The Mighty Mississippi – Gossip Column

Being 20 feet from the river here in Dubuque has its perks… We have a front row seat to all the divine and strange goings-on above the surface. We’ve seen beavers poking about, ducklings puttering, goslings overtaking everything, eagles flirting and killing, bats flying during the daytime, blue heron pacing back and forth, deer fleeing, and pelicans doing what can only be described as a nightly synchronized swim. I shit you not! It’s something to see.

They do everything the same in a close-knit huddle. They turn this way, then that way, dunk down together with perfect form, raise one wing, come up, the other wing, swirl around, face the middle of the circle dunk again, change directions, and on and on it goes. If there are 3 or if there are 20 huddled in the water, they do this dance together. During the day you can find them flying or coasting down the river as independents (or so it seems), but at dusk they join in their ritual. After 6 nights of this, I feel confident about generalizing it as a daily event.

The bald eagles across the river come out less often, but always make a grand entrance when they do. Today must have been feeding day. I’ve never seen one catch a fish in person to my recollection, and I would have expected a sweeping jolt like a sneak-attack bamboozle. But not at all…. Instead it seemed as relaxed and casual as someone nonchalantly reaching for a can of beans and pulling it off the shelf. He just flew down gently, reached in, and picked it up as though the fish were already dead. Not a bad skill set to have…

The gosling epidemic is matched only by the duckling massacre that haunts me every year. For every poor duckling that goes missing there seems to be 3 goslings that not only survive but suddenly appear. The day we arrived I thrilled to see 10 fluffy ducklings swimming along with their parents. Dave and I quietly contemplated the reality that we would never see them as a whole family again. Ducklings must just be weak or stupid or maybe their parents are spiteful and negligent. Either way, I wait all year to see the darling ducklings but the shadow of their imminent demise clouds what would otherwise be pure joy.

Once a few years back I was sitting on a dock in Madison at dusk and saw a mother-duck go by with her 5 ducklings, then a few minutes later return with only 3, then pass me again with only 2. I must not be the only one who finds them irresistible… It was a horror that I cannot forget.

Dave gently let me know that there were only 2 ducklings this morning. I try to tell myself it’s a different family, but I know….

The gosling epidemic, on the other hand, leaves me irked and cold. I still don’t really understand the evolutionary purpose of geese, aside from the preponderance of fertilizer they let unfold behind them at every turn. The goslings, in spite of their useless wings and shabby fashion, seem unshakable. Perhaps it is their larger size, or their monster parents standing guard like warriors ready to fight. If only ducks could emulate such gusto.

Today there were 32 goslings and 14 geese on shore. Gross. Sometimes the goslings look cute when they are in the water. Sometimes.


Our time so far on the river has been better than I could have hoped. Apparently we were all experiencing a bit of a water shortage energetically and otherwise. I drink half as much water without feeling thirsty (whereas in the desert I never felt hydrated), and we are both feeling fresh, playful, open-hearted, and inspired. For now, anyways. We were told once that we, as a couple, need water to stay connected – that in the desert we would slowly burn. We thought being close to rivers or waterfalls might make up for it. Maybe not…

Our days here are relaxed and calm and the weather has been almost perfectly pristine. And to top it off there is almost no one at the campground. So we are on the river, in perfect weather, with nothing but grass, water, and trees to serenade us through the days and nights.

And to Eli’s appeal, there are many boats and trains that go by. He loved the riverboat, jet skis, and the “choo-choo boat” which we couldn’t find another name for. What would you call a bunch of connected cargo containers 2 football fields long floating down the river? Certainly there is a real name for it, but choo-choo boat does the trick.

And of course throwing rocks into the river takes up a good portion of his time. It is, after all, a good day’s work.

I miss the desert as I expected. There is nothing else like it. AND I think it’s good we got out when we did. I always call myself a delicate flower, and flowers don’t do too well in desert climates, generally speaking.

I feel confident to speak for Dave that he is feeling almost as refreshed as I am. Whenever I share with him my reflections on how this climate is helping me, he has already suspected the same for himself. Perhaps you can’t take the midwest out of the midwesterners….

On the flipside I feel I have a new appreciation for what it might be like to move here after growing up in the southwest. Ouch. If mountains, red rocks, and expansive desert views are your jam, you’re really out of luck. I can see the trees across the river maybe 3/4 of a mile away, and that’s SPECIAL. I won’t be seeing 70 miles in every direction anytime soon. Or, at least, there won’t be anything that far away to see.

Eli is talking up a storm. He’s gone up to 3-word phrases, and can repeat almost any word. For some reason, he won’t play along when I try to teach him, “please.” I’m not worried, but it is an interesting development. And he surprises us every day with words we didn’t know he knew or could say. I suppose it’s only a matter of time before we hear one we wish he DIDN’T know. Oops.

Funny tidbit… At dinner I was saying to Dave, “I love it when Eli tries to say something and then you can see the wires cross in his brain and he can’t get it out and he just stares off into space for a while,” to which Dave wittily replied, “Sound like he’s ready for adulthood.” Well put, indeed.

Eli’s also more labile. Could be the many, MANY teeth he seems to have coming in all at once, but he shrieks and tantrums more than before. I generally just see it as a natural expansion of his emotional range, now that he is more aware and less easily redirected. Life sucks, sometimes dude… I get it. You want that lego to balance on that tiny car and it just won’t. Or you want a cookie at 8am and mama says no way. Total bummer…. Let it out, kid. Let it out….

He also took a big spill today on the rocks and cut open his lip. His mouth filled with blood and he cried for about 10 minutes, which is a lot for him. I feel like I’m already as relaxed as a mother-of-three. When he falls, for the most part I don’t try to stop it. I pick him up, of course, but I don’t usually worry. In fact, especially given his resilience and persistence, I find it only improves him mobility.

We were in a restaurant a few weeks back and he was running and fell on his face on the carpet. The woman at the table next to him gasped and looked at me like, “Oh my god!” I don’t think my heart rate even changed. I didn’t move. I just looked at her and said with confidence and without attitude, “He’s fine.” And he got up and kept going.

He’s got Dave’s adventuresome spirit, determined concentration, and gentle demeanor. He’s got my moderation, love of water and sleep, and passion for music and dance. And who knows what else!…

So a few more days soaking in the Mississippi and then we head back to Madison. Time to throw a few more rocks, watch the ducklings disappear, and absorb the midwest vibe welcoming us home.

2 Responses to The Mighty Mississippi – Gossip Column

  1. Mom

    Lovely………..gentle, articulate, humorous, and sounds like a perfect finale to your current travels…………for now anyway!!!
    Can’t wait to hug you all.
    Mom <3

  2. Allison Byars

    <3 This whole blog. This post. You guys.


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