September 1, 2010 – People often ask me why I moved here, of all places. This is one answer.
By The Cerebral Aesthetic Vagabond
Local people have asked me countless times why I moved here, perhaps implying that anyone in their right mind (which excludes me anyway) would flee this place. Having traveled to different parts of the world, throughout this country, and having lived in several different locales, I think the people who live here may not fully appreciate the paradise in which they live.
Aside from this year’s summer-without-end, the weather is pretty pleasant; there is abundant sunshine, usually balanced by ample rainfall; there is greenery and flowers everywhere; one can open the windows to admit fresh air, the scent of flowers and the songs of birds, not to mention a surprisingly soothing cacophony of insect sounds; the people are friendly, old-fashioned and wave as they drive by in their cars; a person’s word is as sound as a written agreement, if not more so; the crime rate and the cost of living are low; one can buy a house here for the cost of a year’s rent for an apartment in a major city, on a lot large enough to grow one’s own food; I eat homemade pizza for lunch whenever the mood strikes me (such as today); I pay just three bills each month: telephone, electricity and water; I live within walking distance of all the commerce necessary for day-to-day existence; nobody bothers me and I can park my newly acquired, old pickup truck on my front lawn without anybody complaining or fining me for violating the CC&Rs (‘cause there ain’t any); my stress level is almost imperceptible.
I relate this litany of good fortune not to gloat, but to express appreciation for it and to suggest to people (again) that there is an alternative to the high-stress, high-cost, high-complexity lifestyle that seems to be making an unprecedented number of people depressed. I also want to remind people that although the majority of Americans live in cities today, the majority lived in small towns yesterday, meaning there are a lot of decaying small towns like mine begging to be resettled, each offering its own unique treasures and delights to those open-minded enough to see them.
A growing number of us recognize that things today are bad and getting worse. From our increasingly despotic government, to economic collapse, to the looming threat of World War III, the future is not looking good. One can dwell on such negatives, to no avail, or one can try to strike a balance between being informed, taking constructive action and enjoying life, the latter of which are my objectives.
Yesterday I decided to exercise some of that balance and do some kayaking on the river. Whereas I used to enjoy going on long hikes in the hot, dry, desert terrain around San Diego, I don’t know of any hiking venues around here. However, there is a nice alternative: a watery paradise comprised of myriad ephemeral channels beside the Mississippi River, collectively forming a vast swamp at times of the year when the water level is high. Yesterday the water level was medium, making the terrain less swamp-like, but still presenting long, inviting channels to kayak within.
Quietly paddling up these long, remote-feeling channels gives one a sense of going back in time, for the absence of human development, human noise or even any humans at all deprives one of any reference points in time. It could just as easily be the year 1910 or 1810, as 2010. One can imagine what it was like for the early explorers of this land, or for Huckleberry Finn.
Cool, shady channels along the Mississippi River
Unlike the desert hikes I used to enjoy, kayaking up the river channels offers one plenty of cool, peaceful, shady retreats from the hot afternoon sun. It’s a pleasure to float motionlessly under the overhang of a riverside tree and enjoy the serenity and coolness of the shade while observing the multitude of creatures going about their business.
One of the most salient features of the unspoiled water wilderness along the river is the abundance of wildlife, from water bugs, to catfish and carp, to great white birds.
At least two varieties of water bugs skitter effortlessly over the surface of the water, one whose appearance is not unlike the oblong pill bugs we used to play with as children, and the other so small that they are first detected by the tiny wakes they leave in the glassy, green water. Unlike many bugs that seem determined to annoy, these water bugs are perfectly content to skitter harmlessly about, hundreds of them moving in unison like schools of fish or flocks of birds, animating the otherwise placid surface of the water. Of course, I’d hate to fall in the water where it’s full of these bugs!
Then there are the showoffs, the carp who seem to enjoy startling kayakers. More than one yesterday unexpectedly leaped out of the water beside me, including an eighteen-incher that launched itself a good six feet above the surface, only to splash back in the water a few inches from my little boat (a few more inches and it would have been my guest for dinner!). I couldn’t help but think that they made themselves airborne in order to have a look around, particularly at the strange blue creature invading their normally isolated water world.
Finally, there are the enormous white birds with their long legs and necks – I don’t know what they are. They stand like sentinels, three or more feet tall, along the river channel, always taking flight before I get too close. In fact, I often only notice them when they do take flight because they are usually as stationary as statues. After taking flight, the huge birds circle gracefully overhead on their broad wings, searching for a new place to land, occasionally squawking out sounds that echo loudly through the woods.
There are also ducks, turtles, snakes, deer and other critters to be seen by the observant. Oddly enough, while one might expect mosquitoes to be a problem on the river, I don’t recall seeing a single one.
Although I set out to paddle to the end of one of those channels yesterday, after miles of paddling and several false endpoints that turned out to be merely sharp turns, I never did reach the end, which is just as well since a little mystery never hurt anyone.