The working river builds in the waters of the Mississippi, as they course down from its headwaters at Lake Itasca.
There in the far north of Minnesota, the waters turn from a trickle to a stream and run south, taking in tributaries, thirsty for the offerings given by the land over all the centuries. Above the old towns of Mahnomen, Saint Anthony and Kaposia, it is still a young river.
Below the Falls of Saint Anthony, the Mississippi gathers itself and hunches its liquid shoulders between the high bluffs it has cut through the sandstone and limestone. It slides smoothly, crooning to the rocks and trees above, and reaches out for the waters of the Minnesota River, rolling in from the farmlands and fens to the west and south.
Below Old Fort Snelling, it embraces the Minnesota and cuts to its left, running nearly north into the valley that was home to Kaposia, then Pig's Eye, and now Saint Paul. The river runs under the High Bridge, past Harriet Island and the sweeping bend below the West Side, and then ducks back under the Wabasha and Robert Street bridges before turning south again for its run to Grey Cloud Island.
Below Hastings, the Mississippi drinks from the Cannon River and then plunges ahead to its marriage with the Saint Croix and the waters from the flowages of Wisconsin. It is as if it knows of the long journey coming up, to the south and the Gulf of Mexico. It is as if it rests for a little time, spreads out, relaxes in the fertile valleys along Lake Pepin, and counts the blessings of its birth.
Then it is on to Saint Louis and merger with the buffalo-grass taste of the Missouri, running out of the Dakotas and Nebraska. Now it is the Father of Waters. Now it is Mark Twain and banjoes, the songs of John Hartford, the whistles of the towboats and the echoes of steam.
[Image courtesy of Chris Faust]