I recently had the opportunity to travel to Clarksdale, Mississippi once again. I’m working with the Lower Mississippi River Foundation (LMRF), a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting stewardship of the Lower Mississippi River through deep engagement. My work with them involves strategic planning, outcome measures and financial sustainability. I’m always deeply impressed by John Ruskey, the energetic and engaging Director of the LMRF and Owner of Quapaw Canoe Company. While others are talking about getting kids outside and away from their screens, John and his team are actually doing it, through their Mighty Quapaw apprenticeship program, through trips they guide with after school programs, and with school students who come from all over the country to experience what the Lower Mississippi River has to offer.
I was also lucky enough to go with John and several others on a day-long, 30 mile paddle on the Lower Mississippi River. On the way to our starting point, we stopped at the site of Muddy Waters’ childhood home. Quapaw builds beautiful voyageur canoes that can hold up to 14 people. On this day, there were seven of us in the Ladybug canoe. The Mississippi River suffers from perceptions that it is dirty, unsafe and dangerous. Despite the chill in the air, the trip was wonderful and shattered any of those perceptions for me. The beaches were beautiful, white sand beaches, on which we saw abundant evidence of wildlife. At our first stop at Island 64, John and his crew made a beautiful fire on which to make soup for lunch, and prepared a wonderful spread of healthy food. This break provided an opportunity to rest our muscles and re-energize for the remainder of the trip. Because it was Ash Wednesday, John performed a Native American blessing for each of us on the beach.
This was a very special experience for me. I can’t quite explain what made it so special, but I think it was the combination of an amazing place and thoughtful people who care deeply about what they do. I am still sharing it with people over a month later. I can’t wait to come back with my family.
In the meantime, this was a work trip, despite the opportunity for some play. I continue to work with John and the LMRF to determine what their future holds. Unfortunately, a couple of weeks ago, after a deluge of rain, the Sunflower River, along which Quapaw and the LMRF are located, rose 25 feet in 24 hours, flooding the Quapaw and LMRF headquarters for the first and hopefully last time. This flood has devastated this small organization, but they will rebuild and continue to do what they do best.