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Canoeing the Mississippi River


Our farm was only a few miles from the Mississippi River—our very own natural wonder. After a trip to the grocery store, Momma often drove us over the levee to make sure the river was still there. And crossing into Memphis, we held our breath on the bridge spanning the water, a game we played in route to the Memphis Zoo, Goldsmith’s or the Mid-South Fair. It was a l-o-n-g way over.

Helena Arkansas - Canoeing The Mississippi River - Only In Arkansas

But no matter how much we loved the Mississippi, we were NEVER allowed to swim in the river. EVER. Don’t stick one toe in, Daddy warned my little sister and me over and over again.

When a classmate drowned, we understood and respected his power.

I recently stepped a toe into the Mississippi River. Both feet, in fact. The cool water felt marvelous, yet forbidden. As I pulled my life jacket tight, I felt Daddy roll over in his grave.

I was part of a small group of Arkansas Women Bloggers invited by the Helena Advertising and Promotions Commission to spend a few days in their delta town overlooking the Mississippi River.  Although Helena is directly downstream from our farm near Osceola, this was my first visit.

And a cram-packed, entertaining visit it was. One of my favorite activities was canoeing on the Mississippi River. Led by the Quapaw Canoe Company, we canoed to Buck Island (also known as Island 63).

The spectacular autumn air held a welcomed freshness after a prolonged, hot summer. A sense of nervous excitement grew, for me anyway—being on the river, feeling the tug of water against the oar. We laughed and talked and row, row, rowed, landing on the island just before sunset.

Helena Arkansas - Mississippi River Banks - Only In Arkansas

Buck Island was remote and uninhabited. The only signs of life were animal tracks stamped in the sand.

In only moments, our guides built an impressive fire from sticks and driftwood gathered from the nearby woods. As the sun sank into the riverbank, we ate dinner by bonfire glow, debated the perfect way to roast a marshmallow, and drank the finest boxed wine from hefty coffee mugs.

Helena Arkansas - Canoeing The Mississippi River - Campfire on Buck's Island

I wanted to stay on that island forever.

Canoeing back in silence, Venus shone brightly above the tree line, and the Milky Way cut a bright swath in the night. Like a great whale, a barge slipped by, moving the black water. I imagined rafting the river at a different time, in a different world, one without lights from the nearby bridge or the hum of soybeans being loaded onto nearby barges.

Underneath an endless sky surrounded by the mighty river, I returned to shore awestruck.

Mark Twain said it best—”it is not a commonplace river, but on the contrary is in all ways remarkable.”


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Talya Tate Boerner is the author of two award-winning books—The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee and Gene, Everywhere. A fourth-generation farm girl and native of Mississippi County, Talya lives in Fayetteville where she is self-proclaimed nature lover and book hoarder. Talya blogs at Grace Grits and Gardening and writes a quarterly column for Arkansas Farm Bureau’s Front Porch Magazine called Delta Child. When she isn’t writing, she can be found playing in her garden.

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