This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.
Drive with me down the 2,500 miles of Great River Road along the Mississippi from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, and let's watch the river grow.
Born of spring water and fresh rains, the baby Mississippi trickles out of Lake Itasca, inches wide, rolling over smooth glacial boulders. During its meandering trip through northern Minnesota, it learns to turn over, then crawl. By Lake Bemidji, it has taken its first unsteady steps.
Soon, it is running, strengthening its muscles against banks and islands. Then, overnight at Minneapolis, it's puberty. The river tumbles over St. Anthony's Falls and gets its first job, generating electricity. Like most teenagers, it needs to be taught to control itself with limits set on its activities. For the next six hundred miles, locks and dams keep the teen river reasonably in check, tough sudden spring rains sometimes send water spilling over banks on a binge or two.
By St. Louis, the Mississippi has grown up. Here it marries the wide, silt-brown Missouri, and together, these two rivers settle down to family and career—a long and fruitful middle age, raising a family of tributaries that cover 32 of our fifty states. The rivers work hard, with little time for vacations, transporting grain, coal, and oil, cleansing debris from the heartland.
Then, quietly, somewhere above New Orleans, the Mississippi slips into silvery old age. Now, it is the romantic and nostalgic river of memories, of the Natchez and the Robert E. Lee, the river of spirituals and old songs.
At New Orleans, 2,500 miles old, the Mississippi retires, turns its work over to a canal, and, nearing the end, wanders across the delta in several forgetful channels, channels which, one by one, pass gently into the arms of the welcoming Atlantic Ocean. The Father of Waters has done a better job of growing up and growing old then some people do.
Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.