The poet, T.S. Eliot called it a “strong brown god.” Walt Whitman called it, “by far the most important stream on the globe.” The Ojibwa just called it “Mississippi.” And for 3 months during the summer of 2002, I called it home. I was a Memphis kid, snowed-in and homesick in a small New England town when I decided to build the only thing I felt could truly carry me back home— a Mississippi River yawl boat, the kind of open wooden skiff used to row and sail these muddy waters a century ago. The intent was to take the boat 2,300 miles from the Mississippi headwaters in Northern Minnesota to its end in the bayous below New Orleans. It was supposed to take 90 days to reach the Gulf of Mexico. It took me 15 years.
Following the research and construction of an historic boat, my wife and I spent a summer and fall traveling down the river under sail and oar. We camped on sandbars and in canebrakes and came to know the Mississippi, its people and its history, in ways no other mode of travel could allow. When the voyage ended abruptly at Algiers Bend in New Orleans, 93 miles short of the Gulf, I walked away satisfied that I had nothing more to prove. But the further I got from the river, and the closer I got to middle age, the more it troubled me to know I had left the thing undone. Confronting the anxieties of crossing into mid-life, my mind returned to the river and my hands to labor as I rebuilt a neglected and rotting boat to relaunch her in the river and finish what I started as a younger man.
Part travelogue, part narrative history of the Mississippi, and part memoir, Chasing Twain is a story about reconciling the past, rekindling a spirit of adventure, and rowing down the most important stream on the globe.
The above is an overview of Chasing Twain, a book currently in progress.