Rivers and streams across America

I have always loved rivers — the way they flow so silently to the sea. Or in the mountains, when they rush downstream over rocks and boulders, all energy and exuberance.

I have photographed many rivers and streams on my travels across the country, stopping on back road bridges, walking downstream at parks and nature preserves. Enthralled, mystified, their courses unknown around each curve and bend.
I like to sit and look at flowing water and think deep thoughts, the kind of thoughts that are inspired by the ceaseless flow of water. It’s calming and tranquil.

During rainy seasons, a swamp creek at Caw Caw Park flows toward the saltwater marsh. I walk along it and hear the gentle murmur of the water flowing over submerged tree branches. The water is tea-colored and seems to clear and pure. But more than likely, it’s a dry stream bed, just like those sloughs in the cypress swamp nearby that are only seasonally full of water. Still, I know the flow will return and I can once again hear it riffling over logs.

I am not sure what really accounts for my fascination with rivers and creeks. I guess one reason is the association I have of them with the country and the rural areas I missed so much as a child growing up in the big city of New Orleans. The one river I associate with my childhood was the Father of Waters, itself — the Big Muddy, the Mississippi. It is a mile wide and a force of nature as it flows to the Gulf of Mexico past downtown New Orleans in its 200 foot deep channel. That’s what I always heard, anyway.

As much as I love the Mighty Mississippi, I am drawm just as powerfully to the small rivers of the midwest, in nebraska, for instance, where they all start as small springs in the sand hills of the north and central part of that state.

I buy books about rivers. I look carefully at photographs of them. They endlessly interest me.

For a more detailed and nuanced view of why rivers and streams are so important in my memories of the past, here is something I wrote 24 years ago about the river (actually named a creek) that I know and love most intimately, with great awareness of, and familiarity with, its geography, hydrology, moods and temperament, and the magical pull that drew me back to its banks over and over again. Sadly, it’s been 35 years since I’ve been back there to that memory-laden creek in southern Mississippi where I took many solitary walks along its banks, and canoed sections of it on four or five occasions during the years 1985-1987.

Revisiting Black Creek

I am looking now at a photograph on the wall of a very special place, across the country deep in the piney woods of southern Mississippi. My faithful old yellow Nissan Sentra that carried me across thousands of miles of high plains, deserts and mountains on trips west, is in the lower right hand of the photo, parked on the shoulder of a narrow country road, the kind with sandy shoulders that come right up to the asphalt. It is a partly clear, but more on the cloudy-side, type of day. It is not light enough to really illumine the scene. In other words, not the best lighting conditions, but the composition and the memories are what I wanted out of the shot, not some crystal clear landscape.

Dominating the picture is a massive white oak tree just coming out in spring leaf, that stage where the bare branches are cloaked in puffs of green from a distance, and up close there are small, miniature oak leaves forming. It’s a huge tree that’s seen a lot of springs in Mississippi. In the background is an old barn with rusted tin roof.

That particular day, and I’m certain it was an early Saturday afternoon in late March or early April, I had just completed a weekend ritual of mine when I lived in Hattiesburg. It’s a college town, but no big burg, so it’s easy to get out in the country real quick, minutes at the most. To get away from the relative hustle and bustle of the small city, I would get on the Interstate for a few miles, then turn off on back roads heading to Purvis where I’d invariably make my way to Ward’s Hot Dogs and get a chili cheese dog, fries and a frosted mug of root beer. This was invariably my order, most Saturday afternoons when I made this trip. I’d finish with a small, soft vanilla cone in hand as I headed out the door to my car. Then it would be a short drive back out into the country, and I mean real, “blue highways” country, just the kind I love. No cars, narrow, winding roads and plenty of woods and farmland interspersed with those big oak trees along every stretch of road.

I’d soon be bumping down a sand track to the banks of Black Creek, one of the first National Wild and Scenic rivers in the Southeast, and a magnificent creek to float a canoe down, which I did on a number of occasions, oftentimes finishing up right at the landing I’d pull up to on those Saturday drives.

I’d get out of the car near the river. It was utterly quiet except for the wind in the trees. I’d walk awhile down the trail that wound along the creek on bluffs 20 or 30 feet above the water. Looking down, I could observe the water level and imagine myself gliding down the stream between the sandbars, making my way over and between barely submerged trees and branches that had fallen in the river.

It’s called a creek, but it’s one of those waterways, about 75 miles long, that for a good part of its length is really a small river. I remember trying to trace its course one weekend way upstream to its source. I kept stopping at bridges over a progressively smaller and narrower stream until it was only a few feet wide at one point.

After this short walk, I’d head back to town, generally passing the scene by the side of the road described earlier. I’d have crossed the bridge over Little Black Creek after stopping to watch its tea-colored waters flow fast over the sand in this little stream that is just about as picture-perfect as you can find. It is one of Black Creek’s major tributaries, and I’d always stop my canoe at its mouth where it joined the Black.

This little venture out in the country would take a couple of hours, and I’d come back to Hattiesburg refreshed and renewed. The pressures and anxieties of the week just past, and there were always plenty of them at that time, were temporarily gone, and I was in a clearer, better frame of mind.

Here is my journal entry from Sept. 13, 1986 describing one of my visits to Black Creek:

Relaxed this afternoon in the shade of a sandbar beside Black Creek. The stream flowed by as moving leaves on the surface marked its passage. The water level was the lowest I’ve yet seen for the creek, and will get lower as the dry month of October approaches. Occasional breezes stirred the leaves overhead, cicadas droned in the trees, and yellow butterflies skipped and darted above the surface of the water. I could have fallen asleep had I perhaps been lying on a sleeping bag or thick blanket. Passed a very pleasant hour in thought. Didn’t even open the book I had brought along to read.

Rivers and streams across America: Scenes from my cross-country travels in the 1980s:

https://www.flickr.com/gp/camas/bdZYsf

The final sonnet in William Wordsworth’s River Duddon series, my favorite poem about rivers since I was first captivated by these words as an English major in college in 1972.

Sonnets from The River Duddon: After-Thought

I thought of Thee, my partner and my guide,
As being past away.—Vain sympathies!
For, backward, Duddon! as I cast my eyes,
I see what was, and is, and will abide;

Still glides the Stream, and shall for ever glide;
The Form remains, the Function never dies;
While we, the brave, the mighty, and the wise,
We Men, who in our morn of youth defied
The elements, must vanish;—be it so!

Enough, if something from our hands have power
To live, and act, and serve the future hour;
And if, as toward the silent tomb we go,
Through love, through hope, and faith’s transcendent dower,
We feel that we are greater than we know.

My favorite song about time and rivers:

Time by The Alan Parsons Project:

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2 weeks ago

I wasn’t familiar with the The Alan Parsons Project — thanks for sharing.

2 weeks ago

I am also drawn to natural bodies of water (don’t care for the swimming pool, I don’ t now why), and love to take those kinds of pictures. My business name (Moon Tide Massage) and logo were meant to convey the relaxing peace that one experiences around water.

2 weeks ago

@startingover_1 The sound of flowing water is the ultimate relaxing and meditative sound, in my opinion.  I have lots of YouTube videos featuring that.

2 weeks ago

I haven’t had time to read this yet but wanted to say that I live just a few miles from the Mississippi River.  Sometimes it gets so high it’s just a few feet from the top of our levees…that gets very, very scary.

2 weeks ago

I live about an hour and a half from Jackson, MS.  Is that far from Hattiesburg?

Wow!  I haven’t heard that song in YEARS!!  I loved all the pictures.  I’ll have to find the picture I have of when the Mississippi here was so close to the top of the levee.  I’ll see if I can find it.

2 weeks ago

@happyathome I lived less than a mile from the Mississippi, and recall vividly when the river in Spring would be well above the land below.  Very weird sensation.  Thank goodness the levees always held!!  🥺🥹  What an amazing force of Nature that river is.

Jackson is about an hour up Highway 49 from Hattiesburg. I wish I had explored it more fully when I lived in Hattiesburg.

it’s an amazing song. A classic for the ages.