. Us ran for cover at the first bell trying to make levees out of fresh dirt, empting holes to take up river slack, and looking over high walls to see how high the water Momma, we are finally sneaking out to see the damage. You are right, the next wave will b e bigger and it won’t be long till she takes rights to river property again. Just think how big she would become if it rained like it did back in 1927. We’d be undeer water twice as long as they were back then, would have holes in the levees all along the way they are and the wash-out would be more than top soil, it’d cut down to the hard crust leaving nothing but feeler roots clinging to hard rock and cement abutments that are just to deep to move but will wear off from the top. Nothing finer than a good fight with nature. Lesson is she wins hands down, and don’t even need to ramp up to half throttle.

    • Jerry, you write with feeling and truth and emotion. Keep writing and commenting.

      Be sure to read the poem posted up today from Poor William called “The Mighty Mississippi.” You will get it.

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