America’s Meandering Artery
The stories of the people & communities along the Mississippi River are important to America’s history & culture, as well as to me personally…
It was the fall of 1993 in Alton, Illinois — the worst of the Great Flood had passed, and life was beginning to return to business as usual. But I was 2 years old, and very confused. Why had we been without water for so long during a flood? Floods meant more water, everyone knew that! Why was it such a big deal that the barges were back? And why was I pushing my Great Grandpa Fin in a wheelchair through this huge building with flickering lights and strange smells?
My mom walked behind me carrying my infant sister, while my grandmother kept a careful eye on me with her hand out, ready to grab the wheelchair if needed. But I barely paid attention to them, especially once we passed a dark room with flashing lights, lots of beeps, and a sound that reminded me of Darth Vader breathing. I was terrified — and my great grandfather could tell. He told me to stop next to some windows up ahead. There, he pulled me into his lap and pointed out the window, where we could see the ongoing construction of the Clark Bridge on the Mississippi River. He began to tell me all about the construction, and the challenges the contractors had faced during the flooding, but how this was going to be the strongest, sturdiest bridge around — the Super Bridge, everyone was already calling it. I listened and felt comforted, despite understanding none of it.
That is my earliest memory — and like a majority of my childhood memories, it centers around the Mississippi River.
Ask most Americans what they think when they hear “Mississippi River” and often the response will be vague mentions of Mark Twain or steamboats, occasionally memories of seeing the Gateway Arch or eating ribs in Memphis — and on a few rare occasions, I’ve heard people in Nashville say “Isn’t that the river here?” while pointing towards the Cumberland.
For me, as well as many other people born and raised in towns and cities along the Mississippi River, it evokes a much deeper response. I think about learning the Legend of the Piasa Bird, or bouncing excitedly in my seat as my dad drove us across the river to watch a Cardinals game at the old Busch Stadium. I think about family bike trips through Grafton, and being amazed at the importance of both the barges and the levees I saw every day. I remember driving over the old 35W bridge into Minneapolis and marveling over the fact that this was the same river I grew up with — and continuing to marvel years later as I wandered its banks with my friends on St. Cloud State University’s campus.
No matter the response, though, when people think of the Mississippi River, they think of stories, whether they’re Mark Twain’s novels or Lewis & Clark’s westward exploration or personal memories. The Mississippi River has influenced hundreds of years of history and growth and commerce for this country, as well as my own personal history and who I am today — and I know there are more people out there just as influenced by the Mighty Mississippi as I am today. Unfortunately, their stories seem to be missing from a large part of today’s American culture — so I want to find them and share them.
That’s why Meridian Creators is expanding beyond Nashville, beginning with a documentary series about creative people and their communities along the Mississippi River. On September 10th, at the headwaters in Lake Itasca State Park, I will begin a 10 week road trip of the Great River Road to seek out people and places that are contributing creatively to their communities along the river. My goal is not only to share these stories, but also to educate people about the culture and history of the Mississippi River — which changes steadily as the river widens from a tiny stream in Minnesota to an unstoppable force almost 2 miles wide in Louisiana.
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My only companions on this trip will be my dog, my camera, and my car. I will be releasing one episode on YouTube each week, and providing frequent updates on the Meridian Creators Facebook page, Instagram account, as well as weekly posts here on Medium through the partner program, with extra behind the scenes info.
Nashville Meridian Creators interviews are currently on hold as I have just over a month to prepare, and am currently working overtime as an Uber & Lyft driver in an attempt to save up some extra money for this project. If you are able, please donate to our GoFundMe — and if you are unable, please share and encourage others to do so! Ideally, I’d like to raise $8000 before my trip begins so that I have enough for production, marketing, gas, meals, campsites, and any emergencies that may pop up along the way.
While the Mississippi River has influenced much of my love of storytelling, another driving inspiration on this project is my Grandma Emma, who passed away in 2014. She suffered from Multiple Sclerosis, and yet she was the strongest woman I have ever known — not to mention the biggest fan of my writing. A talented poet & painter herself, she believed in me and encouraged me to follow my heart, no matter what crazy path it seemed to be taking. In her memory, I plan to donate 20% of what I raise for this project to the National MS Society — and I have big plans for Meridian Creators continuing to contribute to the MS Society in the future.
I can’t wait to share my adventure and the stories of the people and communities I encounter along the way with all of you. Be sure to follow along by liking & following Meridian Creators on Facebook & Instagram! ❤