Warm Hearts and Cold Watermelon

I leave soon, heading for the birthplace of the Mississippi River. Day 1 of the 90-day adventure will be Tuesday, the 24th. Months of preparations are now down to the last details. There has been so much support, love and encouragement from so many directions, I am awed by it all. Thank you!

From the beginning, this project has had a life of its own and I am privileged to participate. On each of my previous Great River Road trips, friends were made – real connections with open-hearted people. It is clear from the hundreds of communications I have already had that the path ahead is lined with welcoming smiles. Thank you!

One of my favorite things about traveling the GRR is the festivals. Nearly every town has a festival celebrating something – their heritage, their local crop, or some tradition that gives them a reason to come together and have some fun. Luckily, I will catch several on this trip. A few years ago I made it to Montrose, Iowa for their Watermelon Festival.

Every August for 65 years now this river town of about 900 folks has been throwing this party. Somewhere around 9 tons of free watermelon is served up to thousands of friends and neighbors. There’s a parade, a midway of games and rides, music, a seed-spitting contest AND “Chicken Poop Bingo” (I didn’t get to see the actual chicken do its thing, but I’m told you bet on a number and if the chicken hits it, it’s your lucky day!).

It’s a weekend of reunions and yard parties.

There’s a mighty rivalry between groups of firefighters from surrounding towns pushing a suspended barrel with their fire hoses.

The river is vast here – nearly a mile wide. I was wandering back roads scouting for a good place to be on the next sunrise when I passed a woman tending flowers in her front yard. She looked up, smiled and waved so I stopped. When I told her what I was looking for, she knew exactly the place.  She decided it was too complicated to tell me how to find it, so she hopped in my car and took me there. This was how I met Peg, who decided that I must meet her neighbor, Rhoda, whose house had a lovely deck looking out on the river. As the three of us chatted on Rhoda’s deck, they decided to call another neighbor with a pontoon boat to see if he would take us all for a ride to see the flock of White Pelicans that stayed near the opposite shore of the river. After the ride, Rhoda invited me to stay in the cabin next to her house, so I could step out in the morning and shoot the sunrise over the river.

This is the magic of life as it unfolds without an agenda. This is the open-hearted beauty of river people. This is why I am making this 90-day journey.

Rhoda passed away since I was there. Her family found a thank you note I had written among her belongings, so they let me know of her passing. I know her spirit lives on in the River and the River lives in each of us. See you soon!   Gayle

About Gayle Harper

Travel Photographer and Writer
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7 Responses to Warm Hearts and Cold Watermelon

  1. Marilyn Chana says:

    I love what you have written so far and I can’t wait to go along on this exciting trip as you travel down the Mighty Mississippi! Safe travels and know that you will be in my thoughts and prayers.

  2. Marie Bintliff says:

    The beauty that is hidden but there for everyone who wishes to partake of it. Loved the story and the pics. Waiting for the rest of the stories—-page 2.

  3. Frances Spedding says:

    The beauty of your sunrise photo is enhanced by the beauty of a chance encounter with the folk whose welcoming ways add so much to one’s experiences in life. Thanks for making that part your journal.

  4. Gayle, I’m enjoying your recollections and am right there with you surrendering to serendipity. I made a momentous decision last week to close the book on a business project that is not a good fit for me. Instead, I am surrendering myself to let new wonder and beauty AND MONEY flow into my life. I love reading about your calm and joyful journey and OMG the photos! Thanks for sharing. XO Maggie

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