Editorial: Gathering at the River Still Part of Our Lives

Saturday, May 3, 2014, Vol. 7, No. 19

Where the Mississippi River runs and recedes, it usually leaves more than was there before.

In the case of the Arkansas side of the river at Memphis, the muddy waters come and go, offering a riverside experience that mixes nature, history and that indefinable experience of just being at the river’s edge to watch its journey to the sea.

We see in the eco-park effort now taking shape in West Memphis a further erasing of the false borders and boundaries that no one but us applies to the place we call home.

The eco-park concept is an acknowledgement that the Mississippi River changes course as well as its level and the river’s path. It is taking shape as the National Geographic Society has been in our community and others along the river exploring the idea of a digital and social media experience that looks at the river itself as a region tourists could explore without regard to state lines and city limits.

A conservancy is a necessary first step.

The area can also serve as another reminder that our history extends long before Hernando DeSoto came to this region. Some of that history we have to make educated guesses about, other parts of it have been passed along as an oral tradition. Still other parts are integral to our culture today even if we can’t quite make out their faint imprint.

On our side of the river, there is another historic and largely forgotten area that would come to a fuller life with the Harahan Bridge boardwalk – the French Fort neighborhood.

Both of these areas tell our story in the traces they hold of where those before us made their contribution to our culture and our history.

In those changes are the stories of Hopefield and Esperanza, ferry crossings for journeys forced and voluntary and in between and cobblestone landings where stevedores became quick legends and back to anonymity just as quickly.

We continue to gather at the river after hundreds of years. The river has changed where we gather and the roads we take to come to its edge.

We come in large numbers during May to celebrate. We come alone in winter to contemplate. We bring those at the dawn of life for their own discovery and those near the end of life for one last look and thought.

It’s a source of life and a keeper of secrets that stay buried long after the need for secrecy.

In those lost and nearly lost worlds is perspective for where we are now, who we are now and what we do that endures and what we do that does not.

You don’t get answers to all of those questions by walking or bicycling across the Mississippi River and watching the muddy waters. What you do get is the certain knowledge that whatever your journey, whatever your reason, you are not alone.