Earth of the Mississippi

The Mississippi River will always have its own way; no engineering skill can persuade it to do otherwise…
– Mark Twain

Spring of 2011, the great Mississippi river has overflowed its banks with a water swell cresting above the level of the “100 year flood”.  It has displaced thousands of people and caused over 3 billion dollars of damage to life and property.

Yet it is just doing what a great river does naturally – only so much more that it reaches disaster level.

A great river spreads its fertile sludge, its muddy water over the land around it, usually once a year in Springtime, to fertilize fields, deposit clay, minerals, and build land on a flat plain. These fertile plains for growing grains, are ones that humans have come to inhabit over thousands of years, from the Tigris and Euphrates, to the Nile, the longest river on the planet whose the ancient inhabitants celebrated the gifts that came with the floods every year. The floods of a mother river, as the Ganges is also called, have marked a turning point woven into the consciousness of the peoples who live on their shores. And the clay mud deposits have been the fertile earth and culture from which peoples grow. By learning to live with the river, its ebb and flow, its floods and it low flows, human beings learned how to live with the earth’s natural environment.

All cultures grow from earth and why not ours too? But this dream today has been replaced by a nightmare. Today no one is celebrating the floods of the Mississippi. For a start they contain toxic sludge, contaminating not fertilizing. The flood is a source of fear and loss, causing distress, pain, and sometimes death to those who live within a wide radius. The insistent tug of the floodwater is disassembling so many hopes and dreams invested in people’s homes and farms.  And the houses come apart board by board.

At this time the only real question to ask is, “How can we help others in need?”  In this spirit QRT Church and ASL donated over 200,000 sandbags to the emergency management office of the Governor in Baton Rouge, through donated UPS trucks, while the nation’s effort is going into how to resist these floods, build more levees and protect more peoples’ homes.

But after flood comes the tornado season, one disaster after another, and when the flood waters recede and people go home to the scattered farms and lumber, there is an overwhelming sense of loss. The reality of this unstoppable kinetic force flowing through the river hits people’s lives. It brings everyone down to earth and should not be ignored.

The first instinct is to rush to return everything to the way it was. Everyone asks when will help come from the government, FEMA, the Red Cross; and when will the insurance pay out to rebuild it all just the same? Well, after Hurricane Katrina some people are still waiting. Insurance companies call this “an act of God” and it is excluded from coverage. Insurances don’t pay out for that. Are people really going to be able to return everything to the way it was so easily?

The question we should ask is, “Should we really build the same homes and infrastructure, same towns in the same place and in the same way over again?” In this time of climate change who says that a 100 year flood might not happen again next year? How come more than 100 tornados have funneled down “tornado alley” just after this flood, along with storms and giant hail balls?

The towns affected by the floods and tornados have been uprooted and moved by these forces. Shouldn’t we be finding ways to build communities that are rooted somewhere safe and sure? Shouldn’t we be re-building the homes, communities and infra-structure in harmony with the force of this message from the water and the winds?

The Mississippi will go on giving this message from the time it arises in the snow melt of Minnesota and Canada, to when it merges into the ocean at the point of the gulf of Mexico; the ocean where hurricanes arise and the shore where they make land fall. Between the snow melt and the hurricanes, Mississippi travels through ten states, through mountain gorges and fertile plains, through harbor towns bustling with merchants’ activities to calm lakes and mirror sunsets, from dawn under the northern lights to sunset so much closer to the equator, then spreading and mingling into the ocean waters.

The curve of the river like a dancer swaying from side to side seems to invite the town and villages, hamlets and cabins, cities of Steinbeck and Mark Twain, to come, dance, be in the flow……….participate, join with one another, merge.

The Mississippi like a dancer twisting and turning, gracefully curving from side to side, her glistening sparkles reflecting the sun. How many folk songs have been sung about this greatest river of North America? Old Man River, lazy river, wild river, welcoming river, useful river. A myriad feelings and emotions have been reflected in the water of the Mississippi as it spins and turns and winds and curves its way down to the ocean.

Today it is time to accept that the beauty and the overwhelming force is coming from the same source. Time for rigorous scientific observation and conclusions. It’s time to be ready to get out of the way at any time, have a packed emergency back pack ready by the door. Time to accept that some things will have to “go with the flow”, in the next “act of God” and are temporary. For those who have lost those hopes and dreams in their homes, businesses and farms, it is time to let tears cleanse the streets of the soul and start working together in the spirit of unity. To take the chance to rebuild those communities sustainably in harmony with their environment. To respectfully engage with these natural forces and discover their benefits and the helping hand they can give, through the spirit of helping one another. The technologies are not new, but the attitude is. It is time to let go of what might have been and hold on to the moment.

” My quests became more meaningful when my goals met with others’ needs and goals. And I became important, in my own heart, only when I reached the others, as a drop of water becomes important only when it reaches the sea”- Racing Alone, Nader Khalili

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