June is National Rivers Month, a month set aside to celebrate our nation’s waterways. I’d like to talk about the most important one for me, the Mississippi.
I grew up in Moline, Illinois, and could see the river from our back porch. We occasionally swam in the sloughs, the backwaters that occurred along the river. It probably wasn’t a particularly safe thing to do. But much safer than swimming in the river, proper. It was well known that tunnels and caves were at the bottom of the river and currents could suck you into them. Whether or not that was true, I don’t know, but it was well known.
A neighboring river that fed into the Mississippi, the Rock River, was much calmer and safer and was where people boated and water skied in the summer.
Growing up so close to a major body of water, I’ve always been fond of rivers and have an almost emotional attachment to the Muddy Mississippi. That’s why, when I got the contract for the Fat Cat books and learned they were to be set in Minneapolis, I was delighted that I could include my old friend, the river.
Here’s a scene from the first book after Chase has ridden her bike to the bridge over the river:
The sight of the Mighty Mississippi always calmed her. She stopped, straddling her bike for a few moments, watching the progress of the water that was near the beginning of its two-thousand-mile journey. When she was a child, she’d floated paper boats on its surface, then imagined their trip, picturing them making it all the way to New Orleans. Now that she was an adult, she knew a piece of paper would never make it that far. Still, she could imagine the voyage. She took a deep breath of the clear, crisp-tasting air over the cool water and pedaled to the shop, renewed and ready for another long day.
I never actually floated paper boats on the river, but in books that I read, kids did. I should have, so I had Chase do it.
This is a familiar scene from my childhood, a river barge.
I included another short passage, after Chase and Julie have biked there in the third book:
When they reached the middle, they stopped to watch the river. Chase always felt something switch on inside her soul, something that glowed with a serene light, when she stood and gazed at the peaceful Mississippi as it flowed beneath her.
Now that’s something I’ve done a lot, at many rivers. Doesn’t it seem like people have connections to water? Mine is to rivers and streams.