MISSISSIPPI RIVER - MINNESOTA
When the Mississippi flows down, it spreads out over the broad valley making countless bayous of marshland, surrounding innumerable islands, while above its banks bluffs and hills with rounded, pointed, or squared contours, rise against the sky to form an idyllic back drop for the cities lying at its level.
—Minnesota: A State Guide (WPA, 1938)
True-blue Minnesotan Marianne McNamara writes about growing up around the Mississippi River in the Land of 10,000 Lakes for #AmericanGuideWeek Field Assignment #8: Waterways.
It is a river made up of North to South identities. There’s a Minnesota Mississippi. A Wisconsin Mississippi. An Iowa Mississippi. Illinois. Missouri. Kentucky. Tennessee. Arkansas. A Mississippi Mississippi. And a Louisiana Mississippi. This is the Minnesota Mississippi:
Back in the 1950s, when I was a girl, my family headed “Up North” for our summer vacations. In Minnesota, Up North is where people go to get away from the city. Not the mountains, not the shore. Up North is thousands of cabins on hundreds of lakes, surrounded by miles of forests, bogs and prairie. Perfect for fishing, swimming and just getting away from it all. We visited some of the familiar towns mentioned in my sixth grade Minnesota history book: Bemidji (home of legendary giants Paul Bunyan and Babe, the blue ox), Alexandria, Duluth (port city on Lake Superior), Park Rapids.
One of the most memorable experiences from our travels was a stop at Itasca State Park, headwaters of the mighty Mississippi River. I thought I knew the size of the river because it flowed through Saint Paul, near my grandmother’s house, on its long, 2,500 mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico. It was wide and deep, with a strong current. But at Itasca, the Mississippi began as a shallow stream at the north end of Lake Itasca. I splashed across the ankle-deep river waters with my brothers.
The Mississippi has flowed through Minnesota for more than a million years. Known as the state of 10,000 lakes, the land was shaped during the Wisconsin period of the Great Ice Age, about 75,000 years ago. Powerful glaciers carved out rock formations creating the beds and valleys of Minnesota’s modern day lakes and rivers, including the Mississippi. Saint Paul, the state’s capitol and second most populous city (behind Minneapolis), was built on a series of bluffs rising up from the river to the surrounding plains.
Today, I live in Saint Paul, just a few miles from the Mississippi. I have always considered the Mississippi my river, just as I consider Minnesota my state and Saint Paul my hometown. I have great respect for the river and love her spectacular beauty.
In the fall, I would argue there’s not a prettier sight anywhere than the banks of the Mississippi, right here in my hometown, when the sugar maples and sumacs flame red, orange and yellow.
Editor’s Note: Marianne McNamara is mom to one half of the A/G co-editor duo and mom-in-law to the other half.
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Marianne McNamara is a retired jack of all trades turned writer living in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Find her at auntshoe.blogspot.com.