I walked across the Mississippi River.
I did. I really did. And not across a bridge; it’s was across Dam #1.
A couple days ago, on our way back from Bemidji, Paysh suggested that we go check out Lake Itasca State Park, famous for being the source of the Mississippi, the largest river in North America.
So, we did, and it was inspiring, and beautiful.
At the great river’s beginning–where the crystal clear waters of Lake Itasca spill over its bank–it is only about 30 to 35 feet across. It is marked by what I would call Dam #1 of the Mighty Mississippi: a loose string of stones that one can step across, if careful–I managed to slip and get my feet wet–to reach the other side.
Just down stream, about 100 feet, is Bridge #1, a large log that is also only about 30 feet long.
It’s quite amazing to walk across both of those spots and contemplate where the water is headed: St. Paul, St. Louis, New Orleans, and the Gulf of Mexico.
At this point in the river, a man in a canoe has to get out often to push it over little stones in the bed of what is little more than a stream, a creek: the water so clear that he could count every pebble. But by the time he reaches New Orleans, that stream becomes one of the great rivers on Earth: miles wide, mark-twain deep, and muddy as hell.
But what I contemplated most while standing in this spot, was the idea that this was the source of the great river, and more deeply, about the source of anything.
How do we find the source?
How do we know where anything originates?
Think about it for a second. Yes, the river flows out of Lake Itasca, but is the lake the ultimate source of the Mississippi?
That depends on where we decide to draw the line; it’s arbitrary. Where is the source of the Lake? What about the little streams or creeks that flow into IT? Are they not the source of the great river? What about the springs that feed those creeks? Where do the springs come from? Groundwater? Where does that originate? Rain!
You see where I’m going with this. You can never stop tracing the source, once you begin. Any source is an arbitrary distinction that you place upon it so you can stop looking and go eat lunch, or sleep, or find something else to do. But you will never find the ultimate source, unless you just accept that the true source is the Universe itself.
We could, of course, choose arbitrary words to define what we mean.
We could say that the exit from Lake Itasca is the headwaters of the Mississippi, to distinguish the spot where it spills from the lake and becomes a larger stream. But that is our own definition; it is not a natural one. Nature doesn’t give a shit about our distinctions, and she’s much smarter than us anyway.
The next problem is the subjective terms stream, creek, and river. I’m sure there are official, U.S. definitions for river, but what about the moment a creek becomes a river? Even if there is an official measurement of some kind, it is still arbitrary and subjective: a human measurement that isn’t really all that useful, or meaningful.
These are the kinds of things that run through Steve Bivans’s mind when he’s on vacation for a couple of days with his lovely girlfriend, Patience (and boy does she need it), standing on the banks of the Mississippi in bumfuck Minnesota.
By the way, the spot is quite beautiful, too. But the beauty spurs my mind into philosophical musings about the Nature of Reality, of Source.
I’m such a great vacation companion.
I think I’ll leave you with those thoughts, for now. I could go on. And on. And on. Much like the Old Man River, himself.
This was Day 42, I think of my Year Long, Daily Blog series.
It is also part 5 of the Nature of Reality series, preceded by part 4, What Do We Own? and part 6: Bootstraps, Boat Wakes, Past & Present