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Moving Islands

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Are you one of those who feels the world is going by your window too fast, blurred like a video on fast-forward? Before stress gets the best of you, pay a visit to Rock Island, and let us put you on one of the Mississippi River's moving islands.

I guarantee a leisurely trip; you'll have time to see every inch of landscape. And there's no fuel to buy, no mileage charge, no tickets required; it's free.

Here's how it works. Nearly all of the hundreds of islands sprinkled along the Upper Mississippi began as sandbars that got uppity. The river current deposits silt and sand in a quiet backwater, marshy plants take root and hold the would-be island until willows arrive to establish their claim.

The new little island now slows the river current further so that more sand and silt settle out, and the island grows longer and longer. Hardwood trees establish themselves, walnut and ash, and now there is a real island here, an island we might put you on.

But the Mississippi never sleeps. Its current works away at the upstream end, washing soil away from between roots, and depositing it at the downstream end of the island. So, the island travels slowly down the river. If you built a house on this island, your front yard would get shorter; your back yard would grow. Even the largest of your front yard trees would eventually wash out and fall into the river, while cattails and rushes were taking hold in your backyard.

If you were willing to go to the work of moving your house every decade or two, it would be a nice trip. Rock Islanders are friendly, and we'd wave from our own immovable limestone island as you passed on your way south.

With any kind of luck, your great-great-great-great-great granddaughter might well end up at New Orleans on her now-tropical island. Think of all the journals and diaries of your family odyssey she would have to read by then. A whole library.

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