Touching Mississippi
Wednesday, September 1, 2004
CC's Journal 22

Last night it was cool enough for a jacket for the first time this summer, which will be officially over in less than three weeks. Meanwhile, I have been noticing some natural signs, which are typical before a cool snap, that have let me know that fall is already in the air. I have seen the swallows and blackbirds grouping; additionally, Blue-winged teal are here, marsh grass has a tired green color with a hint of khaki coming, and one stunted bald cypress on a local stream bank has a tinge of rust; furthermore, there are a few red leaves on poison ivy, and the legumes have dry seeds rattling in their pods. Recently we have had two cool snaps in August, which might be a precursor of a different coming winter; who knows?

As we motored up the Pearl River (the eastern extreme of the Marsh Mission), I saw my favorite sign of fall, the cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis; legend has it that the scarlet-red flower was named for the red robes worn by Catholic cardinals. I like to call it the "summer's end flower," for its deep red blooms are real showy along bayou banks in September. This specimen was actually in Mississippi, just across the Pearl River from Louisiana. After 2,500 miles and ten months on the boat, we have achieved a mission goal of touching both bordering state boundaries with side trips, meanwhile, northward into cypress swamps and southward into marsh and to barrier islands. Parenthetically, the shortest route by boat between Texas and Mississippi is via the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, which is just over 305 miles long.

With two months of field work remaining, we have traveled to all the sites that I minimally wanted to see, except the Mississippi Delta, for which we will soon set sail. After that I'll have the option to ramble back westward to the places of consequence that still should be visited, including those that are losing land at a very rapid rate - all to ensure that our project coverage of Louisiana's wetlands will be very thorough.

In the Pearl River Basin it is very obvious that higher terrain is much closer to the coast than in the deltaic lands of coastal Louisiana. On the other side of the Pearl I saw a few miles of marsh, beyond which was higher land that stands out like a "fried egg stain on a velvet dress." Farther north the four branches of the Pearl River meander through the Honey Island Swamp, which is as scenic as that of the Atchafalaya, just not so big. We cruised up to the I-10 Bridge on this trip, beyond which I have made many canoe trips in the past.

Regarding local vegetation, a cardinal flower seen here was growing in about two feet of water; usually they are at a bayou's edge on firm ground. After failing to get a good camera angle from the dinghy, I jumped into and knelt in the water to get the journal article feature photograph.

By the way, I touched Texas by boat on May 25, 2004, and never wrote a journal article about that important milestone.