Time on the Mississippi River with Huck and Jim

Plus a Host of Philosophers

Paddlers on the Huck and Jim River Seminar with Quapaw Canoe Company and John Ruskey

Paddlers on the Huck and Jim River Seminar with Quapaw Canoe Company and John Ruskey


Clarksdale, Mississippi   (VIDEOS with PHOTOS)

“Is it necessary to cut rope and are your only true and trustworthy companions castaways?” John Ruskey, guiding a seminar discussion about Huckleberry Finn

Well? This known rope cutter believes this is a mighty fine question for above-and-beyond ruminations. I ruminate, though poorly, but lately my thinking has placed me
squarely in a quagmire of my own making. In other words, I been over thinking things to the point I was depressed as hell and twice as anxious as I already wuz!

I needed this trip to clear my head of impediments and obstructions, but I almost didn’t go ‘cause I was a bit paralyzed from all those dysfunctions I tote around. The river was needed and my trustworthy companions and leaders who excel in living in the present helped this long-haired, poor raconteur get to a healthier place physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually! Thanks y’all!


John Ruskey, Quapaw Canoe Company lodestar and ethereal leader, asked the above question during a seminar discussion at Cutrer Mansion on Monday. Driftwood Johnnie, his able Quapaws and Captains, along with the Poorest of Williams and a host of modern-day philosophers, many are St. John College alumni who graduated with Ruskey, headed out on the Mississippi River this past Saturday from the Clark House Residential Inn for a three-day canoe trip combining camping, philosophizing and pontificating on classic Great Books river literature.

Truly an adventure of more epic than epic proportions. Sorry, I got a little Tom Sawyer hyperbole and more than a smidgen of Eddie Haskell in me. My love for exaggeration is that damn Mark Twain’s fault. When I first learnt ‘bout getting other folks to pay me for letting them whitewash a wall that I was ‘supposed to, I was hooked, man.

Not having read Samuel Clemens for almost two times a twain of decades, I was excited to be invited along on a river trip likely the first of its kind. A trip where great literature was to be discussed on the very river that inspired much of it, and by folks a hell of a lot brighter than I, and that ain’ much of a reach, even for the non-reaching kind.

We read and discussed Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn in its entirety including pieces of his Life on the Mississippi, along with Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and The Confidence Man and poems by T.S. Eliot and Charles Bell.

Jim Bailey, co-organizer of the Huck and Jim River Seminar and classmate of John Ruskey. Dr. Bailey directs the Center for Health Systems Improvement at the University of Tennessee Health Science center in Memphis and has just published his first novel. According to the book jacket, “The End of Healing brings Dante’s Inferno to life for a new era and proves hell is alive and well in American healthcare today.”


Driftwood Johnnie Ruskey, everybody has to have a nickname on the river, said “Huck gets answers when he goes to the woods.” 

Yes I did! Sanctuary much! Every mile spent in the bow of the Grasshopper, long-ass handmade cypress canoe, saw stress and depression being dispersed into the burnished-silver and molten-cocoa foam with every paddle stroke by the fat man in the front seat.

The weather was heavenly and the sound of waves lapping the shoreline intermittingly punctuated with the rev of tugboat engines and the cry of winged creatures made for a truly sublime experience.

The greatest joy on this sojourn for Poor William was the absence of smart phones, iPhones, and the blue hue of over stimulating electronic devices. Poetry read around the campfire was read by candlelight, though many of us did avail ourselves of battery-powered flashlights to traverse the woods to our tents set up just inside the tree line.

Mosquitoes were rare due to temp and wind, the hearty fire-cooked fare would have pleased old Epicurus hisself, libations were not hard to procure and the cowboy coffee made with river water, silt and all, was saporous.

This post has been hard to pen, as my words are too effete to capture the beauty of the Mississippi River in all its resplendent majesty. One must take a river trip with Quapaw Canoe Company. Driftwood Johnnie, Mark River Peoples, Braxton Barden, Matt Burdine and a host of Mighty Quapaws will guide you on a life-changing experience. I ain’ lyin’!

Tell ‘em Poor William and Magical Madge sent ya, and be sure and take Mark Twain along. He matters! pw

Mark River Peoples guides a canoe with paddlers on the Mississippi River

Mark River Peoples guides a canoe with paddlers on the Mississippi River

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  1. ….actually what I said was “two mud serpents and a river hippo are sunning themselves…” well, actually a two blue herons and some turtles! Thanks Billy, memories burned into my skin like the wind and sun and approaching full moon…

  2. Fabulous post Billy! You, Madge, and the Delta Bohemian are tops.

  3. John, no matter what you said it was, I’d a followed you to see it! Being outside with you feels like being a kid in a giant candy shop!!! Love you, Driftwood Johnnie!

    Jim, pleasure meeting you, my friend. My next read is your book “The End of Healing” and then I shall pass it along to a loved one. Please come back soon, Dr.! 🙂

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