The last days of this journey moved as quickly as the current in this majestic river.
The last time I was in New Orleans was 21 years ago. Mike and I visited and stayed in Jerry Zachary’s B&B in the French Quarter. Jerry was such delightful company that we ended up talking and laughing together until the wee hours during that visit. Surprisingly (and I think it’s even a surprise to Jerry and I), we have stayed in contact throughout all the years since then. When he learned of my journey, he invited me to visit and I was thrilled to see him again. It’s another example of friendship that lives and flourishes regardless of time and distance. This was a quick visit, packed with good people, fabulous food, lively conversations and gracious hospitality. Thank You! I would have loved more time, but our raindrop was like a racehorse nearing the finish line and nothing could stop her now.
The Mississippi River undulates back and forth as it approaches the city of New Orleans, then dips to create the “crescent” which gives the city its nickname. Then, it is done meandering. From that point onward, the River stretches out and heads straight for home. The Great River Road clings to this no-nonsense river, as there is nowhere else to be on this narrow peninsula, for another 85 miles through Plaquemines Parish.
Just beyond Venice, Louisiana, the Great River Road ends unceremoniously. There is no definitive point marking the end, no sign or viewpoint of the River. The pavement simply ends and a gravel road continues a bit through a field of weeds to another complex of pipes and tanks behind a tall chain link fence. There is nothing that offers a moment of reflection, let alone closure. There was a moment of disappointment at that, a feeling of being left hanging, like listening to a piece of great music played without the final beat. Since then, however, the perfection of that moment has become increasingly clear – it could be no other way.
To conclude this journey, I was invited by Domenica Sibilich to board her family’s 65-foot boat, The Sea Pearl, for a cruise down the widening river, beyond the end of the road. As Serendipity would have it, the Louisiana Historical Society had booked a tour to the mouth of the river on that day, and I was kindly included. The Mississippi River itself does nothing to appease our human longing for definition. Where is the point it is no longer a river? You could arbitrarily pick one if you like, but the river has no need of such things. It gradually divides and spreads itself into the marsh, embracing its new form without hesitation.
When the Captain announced we were nearing the point called the “Head of Passes”, I excused myself from a conversation and headed for a little walkway along the bow to be alone with the River. There was nothing to see, really, just a vast expanse of water with low clumps of marshland visible in the distance. But, I knew from studying maps and aerial photographs that this is the point where the massive trunk known as the Mississippi River splinters into branches taking various routes to the Gulf.
I had no pre-conception of what I would feel in this moment, but I had a tiny ceremony I wanted to perform. On day 2 of this journey, at the headwaters of the Mississippi in Minnesota, I was given a gift by Terry Larson, the first of so many river friends who have made themselves homes in my heart. Terry had made a leather pouch and filled it with dried sage. As he presented it to me, he asked me to bless the river with small bits of the sage as I traveled. I have carried the pouch in my camera case every day since then, and have blessed the river with it many times. It has been a way to honor the great River, which in my heart is a symbol and metaphor for life itself, and it has been a way to say thank you to the Creator of All That Is.
I took some sage from the pouch, leaned out over the water and dropped it in as I said a simple prayer of thanks. A powerful ball of emotion rose from my heart to my throat and filled my eyes with tears. I watched the water twinkle with reflected light and imagined I saw our little raindrop bobbing happily away without a backward glance. There is nothing in Nature that resists change; there are no beginnings and no endings. Our raindrop wasn’t born when we began following her – she had been a part of Lake Itasca before that and part of a cloud and an underground spring at some point before that. Now she is part of the Gulf of Mexico, to be moved by the currents to some other continent until she evaporates again into a cloud and perhaps rains down on me, wherever I am. All life is part of this never-ending circle of transformation.
Surrender is the key to all doors. At every moment there is a Wisdom at work in our lives that wants to move us toward our greatest good. Among all forms of life, only humans have the capacity to get in the way of that Wisdom. We think we should be in charge; we tell ourselves it is our responsibility to try to direct our lives in the way we have decided is best. It is through that foolish arrogance that we create suffering for ourselves and others. Call that Wisdom whatever you like – for the purposes of this journey we have called it Serendipity – there are thousands of names for God. It is the Source of All Wisdom and by offering up our personal will, we can flow with that miraculous perfection of movement. Surrendering to Serendipity is simply another way to say, “Let Thy will, not mine, be done.”
There are honestly no words adequate to express my gratitude. To God, to the hundreds of people who have opened their hearts and been a part of this, to all of you who have traveled with me, supporting me with your love and encouragement, to my family, who are the wind beneath my wings – thank you from my deepest heart. Thank you for helping me to honor the beauty of all life by surrendering to Serendipity.
Many have asked how to keep track of the progress of this project as it moves into its next incarnations as a book and a slide show. I’m figuring out the most efficient way to do that, and will let you know soon, so please check back if you are interested in that.
For now, thank you for the gift of your presence in my life. Gayle