I first noticed John Ruskey’s picture in my local newspaper with full costume. He and his river partner, Michael Clark were panelists during our local community college’s book festival featuring the history of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Something about their commitment to a dream caught my interest and has held it. Ruskey and Clark took off on an expedition that began on September 3, 2001. Their journey with a map was to follow the path that Lewis and Clark had forged all those years before them.
These guys were river mates for over a year and re-discovered the beauty of the wilderness that is growing scarce in this great country of ours.
John Ruskey is the owner of Quapaw Canoe Company, based in Clarksdale Mississippi. An integral part of his business is teaching apprenticeship. Quapaw hosts an after-school program called The Mighty Quapaws that teaches the art of canoe construction, swimming and other river skills to kids and adult volunteers. Many of them also learn about website construction and surfing the net while earning money to put into a savings account for something special. The emphasis of the program is on exercise, good health and positive role modeling, funded by a grant from Dreyfus Health Foundation. He and his staff of guides offer custom river expeditions complete with gourmet meals of raft ‘taters and stargazing. There are Full Moon floats and Musicians' floats along with special retreats for the artist in you.
John is an artist and musician himself, as well as a riverguy. His ties to Clarksdale are a commitment to the rich heritage of Delta blues legacies such as BB King and Muddy Waters. Originally from Colorado, he settled comfortably into the Delta region and found himself at home there in the midst of kudzu and voodoo with the Mighty Mississippi as his best friend.
This is one of Ruskey’s paintings that served as the logo for the 2004 meeting of the National Association of Environmental Educators.
He answered a few questions for me recently:
1. How did you end in Mississippi from Colorado?
Gravity brought me here. Follow the water out of Denver and you'll eventually end up in Mississippi, down the Platte, the Missouri, etc. The Mississippi connects us all, east & west.
2. What is your vision for the Mighty Quapaws?
The Mighty Quapaws is an after-school apprenticeship program run by Quapaw Canoe Company for Clarksdale youth, skills include swimming, canoe making, paddle construction, and river guiding.
The purpose of the Mighty Quapaws is to provide an opportunity for Clarksdale and Colorado youth to learn the skills necessary to safely paddle canoes on the Mississippi River, and to guide clients on Canoing Expeditions. Mighty Quapaws must be willing to paddle on the Mississippi, to work with other interns, to listen to teachers and senior interns, and above all to respect the river. The river is God's creation and must be loved as such.
Look for the Mighty Quapaws on the Mississippi River at the Memphis Canoe Race in May, 2005 and on the Sunflower River Expedition, February, 2006.
3. Where did you and Michael hook up and find a common dream?
Mike Clark and I first met by chance coincidence out on the waters of the mighty Mississippi near Hurrican Point, he was with two other paddlers descending the length of the Mississippi, and i was with a Dutch couple. It was one of the those mysterious river moments, the river bringing together driftwood from different regions of the country.
Quapaw Canoe Company
291 Sunflower Ave.
Clarksdale, MS 38614