Down by the Water

Greta Ripperda
Dame Regional High School
Grade 12

At best, I am uninspired by the Mississippi River. At worst, I am terrified of it. The famous singer Johnny Cash wrote a song about it. The esteemed author Mark Twain wrote an entire novel about a boy on the river. St. Louis, St. Paul and countless other cities bloomed because of it. If so many people benefit from the Mississippi River, why am I afraid of it?

I cannot help but feel the river is sinister. Its angry appearance warns me to stay away, like a scowl on the face of an enemy. It further daunts me by stretching its arms out forever, taunting me with its vast size. The current destroys logs and driftwood, promising the same fate to me should I dare enter the water. The scornful countenance and far-reaching scope of the river threaten me, and the powerful current whispers I am not its friend.

I do not step into the water, but I stand on the riverbank to take in the view. I had expected beauty beyond explanation, but the true nature of the river disgusts me. Golden beams of sunlight try to reflect off the water, but instead of glistening, the water buries the light beneath the surface. The only difference between the water and mud is the current. The water is a thick soup around my hand, sandy and grimy. My hand remains right below the surface, but I cannot see even an outline of my fingers. I do not know what is happening underneath the water. All I can see is brown, swirling and dark. The air around the water is hazy and hangs heavy, as well.  The closer I get to the river, the more my eyes water. The foul odor of rotting fish and stale water clings to my nose and tongue, making it impossible to breathe through my nostrils. Motor oil hangs in the air, the oily atmosphere making my skin slick and greasy. My throat is tight with the lack of clean oxygen, and my eyes burn with the prickly sting of the river’s breath.

What the river lacks in aesthetics, it more than makes up for in magnitude. As I look out over the river, I have to squint my eyes to discern trees on the opposite shore. I see barges up and down the river, but they look no bigger than matchbox cars in the middle of the water. Logs that are clearly much larger than me drift down the river, but they are no bigger than pencils in the water. A train drives along the opposite shore, but any noise it makes is sucked into the endless abyss above the river. Boulders that line the train tracks are merely misshapen marbles, and trees that dot the land are simply spiked toothpicks.  

The water calls my attention back by angrily slapping at the stones near my feet. The Mississippi River intimidates me with its power. The current rushes past like a hundred race horses, taking everything in its path. Ships sailing upstream fight a battle with the current, but the current fights back with the strength of seven armies. Litter that has been lost to the river slides by, slamming into driftwood with the force of the water. The river creates a loud silence, blocking out every noise except for the flowing water. It pounds in my ears, a continuous lion’s roar. The unrelenting klaxon and white caps of the choppy water warn all curious children to stay away. Water crashes furiously onto the earth, like a trapped animal trying to break free from its cage. The spray from the restless water that covers me instructs me to stay away.

I do stay away, because the river is not hospitable. It swallows all the stones I try to skip on the surface of the water, and it laughs at my insignificance. As I leave the river to itself, I still hear the rushing water pounding in my head. The stench of pinguid air and rotting fish sticks to my clothes, even when I am miles away from the water.

I am reminded the Mississippi River is not my friend.