There’s something about particular landscapes that can really get into your soul. For Ed Erdmann, it’s the Mississippi. He’s spent his life crisscrossing its shores, and finds himself returning to it again and again.
I spent my summers fueled by the river water running through my veins. As a kid, I lived in the bluffs above a Minnesota river town called Winona, that skirted the Mississippi. Living on top of the tree covered sandstone and granite hills, I often found myself dipping toes into the cool murky waters of the great river below. My father took me fishing and I went camping with other family members on the sand islands that populated the main channel.
Years later I moved myself across the big lumbering river to the Wisconsin town of La Crosse with my cousin. I wasn’t all that far from the family homestead that gave me my rural upbringing but I did a lot of living in that new town. Still I found myself, now older and more full of beer, discovering a life in and on the water. We had our own boats. With this liberty, we could find our own places to camp. Like bull elephants that got too wily for the matriarch’s taste, we foraged and rooted till we found a place to call our own.
The summers became our growing seasons. The shallows were our baths; the deeps our playground; the back channels our fishing holes. The profound, swift moving waters were our kingdom and we were our own kings. We would watch barges pass hauling grain and coal, party boats chugging full of thumping music and loud voices, small slow fishing boats trolling the shaded waters looking to spend the day in the back channels, and sleek boats too fast for our taste. Small kayaks and canoes would paddle near our shores filled with friendly people, camping gear and coolers. We watched all makes and models, and all shapes and sizes leave our humble kingdom. We watched sandhill cranes slowly hunt the shallows, and bald eagles diving with the force of a loosed arrow.
That river raised us from our late teens to our mid-twenties. The great Mississippi showed us her secrets and we humbly listened. We sat in silence for hours watching the daylight shimmer off the water until it gently tucked itself behind the bluffs. It’s hard to say if we came to the river with old souls, or if the river taught us how to house old souls. We were young. We lived fast and hard. The river gave us a place to be silent and listen to what life around us had to say. I have river water in my veins, and nothing can change that.
Ed Erdmann is a student at UW-Stout.