The Mississippi River lives and breathes and seems to be running in my veins. I remember my first glimpse of it from the back seat of my family’s blue and white DeSoto. My 9-year-old mind was overawed by its power and presence and I was filled with questions. My Dad answered them as best he could and taught me to spell its name with the little singsong chant, “M…i…crooked letter…crooked letter…i…crooked letter…crooked letter…i…humpback…humpback…i”. I sang it until I’m sure my family wished they had thrown me off the bridge!
In the years that followed, whenever I crossed it in my travels, I felt that powerful draw and heard the childish chant but stayed focused on making good time toward some destination. Then, in 2003 my husband and I were driving in southwestern Wisconsin and happened upon the Mississippi Great River Road. Again that powerful connection rose up in me – and I knew I would follow it as far as it went.
I’ve known since that moment there would be a book about the Mississippi Great River Road, but it has always been clear that I am not in charge. This project has a life of its own and I am privileged to participate. In 2009 when I was nominated for the Santa Fe Prize for Photography and presented this body of work to publishers and editors at the Review Santa Fe, it was well received, but I knew in my heart it was not yet ready. I was waiting for the concept to present itself that would bring this massive subject into something intimate and accessible.
In early 2010, while writing the text to accompany an article featuring my Great River Road photographs in Country magazine, I came across this statement on a fact sheet put out by the National Park Service – a drop of water entering the Mississippi at its headwaters in Minnesota will take about 90 days to complete the journey to the Gulf of Mexico. Everything in me came to full attention at that moment and I knew I had found the concept I had been waiting for!
That brings us to NOW – August of 2010. I will leave Lake Itasca, the headwaters of the Mississippi in Minnesota on August 24 and will wander the Great River Road for 90 days, following my imaginary raindrop until it meets the Gulf at Venice, Louisiana on November 21. Along the way, I will meet hundreds of beautiful, open-hearted people. I’ll learn their stories, capture their images and share in their lives in whatever way they offer. I’ll be welcomed into communities, neighborhoods and homes and sample the unique flavor of each one. I will spend countless hours in the presence of the Great River itself and, like my raindrop, be completely surrendered to its mysterious, ancient movement through my own heart and the heart of our country.
I invite you to join me! Gayle
June, 2013 – If you’ve been following a while, you know this amazing journey is now completed and we are well on the way to finishing the book! The writing is done, the photos are in the final edit and publication options are being sorted through. It’s a whole new adventure!
I’ll be posting regularly here with news of anything connected with the Mississippi River – so please offer suggestions if you have ideas, either by sending me an email or posting a comment. I’ll be asking for your advice and help as we move toward publication – so please sign up to be notified of posts by email or RSS! This has always been a shared experience and I love having your participation!
Thanks for traveling with me! Gayle