Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Watchin' the River Run

John Ruskey and Jim Stark were on a mission that day when they met up in my front yard here in rural Northwest Tennessee and it was purely a labor of love for both of these devoted rivermen. They departed together with a Bell canoe and a kayak to scout the route for the next days' adventure on the Forked Deer river. Downtown Dyersburg Development Committee hired Ruskey to lead a group of paddlers on the "scenic route" along the river that winds under the bridges on Main Street and further south on the 51 By-pass. Stark, the mayor of Trimble, is a key player in the push to explore and preserve the local river.

Early the next morning the crew of eleven adventurers met up at the new downtown Farmer's Market built on the bank of the river to load up and begin the day. It was a diverse crew consisting of a newsman, two schoolteachers, one teenager and nature lovers from various other walks of life. After John grabbed some peaches from the market, they were off to their put in point at the old iron bridge in Roellen, some ten miles east. Ruskey was the captain of his 26 foot+ dugout canoe called The Ladybug, personally handcrafted from a huge cedar tree. Back in the sixties, the river was prone to flood quite often making farming near to impossible in lowlands and often running people out of their homes during the spring rains. It was then that the Corp of Engineers channeled the river reducing the potential for floods but basically turning it into a big ditch.

As Ruskey and his crew paddled their way west towards Dyersburg, they were treated to some fantastic scenery and a lot of horrendous examples of disrespect for nature in the form of trashing the banks and water of the Forked Deer. Along the way they spotted wildlife of every sort brightening the landscape that was littered with all sorts of refuse from a refrigerator and sunken boat to bottles and cans. As Ruskey wrote in his dispatch later " The river has started to regain some of its' meanders." To nature lovers, that's fantastic news!Originally from Colorado, the forty six year old Ruskey migrated to Clarksdale, Mississippi by way of, what else.....rivers! He and his paddling buddy Mike Clark of St. Louis have recreated the Lewis and Clark expedition as a duo, and played an active role in outfitting and guiding a crew that did the same trip in 2006 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of that historic expedition. He established Quapaw Canoe Company on the banks of the Sunflower River in Clarksdale in 1998 and is a much sought after guide for river exploration in the southeastern United States. An artist, blues fan and devoted husband and father, he has spread the love of river paddling to a new Quapaw Outpost in Helena Arkansas all the while overseeing an afterschool apprenticeship program for at-risk Clarksdale youth who learn much more than river skills from their time with John. His "hostess gift" to me was a copy of Alton Brown's fascinating book "Feasting on Asphalt" in which he travels the length of the Mighty Mississippi sampling foods and sharing recipes from unique family owned restaurants and dives along the way. Ruskey took Brown and his entire audio/visual crew for an overnighter in the Ladybug on the Mississippi teaching him how to cook on the cane that grows wild along the river.

Cost of gas got you down? Get out there and paddle ya'll!!

Quapaw Canoe Company
291 Sunflower Ave.
Clarksdale, MS 38614

Quapaw Outpost Helena
410 Cherry St.
Helena, AR 72342