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Dick Stahl

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Has anyone seen Dick Stahl? He's the Davenport Central High School English teacher who took the Great River Road from LeClaire, Iowa, up toward Wisconsin a couple of summers ago, and hasn't been seen since. Some folks say he took a wrong turn somewhere along the way and got lost. Not so. I happen to know that he took a right turn and got found.Dick's a Mississippi Valley poet, a chronicler of islands, ice, and catfish. Stories he'd heard about the great rafts of white pine coming down the Mississippi in the 19th century drew him to LeClaire, where raftsmen once gathered under an old riverbank elm known as the Green Tree Hotel after taking their rafts down to the mills. From LeClaire, Dick traveled upriver, through small river towns: Princeton, Camanche, Sabula, Guttenberg, New Albin. More and more he could imagine those old days, and even see the long-lost rafts out in the channel.

It was near Nelson, Wisconsin, that he disappeared. He took a narrow road past a tangle of weeds and wildflowers, and there he was at Beef Slough, where once the free-floating logs were tied into rafts for the trip down the Mississippi to the mills.

And there was a raft, and a motley crew of raftsmen who invited Dick along for the trip down to LeClaire. "What time is it?" Dick asked one of the crew, who turned out to be the legendary raftsman, Whiskey Jack. "1870," replied Whiskey Jack.  Then, the raft was on its way, and Dick Stahl along with it. One by one he met the rest of the crew: Ole Olafson, Nine Lives, and Square Mouth, and the rest. Soon Dick was writing down the stories they told, and his own, too. We know this because his manuscript was washed ashore at Davenport one morning and ended up getting published. Someone who looks a bit like Dick Stahl still teaches English over at the high school, but the poet who took the raft down the river disappeared for good.

It might just be coincidence, but there are those who say that when the sunset hits the riverbank at LeClaire just right, it's possible to make a raft crew resting underneath a large green tree, waiting patiently for the next raft to come by. And a few swear they have seen a man in a baseball cap sitting there on a log, pencil and pad in hand, taking down the stories that echo faintly from the Green Tree Hotel.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.