When we moved here, I knew I would be leaving behind a lot that I loved and thrived on. If I could choose one word to describe my old world, that word would be "access". I lived in a medium-size city of 70,000 that, despite its university and commuters to the Bay Area population, managed to hold on to its small-town atmosphere. Every July 4th and Christmas, the downtown area was shut down and Turlock turned into "It's a Wonder Life". For a short time, we could all be George Bailey and savor the friendships and joys of community celebration. Turlock is also a gateway city to Yosemite National Park. Travelers intent on visiting there might overnight there, which brings me to this week's topic.
It didn't take me long to realize that for all that I left behind, I gained something of great value - the Mississippi River. Mark Twain called it "the lawless river" and its ever-changing passage and vistas have created the backdrop for our lives from one season to the next. I've come to fall in love with the river and whenever we are near the end of Ward Ave., the Pirate, without my asking, drives down to the riverfront. So far, I've discovered driftwood, rusted chains, and barges moored right next to the bank so close you could literally walk up to it. Yesterday I discovered a raft of Blue Bill ducks floating near the riverbank near Bunge. Grain must have scattered into the water creating a feast for the waterfowl. They lifted, glided, and then skittered to a touchdown on the water, moving from one feast to the next. You really can't plan such an event. Pure luck was my companion in that moment. What an amazing sight.
In my seven months here, I've discovered the river's highs and lows, its moods, and how quickly they can change. I've seen beaches exposed and then covered again. I've learned about levees, locks, dikes, and flood walls, and the differences between them. Barges have become my new trains. We used to live between two train corridors both of which mostly carried freight, everything from petroleum products to cattle. To the east, a commuter train ran between Bakersfield and Sacramento, as well, right down through the middle of the valley. In what might have been my most exciting moment, the replicas of the Nina and the Pinta, two of Christopher Columbus' ships, sailed passed our riverfront. That is one of my regrettable misses.
Reading Mark Twain's book, Life on the Mississippi is like reading a history of this mighty river. Riverboats, steamboats, and rafting live large on the pages of Twain's books. Mule pulled boats were a common mode of transportation. My favorite picture, at the Roundhouse, presents one of these boats which really looked like an oversized raft. Riding on a barge might be a big no-no these days, but mule pulled boat rides can still be had in LaSalle, Illinois and I smell a road trip this year.
What I see from the end of Ward Avenue or from the Caruthersville Bridge, can't begin to unlock the mysteries of our river. But these glimpses DO unlock my imagination. I've learned to admire, respect, and have a healthy fear for our river. It could become OUR gateway to an improved economy. I can't take enough pictures to satisfy my love for this river and I'm betting visitors, if only they had a place to come, would love it too.
Just as Turlock is just two hours from Yosemite, our river is right on our doorstep. The end of Ward Avenue has the beginning of everything. There is a park. Bar-be-cue celebrations happen there.The fishing ramp, so underused, would lure avid fishermen to our little town. This unpolished jewel is our gateway to making an enormous difference in my adopted community. If only others would see it. But from where I sit, newbie that I am, the downtown potential is ignored and left to languish by those who could make a difference. It isn't for want of imagination or will but from empty buildings neglected by owners and a city administrator exhibiting a total lack of interest in building a bridge to the future. Ask yourself, how much more could Caruthersville be if neglect could be overcome and will and imagination were given free rein?
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