There She Goes…

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

About Gayle Harper

Travel Photographer and Writer
This entry was posted in LA - New Orleans, LA - Plaquemines Parish, Mouth of Mississippi River and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to There She Goes…

  1. Frances Spedding says:

    And thank you for a beautiful, heart warming story. I never expected to “travel” the Mississippi and now I have. In the company of some wonderful folk, witnessing some lovely friendships and sharing in knowledge which could only be gleaned through those friendships. You write so well and are aware of the source of that gift, as well as of the source of the Serendipity.

  2. My dear
    Congratulations on the completion of this phase of your journey, and blessings and thanks to you for sharing your insights and experiences with me. I do SO OFTEN think I should be in charge. So much serenity and joy arrive when I surrender to serendipity. Your journey has been a wonderful testimony and example.
    XOXO
    Maggie

  3. Stephen Marshall says:

    Gayle:
    Thanks for the journey and I look forward to the book and DVD.
    Stephen.

  4. Judy McCune says:

    I have a tear in my eye.
    It is a bitter-sweet time. I am not ready to give up your posts, but so glad you are home.
    Judy McCune

  5. Pat Mutter says:

    Gayle,
    Thanks for sharing this special journey with us.

  6. Nancy says:

    Thank you, Gayle, for showing how truly great the rewards for surrendering can be as opposed to not. Being on this journey with you has been incredible. Your words describing standing at the rail were so clear to me I could see and feel you.

    • Gayle Harper says:

      Thank you, Nancy. One of the many blessings of this journey was that it would be made immediately clear to me when I was “grabbing the wheel” and getting in the way – and the rewards were so immense every time I let go again. What a gift!

  7. Jeremy Schenk says:

    Gayle,
    Thanks for an amazing journey -I felt like I was there with you and looked forward to reading every new post! I look forward to seeing where this journey takes you next.

    Jeremy

  8. gina leitle says:

    Amen. Thanks for sharing this work in progress. I look forward to the book.

  9. Gayle Harper says:

    From: Terry Larson-51463 Wolf Ridge Dr. Cass Lake Mn. 56633
    tlnoadv@paulbunyan.net
    68.235.72.65 Submitted on 2010/12/06 at 3:49 pm
    It seems like yesterday, that I met you Gayle, at Itasca Park, at the beginning of the Mississippi River. This is Terry Larson, your friend at the source of this great river, who has followed your journey, like all those you met along the way, I’m in awe at the power this river has, and the lives and culture it gives birth to.
    It became clear to me early on in your journey of discovery, that we, the people you met along the way, were the raindrop’s that joined you on your way to the Ocean. In my area of the infant Mississippi River, you met your Totem, or as the Indian people here call it, your spiritual guide, the black Timber Wolf.
    Together Gayle, all us raindrops got to see the best America has to offer, it’s endless beauty, rich diversity of people, and culture that has given each of us the feeling of belonging to something greater than ourselves. You taught us the value of living in the moment, the wonder of the sunrise each day we awake, and the humility of knowing this river has a mind of it’s own. All the lives you touched, were enriched by your presence, like the river, you had to move on to the next bend, and beyond.
    As a river guide, it was such a blessing to paddle you through my families land, filled with the fruits of nature I harvest, Wild Rice, berries, plants and wild game. Showing you my connection to the river, made it all the more clear to me, that we need to protect the things in life we hold most dear, and tread lightly so we protect it for future generations.
    Your journey, Gayle, became all the people you touched, journey, and for that “we raindrops”, are forever grateful. We wish you the best in your efforts to put these encounters and pictures into a book, all of America can read and learn from. Your gentle ways, kind heart, humility, and gift of the moment, will remain with me the rest of my years. I’ll see you, Gayle, and all my fellow “raindrops” downriver. Terry Larson, Northern Adventures

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