Bing tracking

Stump fields, home stays, and Aldo Leopold’s hometown

The last few weeks have been so busy that it has been hard to squeeze in time to update the blog.  Our days are full of study, paddling, cooking, and fieldwork.  We are on a fairly arduous pace (in other words we are frequently pretty tired), and finding that there is so much to see and do that we are fairly overwhelmed, and wish we could extend our stays in each town we stop in. The studying can take place in all sorts of settings (here in a tent with headlamps and the whiteboard):

After Dubuque we headed through Pools 12 and 13, and the 13th was indeed unlucky for us. We had strong winds in the pool with fairly large waves, and had to cross a treacherous stump field.  The stump fields are the remains of the old floodplain forests that were logged off before the river was dammed.  Once the dams were in place the stumps were submerged and in some places they remain just inches below the surface.  In most places they aren’t a problem, but lower Pool 13 if full of old stumps just below the surface and our canoes caromed off them as we tried to get down to the lock.  Next time, we will be sure to stick to the main channel.  After making through the stumps we had a long wait for a barge at the lock (when there is a barge locking through, there is about a two-hour wait).  It was challenging for the whole group to navigate the large pool with those winds and hazards, and then to have to wait out the barge on an exposed and rocky spit.  These are the kinds of “growth opportunities” we find on trips like this.

Below the lock we paddled through Beaver Slough adjacent to Clinton, Iowa, past a series of massive agro-industrial processing plants, mostly owned by Archer Daniels Midland (ADM).  The smells and effluent were an affront to the senses and a rude change from our experiences so far.  We are entering the heart of the corn and soybean producing region and the infrastructure and processing facilities are evident everywhere.  It is a landscape set up to mass produce and process these two products into everything from corn starch to high fructose corn syrup to biodiesel, ethanol, and grain alcohol, but it does not seem to have much to do with anything like food or land stewardship.

From there we headed down to the Rock Creek Marina and Campground, where we regrouped and met up with our friends and colleagues from Augustana College.  Christopher worked on a minor repair of one of the boats, and we went out to the town of Clinton with students from Augustana to do a neighborhood survey about residential storm water management there.  It was a great opportunity both to get to know the students from Augustana and to talk with local residents about where their water goes and the impact that can have on the river.  After the afternoon in Clinton we headed out to Sabula for pizza at a place called Bombfire.  It was one of the most bizarre and entertaining dining establishments any of us had been in–with a wildly generous crew, a gypsy singer with a voice like a well-tuned chainsaw, and, let’s say, “eclectic” decorations (their website, such as it is, will give you some feel for the place).  I’ll just say that if you ever have a chance to stop by there for some pizza, do.


Prof. Reuben Heine, who has been an amazing partner on our trip, and a few students joined us in the canoes for a morning of paddling and some water quality testing and plankton tows.  It is fun to share our experiences with other students and to think about the potential for future collaborations with high schools and colleges all along the river.

Heading down toward the Quad Cities we landed at the rowing club there and were greeted there by our host families who each took a student or two and ferried them back to hot showers, home-cooked meals, and even yoga and pedicures (!) It was another example of the generous hospitality we’ve experienced along the way and our first chance to sleep in a house since we left.  We enjoyed hosting members of the Augustana community for a cook-out in town the second night, and were also joined by a few through-paddlers (and a couple who were in a sailboat heading south).  Mitchell and Malcolm (aka the Big Muddy Boys) ended up joining us for several class meetings and outings, and their level of interest and excitement about our program was energizing for us as well.  We toured the Moline Water treatment plants and the Army Corps visitor center at Lock & Dam 15 as well.  Reuben took us out to hunt for old survey markers and sites photographed by the Army Corps back in the 1930s in the process of building the lock and dam system.  It was interesting to be part of this new research project on changes in the floodplain in the last 100 years, and we hope to participate again in the future.

Well fed, clean, and with lots of new friends, we left the Quad Cities with Prof. Kelly Kadera from the University of Iowa (and Lily’s mother) and ended up in Muscatine at the Lazy Z Trailer Park.  It wasn’t a planned stop, but we were slowed down by the winds and another delay at a lock, and were glad to stop for the night, especially since we were joined there by Lily’s Dad, who is a wonderful cook.  He made us an amazing paella that night and a hearty egg breakfast the next morning.  Kelly lectured on Elinor Ostrom’s work on managing common pool resources and implications for the Mississippi River, and also led the students in some yoga.

We decided to stop in Burlington, IA to have another rest day and get access to the library and coffee shops, and were again surprised to meet up with some local hosts associated with the Leopold Landscape Alliance.

Steve and Jerry gave us a tour of Aldo Leopold’s birthplace and childhood home and shared their extensive knowledge of his life and other aspects of local history, including the long, rocky history of relations between the railroad and the city which is the namesake for one of the largest railroads in the country (Burlington Northern Santa Fe [BNSF]).  The public library in Burlington was a great resource as well and we camped out there for two days, holding class in their meeting rooms, and taking advantage of the nice study spaces and internet connection.  We were interviewed for the local paper and radio (this seems to happen in almost every town we stop in).

We have had great luck with rain (almost none since the first week), but the wind has been up almost every day, and more often than not has been blowing up river.  This has made for many challenging and tiring paddle days, although we are all in pretty good shape by now.  We were fortunate to have some good tailwinds one day and hoisted a makeshift sail constructed of rain flies and some pvc pipe we bought in the Quad Cities.  It made for a great afternoon as all four boats rafted up and cruised along at 4 knots with almost no paddling involved.

We have passed Nauvoo, the site of the early Mormon settlement, and through the 1,200 foot long Keokuk lock (a 38 ft. drop) and hydroelectric plant.

It was the first major lock and dam on the river (built in 1908) and a sign of things to come for the rivers of United States, as the next 50 years would see the construction of thousands of huge dams around the country. We see the implications and major alterations the dams have caused on the river and wish we could paddle the river as it existed in the 1800s. But there is still amazing life and resilience in the river, and we see thousands of birds heading south along the flyway.
The night sky, the sunrises and sunsets have been consistently beautiful and we all have become very accustomed to living, eating, studying, and sleeping outside.  We are at the Kibbe Research Station near Warsaw, IL tonight, and sleeping in their dorms.  But for all of us it feels strange to be inside, with electric lights, a kitchen, and even a ping pong table.  A few of us opted to still sleep outside, with a few tents pitched in the yard.  It feels good to be close to the world, connected to it.  We are in tune with the cycles of the day, the feel of the wind, the sound of the birds, the change of the season to a degree that just doesn’t happen when we sleep inside.  I know we will miss this when we are done, and for all that we have gained from civilization, there is definitely also a great deal that we have lost.  The simple pleasures of spending the day outside, engaged in physical activity, with a concrete and easily understood goal (paddle downstream, pitch camp, make food, paddle again, don’t drown) are a welcome change from the complexities, stresses, and generally sedentary lifestyle back in the city.

From Harper’s Ferry to Dubuque

Tonight we sit on another sandy beach, just south of Savannah, Illinois, after a nice 23-mile paddle.  The weather has cooled off, our muscles are rested after a layover in Dubuque, and we had the wind at our back for at the second half of the day.  We have traveled this week through some of the prettiest stretches of the river, from Pool 7 to Pool 10, but in Pool 13 now the landscape levels off and we caught our first glimpse of farmland from the river yesterday.  We are emerging from the great valley carved out by the glacial River Warren into its floodplain.  But the river always has its charms, and this stretch of the river has been fairly peaceful and undeveloped.  Most of our company on the water is eagles, egrets, herons, and the occasional jumping fish or turtle that slides off its sunning log.  In the slough just on the other side of where we’re camping tonight we can hear the chorus of honks from what must be a very large flock of geese, staging there on their way south.

The stretch of river we are leaving is referred to by ecologists as an “anastomosed stream,” a term derived from human anatomy, meaning a set of braided channels or “veins” that wind between stable islands.  The scenes we observe as we paddle along are not the same as the precolonial era, as almost all the channel islands are now monocultures of silver maple, but still the side channels and backwaters are full of life. The naturally leveed floodplain with high bluffs on either bank, is all part of the Upper Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Refuge, and as a refuge it still functions quite well.

We have been struck by the lack of garbage along the way.  At campsites we may find a stray bottle or two, but over-all there is almost no litter.  All the abandoned drums, appliances, and other detritus of our consumer society have been removed and it seems there is a renewed sense of respect and stewardship of the river.  Certainly one major contributor to this change has been the work of the local river clean-up organization called Living Lands and Waters (which we are reading about for one of our classes).  Thirty years ago our campsites would have been much worse and the whole experience much less pleasant.

In the past 10 days we have met with my old friend Jon “Hawk” Stravers, who shared with us his love of the Red Shouldered Hawk and Cerulian Warblers, and played a few songs for us; his friend and colleague Robert Vavra, a clammer and fisherman, who is now working as a tour boat operator, and keeper of river stories brought his boat out to our camp on the what is known locally as “Gilligan’s Island” and cooked up some freshly caught river fish for us.

That kind of generosity has been a frequent experience for us, and through our pilgrimage down the river we are reminded again and again of the basic goodness of human beings.  In Prairie du Chien we were overwhelmed with hospitality, allowed to stay in their park, offered showers, rides, and given contributions to the educational project one of our students is organizing.

In Guttenberg, Iowa we showed up during their Germanfest and surprised the students with a stop at the high school all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast.  In Dubuque we stayed at the National Mississippi River Museum and had presentations on the history of the French explorers, the fur trade, voyageurs, and local Indian tribes, and did studies of a local wetland, and mussel breeding experiments.  While there we slept on the dredge boat William M. Black, named after a USACE General who, among other things, helped build sanitation systems in Cuba after the Spanish-American War.  It was the Corps’ first big dredging boat, and could suck up huge amounts of sediment from the river, while burning 5-8,000 gallons of fuel oil per day.  That ended during the oil crisis of 1973 when fuel prices got so high the Corps couldn’t afford to keep paying for the fuel.

It has been a month on the river now, and it feels very natural to be falling asleep and waking up along its shores.  In a few days we’ll be in the Quad Cities, where we have a busy schedule planned with our hosts from Augustana College.

Letters from the River # 1

The following is an article by our own Blair Stewig, who is also working as a writer and “River Correspondent” for Augsburg weekly newspaper, The Echo.  She will be sending in a series of articles as we go, and we will post them to the blog as well.

The students on the Augsburg river semester have now traveled approximately 250 miles from Minneapolis to Guttenberg Iowa. Thus far we have experienced extreme changes in the appearance of the river and learned about the many uses of the river. We have witnessed barges with 15 tows meandering slowly down the river carrying coal and grain. We have slept under the stars. We have sung numerous songs around the campfire accompanied by an acoustic guitar played by Noah Cameron. It can be said that a lot has happened in the last 3 weeks.

Our typical day begins with a six o’clock wake-up, followed by breaking down camp and then a filling breakfast of oatmeal and granola with all of the possible fixings. Of course, a breakfast would not be complete without a few cups of “Cowboy Joe” to get our day going. We are usually on the water by 8:30 AM on transit days (days we travel 16-20 miles). Transit days we typically do not have class but we do occasionally have site visits along the way. As we paddle we take in our surroundings, noting the wing-dams, the location of the 9-foot channel, any dredging that is occurring and the appearance of the bluffs and the barges that we pass by as we travel. We get into camp between 4:00 PM and 5:30 PM on transit days. We have camp set up and dinner ready by about 6:30 PM. We spend our evenings laughing and singing songs around the campfire while we reflect upon our travels and make s’mores (with Reese’s in place of chocolate). Sleep tends to come fairly early with most of us drifting off by 9:30 PM or 10:00 PM. On days that we have classes we will either paddle shorter distances of 6-8 miles or not paddle at all. Classes can happen any day of the week and tend to be on rest days. Class could happen anywhere. The first stream ecology class took place in the Laundromat in Lake City while we were washing our clothes for the first time.

As for coursework; independent studies and group courses are underway with a completed POL 241 test and other course tests soon to follow. Tests were taken in our tents or on the beach in Crazy Creek chairs overlooking the Mississippi River and the Lansing bridge for inspiration. For the courses themselves, we have many guest lecturers and many site visits which constitutes class time.

Some highlights from the past few weeks include visiting the U.S. Geological survey center in Lacrosse Wisconsin. Here we were able to take a peek into their research laboratory where they were conducting research on the silver and bighead carp. We also had the opportunity to see some young lake sturgeon and paddlefish; some of the oldest species in the upper Mississippi River basin (UMRB). Fun fact: of the 150 freshwater fish in the UMRB none have gone extinct in the last 100 years. This is pretty extraordinary considering how polluted the Mississippi River was before the clean water act (CWA). A few other highlights would be visiting the Genoa fish hatchery, hiking the sugarloaf in Winona Minnesota and visiting Prairie Island in Minnesota. Another high point was learning more about island restoration projects from the Iowa DNR, (while touring the island by river and by foot) as well as getting serenaded by the “hawk guy” of Iowa. We were even invited to have a fish fry of Catfish, Buffalo Fish, and Carp on “Gilligan’s Island” (the local’s name for Island 167). The fish was a lot better than we were expecting. The fellow who made us the fish was a clammer on the Mississippi for quite some time. He was forced to start a tavern (now called “Misfits”) in order to make a living when the zebra mussels (an aggressive invasive specie) forced him to stop clamming for a living. He shared stories of the mussel pearl button days in Muscatine Iowa and about the mussel button making process.

Current shower tally: 7
River Baths: ∞

Energy and Power on the River

Last night the stars were out, the air cool, and the lights from the Lansing (Iowa) bridge were reflected on the tranquil surface of the river as we camped about River Mile 664.  The students have been studying for their first exam, sitting around a campfire on the sandy beach, poring over the readings and working together to learn the material.  Having crammed as much in as they could for the evening, they transitioned to guitar and singing, and it felt like the end of a good day.  The strains of their improvised “Campfire Blues” (and accompanying laughter) lulled the rest of us to sleep.

We began yesterday at a very muddy landing on the Bad Axe River in Wisconsin, clambering up the bank to visit the Genoa National Fish Hatchery, where they raise tens of thousands of trout, sturgeon, walleye, and now fresh water mussels.  It is an elaborate operation, all made necessary by overfishing and radical alterations of the river and floodplain.  But like a fish-producing factory, they crank out fish to restock rivers and lakes all over the country.  This is also the site of the Massacre of Bad Axe, where Chief Blackhawk was finally defeated and hundreds of Sauk Indians died.  We have certainly changed this land, with great energy, emptying if of people, fish, mussels, and old growth forests, and replacing them with new settlers, cities, corn fields, and power plants.  The restless energy of the European settlers is present everywhere.

In contrast, at the end of a long day of paddling we are nothing if not keenly aware of the energy we have expended. Students sprawl on the sand, arms aching, and stomachs growling.

After a long paddle with a headwind.

A post shared by Joseph Underhill (@river_semester) on

The motor boats speed by us and huge barges lumber past carrying thousands of tons of cargo, but paddling as hard as we can we travel the river at no more than four miles an hour.  But it is a satisfying feeling to know you have put in a good hard day’s work, and it makes us think about how much energy we use back home.

We have become so used to living in a world of fossil-fuel powered labor-saving devices that we have largely lost touch with our own bodies and what they are for.  On the trip we are healthy, happy, sleeping well, and having a minimal impact on the world around us.  With our solar panels to power these laptops and cell phones, a canoe, paddle, and locally grown fresh food, we are good to go (with some exceptions).  We in general consume very little electricity, but still when we get to a source of shore power, the available outlets are swarmed with electronic devices of all sorts, hungrily drinking up the free flow of electrons.

Charging devices in the camp laundry before heading back to the river for more island camping.

A post shared by Joseph Underhill (@river_semester) on

Our solar panels can power us most days, but only when the sun shines and we have time to set everything up.

Human powered and solar powered = zero carbon & good health!

A post shared by Joseph Underhill (@river_semester) on

Back home we struggle to find time to get exercise, bounce from one diet to the next, experience ennui, and seek numerous distractions.  It raises the question of what exactly we are getting from all this energy we use.  Certainly we want some help and machines to avoid extreme or dangerous labor, but beyond that we need to embrace the value, the joy, the deep satisfaction of a good day’s work accomplished with our bodies and hands.

And power production is plainly evident along the river.  The Dairyland Power Genoa # 3 coal-fired power plant, a towering facility on the river, is one of the 29 located in the Upper River.  It includes one small nuclear reactor built in the 1960s, and shut down in 1987.  It is being slowly dismantled, with some of the low-level waste being shipped off to a storage site in South Carolina.  The high-level waste is still stored on site, still waiting a national decision on where to store these long-lived toxins.  The answer so far has been NIMBY.

Paddling by the Genoa Power Plant, on of the many such power generating stations on the river.

A post shared by Joseph Underhill (@river_semester) on

We have passed one nuclear plant so far, at Prairie Island, venturing close enough to be caught in the outflow from the power plant, where the water temperature spiked briefly.  As we paddled by, a security guard came out and got on the megaphone to tell us to move along, as we were too close to the shore and their security zone.  The plants constitute a major presence along the river, located in areas with little political clout, such as the Prairie Island Indian Community.  One needs a great faith in the engineers that this pile of radioactive material, located in the upper reaches of the largest river in North America, will not at some point come spilling south.  The implications of such an event are hard to imagine, but still somehow during the 1970s we saw fit to locate all these nuclear power plants along rivers from which millions of people draw their drinking water.  For the Dakota and Mdewaketon on Prairie Island the plants are just another in the long line of affronts their people have suffered, and they have found health and environmental problems that appear to be linked to the presence of the plant.  There are 21 nuclear power plants in the Mississippi River watershed, five of them located on the main stem itself, using the steady water supply for steam and the huge heat capacity of the water to cool the steam down.  In addition to the power plants, we see the steady flow of coal and crude oil shipped by rail, barge, and pipeline along the river, and several oil refineries as well.  While traveling in Egypt I was struck by the centrality of water to their economy;  here the nexus between water and power generation is at the heart of our way of life.

We have such a great restlessness, this hunger for power, and need to tinker with the world.  Never content just to leave things be, humans need to arrange the world around them, often with mixed results.  We dam the rivers, kill off the fish, and then busily proceed to go about producing new ones.  Not content to spend a solid day of working with our hands, we invent steam engines, and drive cars, but are left with this vague sense of dissatisfaction.  We can’t seem to learn that lesson from the river, which just diligently does its work of erosion, transport, and deposition; its slow, relentless flowing, driven endlessly by the rain falling on the land.

Swan Island

There are few places I can think of where the mix of nature and artifice is more thorough and complex than the Mississippi River, and one of the more fortunate outcomes of that is Swan Island in Weaver Bottoms in Pool 5.  It is this oddly shaped artificial island that from above looks like some postmodern construct from Dubai molded out of dredge material by the Army Corps of Engineers;  but to sit on the island it looks now like a bit of Edenic paradise, rife with life, a thriving prairie, and surrounded by clear water and thousands of water fowl. It is another testament to the fact that, when given half a chance, all these wild and beautiful plants and animals spring forth with great fecundity.

The Corps, in collaboration with local Departments of Natural Resources and the Fish & Wildlife System has taken to rebuilding islands in this stretch of the river as part of their work at mitigating the impact of the range of previous alterations they have some diligently carried out over the last 150 years.  The islands take a range of strangely symmetrical shapes that remind me of some of the Indian mounds found in the region, and I wonder to what degree that was a conscious choice.

We stayed three nights on Swan Island, conducting field studies, taking underwater video in the clear water, and discussing indigenous perspectives on land stewardship, with campfire storytelling and reading in the evenings.

The scenery on the island was stunning, to say the least.

Our paddle out of Lake Pepin was much easier than the passage down the top half.  We had a nice tailwind, and a rested and stronger set of paddlers.  We landed at Reads Landing at the confluence of the Chippewa River, set up camp on the sandy shore, and ferried across fro dinner at the Reads Landing Brewing Company, where we were joined by Ann Bancroft of polar exploration fame.  We had a delightful evening visiting with her, hearing about her exploits, discussing river exploration, and figuring out how to connect as we travel down the Mississippi and she travels down the Ganges with “Your Expedition” there.  Izzie and Noah recorded an interview with her that they are looking to work up into a podcast.  We’ll let you know once it is posted online!

Our next morning we had another heavy rainstorm and had to pack up very wet, sandy gear to paddle down to Wabasha, where we met visited the National Eagle Center and then pushed on to Swan Island.  As we get used to rigors of the trip, and our paddling muscles get stronger we are finding that we can cover more river miles, which will help with our busy schedule.

Leaving Swan Island we had another brisk northerly breeze, bringing cool nights, and much less sweaty paddling.  It prompted as well an attempt at hoisting a sail rig using some of our poles and rain flies, but the poles proved “under-scantled” and we had to break out the paddles.  But this is again a gorgeous stretch of the river, lined by high bluffs, braided side channels, and a healthy current, so we covered the 16 miles to Winona without much trouble.  We are all a bit tired, we would have to say, as we continue to adjust to this rigorous lifestyle, where even getting some water often involves hauling the water back to camp from a distant spigot.

In Winona we are at one of the typical American campgrounds, moved grass, fire rings, a herd of Winnebagos, a commissary, and all the peacefulness and tranquility of a bar on Friday night (But we don’t mind the showers). It was in the mid-40s last night, so our sense of urgency to head south is up a notch. We eye the birds heading down the flyway and know we are at least heading in the right direction.

Today we joined students from Winona State University on the Research Vessel Cal Fremling on the river for a short tour and talk with Prof. Mike DeLong.  It was nice to meet the WSU students and discuss issues around river engineering and what is called “floodplain connectivity” along the river.

Tonight we will join the Dakota Gathering here for a Unity Dinner before returning to camp, and tomorrow it’s more classes, and a visit to the Winona Maritime Art Museum.

Meeting “the Hammer”

We sit now in a picnic shelter at Hok Si La Park, on an old river terrace overlooking Lake Pepin.  The air is thick with moisture (described as “like trying to breathe in chocolate cake”) and the rain has been heavy.  We’re looking forward to the passage of this cold front, and to having the winds switch to the north as we will take on the rest of Lake Pepin tomorrow.  We made it through our initial 4-day push to get here, covering 70 miles, with headwinds, heat, no rest days.  But the reward is views like this:

I have been impressed with how everyone has pushed through, kept a positive attitude as we get used to the rigors of the trip. If you want to see all their smiling faces, and get to know the crew a bit more, we now have their profiles posted on the River Semester site.  This morning we had 4 1/2 hours of class, covering sustainability, grassroots environmental organizing, and the debates over privatization and the commons, and students have had to push through on the academic front as well. Thorpe has been working hard at getting all the water quality testing equipment up and running, and we’re working out the kinks with all the electronic gear. There is so much to learn and adjust to on this trip, but we are already settling into a rhythm, figuring out how to balance the various kinds of work and study involved in this combination of college and expedition.

We have been meeting with some amazing folks along the way already, some planned and some chance encounters, such as our conversation with Gary “Hammer” Holmgren, who has a small house on Spring Lake near Wappinger’s Falls. He regaled us with stories of his exploits in the boxing ring (27 bouts, 22 wins and 12 KO’s!), scuba diving, firefighting, attending Princess Diana’s wedding, and living on the banks of the river. He was a great expert on local history and shared some of that with us as well. Our resident reporter Izzie interviewed him, and is working on turning that into our first podcast.

While paddling out of South St. Paul we were accosted by a lone paddler heading upstream, who, in a prophetic voice, called out “Here is my advice:  You cannot change the passage of time, but you can change how you move through it!”  Hard to argue with, we thought.  It turned out he was the uncle of one of our students and that he is currently camped out on one of the islands on the Mississippi, working on a book.  He was paddling back to the nearest drug store because “the river had swallowed his glasses.”

On a somewhat less esoteric level we met at the St. James Hotel in Red Wing, with Dan McGuinness and Mike McKay, two long-time river advocates. Dan was the one who first got me out on the Mississippi, during the Audubon Society’s River Trip back in 2001. People (and press) are showing up, taking pictures, asking us about our experiences, as we have shared with them our adventures so far. The trip then becomes a great way to connect with people, providing ample opportunities for conversation.

I’m excited that we’ve already got the sonar rig up and running, mapping the bottom of the river. It seems an odd juxtaposition of new and old to have this GPS and sonar strapped to the gunwale of a cedar-strip canoe.

We’ve taken light readings, used the solar panels to charge our batteries, and students have been working on the laptops around the campfire (as well as singing a few songs.) And Noah Cameron has started using the hydrophone to record the sounds underwater as we paddle. The first of those is now up on our SoundCloud account, and you can check it out here.  Our student documentarian has been busy filming our exploits (often to the consternation of those paddling in his canoe–“enough photos already! time to get back to the paddling . . .”), but he has been doing great work.  His video summary of the first week, complete with soundtrack, is here:

At Prairie Island we met with Gabe, the Director of the community’s conservation and environmental efforts. He and his team were out planting wild rice in the backwaters off the island, trying to reestablish this important staple crop. This year they’ve had good success, since there has been relatively little flooding. The students left with a few grains of wild rice to plant along the river as we go, small signs of hope about the ongoing return of the river.

Expedition Log: Sept. 1

0530: Canoes arrive and students and do a great job of loading the boats; 0800 ceremony begins with Pres. Pribbenow, Mayor Coleman, and River Troubadour Larry Long, who sent us off with song.  Enthusiastic crowd of friends, family, and supporters; we set off with a flotilla of 8 additional voyageur canoes and paddled down to South St. Paul with flags flying. 1200 Flotilla participants were shuttled back to Harriett Island and expedition paddled to River Mile (RM) 823 for our first camp on a nice, open sandy spot on River Right. Eagles, osprey, pelicans, and limestone cliffs, with some conversation about local geology; passed 6 “through-paddlers” (go the length of the river) in kayaks and canoes.  Spirits good despite lack of sleep and very hot conditions; swim in the river was delicious; students have jumped right in with camp duties, and are excited about the trip, but a little apprehensive about the coursework and how to keep up with their studies. Brief campfire until the mosquitoes drove us into our tents, where we slept the sleep of the extremely exhausted.  Rain at night but all stayed dry. LOCATION

Planning an expedition

July 29th, and the countdown clock now reads 34 days until the launch.  In my office there are solar panels, large batteries, a d-frame dip net, pelican cases full of electronic gear, and a large box of books that will be our trip library. My email inbox is full of contacts from researchers, local DNR officials, museum staff, river guides, students, faculty, and assorted others with ideas, arrangements, and logistical details for this three-and-a-half month journey.  This has been a different kind of preparation than for a regular semester to be sure.

This undertaking has only come to fruition with the help of a whole team of people at Augsburg, Wilderness Inquiry, and the network of folks along the river. It is a powerful reminder of the richness of the community of which I am a part, as well as the dense network of people connected to the river all along its length.  We have been setting up research, internship, and other work and study opportunities for the students on the trip, and I am amazed at the amount of activity and learning opportunities the students will have on the trip.  Today I’ve been emailing with Ann Bancroft about collaborating with an expedition she is co-leading this Fall that will consist of eight women from six continents going down the Ganges River.  The potential for linking these two expeditions is tremendous, and we’ll keep you posted!  Closer to home we’re lining up activities for visits everywhere from La Crosse, Wisconsin, to Dubuque, St. Louis, Memphis, Greenville, New Orleans, plus a bunch of places none of us have heard of.  So for instance, today I learned that it looks like we’ll be sleeping on an old dredge boat in Dubuque that is docked at the Mississippi River Museum there. My colleague Thorpe Halloran has been setting up all sorts of site visits and field research for us in Mississippi and Louisiana, and I can’t wait to check out those spots as well.

I’m playing around with a Go-Pro for the trip.  Here’s a little tour of my office in the midst of the preparation: