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No Respect

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

The State of Minnesota has always puzzled me. Within its borders lies the birthplace of the Mighty Mississippi River. It has every right to brag about that.

Yet Minnesota has chosen to identify itself, instead, as the "land of ten thousand lakes." It's a strange decision for an up-and-coming, go-getting state full of little houses on the prairie. As if ten thousand do-nothing lakes could equal even a regulation-size hard-working river that's always going somewhere. Let alone the Mississippi, one of the world’s great rivers.

I may finally have figured out the reason. The Mississippi is born as a trickle out of Lake Itasca in central Minnesota, making its first, uncertain movements bubbling between smooth stones. Soon, it learns to crawl, and heads north, exploring a huge pine-covered nursery. By the time it flows into Lake Bemidji, it has become a young man with developing muscles. Minnesota then sends it to school, to learn to be a river, in classrooms like St. Cloud, before it reaches Minneapolis and St. Paul. Here, at the beginning of the locks and dams, the Mississippi gets its first entry level job generating electricity.

The apprentice Mississippi heads past St. Paul, invites the Minnesota and St. Croix rivers to join it, and reaches Red Wing at the head of Lake Pepin.

All that good Minnesota training has paid off. The Mississippi has become one of the hardest working rivers in the world. It would make any parent proud.

But then, from Minnesota's point of view, the Mississippi makes an unforgivable move: it leaves the state, and heads south past Wisconsin toward Iowa and Illinois, with no indication that it's going to return. All that good Minnesota water going somewhere else.

It's hard for Minnesotans to imagine anyone ever voluntarily wanting to leave Minnesota. That's why Minnesota disinherited the Mississippi River, and turned instead, to embrace its ten thousand loyal, if lazy, lakes.

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

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.