Day 4: Goodbye, East

Current Location: Russellville, Arkansas
Miles traveled today: 508
Miles traveled so far: 1207
Cities traversed: Nashville, Memphis, Little Rock
Significant Milestone: Crossed the Mississippi River
Roadkill Observed: armadillos (TN), turtles (AR)

What really struck me today was a sense of the land. Tennessee is a vast and beautiful collection of stony hills and lush woods. There were dogwoods all along our path for another day. Even in the rain, TN is lovely. As we rolled into Memphis and things flattened out, the sky brightened until some blue could show through, and by the time we walked to the river the clouds were mid-westy with marching cumulus.

I studied the satellite map last night and was awed by the twisty arcs of the Mississippi. I’ve never navigated that river, but I feel I know it well after reading Jonathan Raban’s Old Glory. Right around Memphis he was fished out of the river and completed his journey on a barge tow, at the insistence of the captain, due to the treacherous nature of this river.

And she did not disappoint. Like milky coffee, seething with boils and the prongs of submerged trees, I wouldn’t dare sail on anything smaller than a paddle wheel steamer. We got a good look at the broad vista from downtown along the rail tracks. Later, crossing the Hernando de Soto bridge I couldn’t see much with all the fine iron girders of not one but three bridges.

Once on the Arkansas side I was struck by how dead flat it was, and how there was no ‘urban’ – right across the line from a major city. Memphis sits up on a bluff, but the Arkansas side is flood plain and more flood plain, and it continued like that for scores of miles inland.

Take a look at this satellite pic, and notice the swirls and whorls of the current and former oxbows. This river has written herself into this land for longer than we know. It wouldn’t pay to underestimate her willingness to change her course.

ribbons and scrawls of the mighty miss

Here’s a sampler from today, to give you a feel for the road.

watercolor highway
The Mighty Mississippi
Lovely Downtown Memphis
click on this for a larger view. It’s worth it.
Elvis Lives!