Roadtrip with a Raindrop Cover
By Jonas Weir
A raindrop that falls into the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Minnesota will take ninety days to travel the length of the river and spill out into the Gulf of Mexico. When Springfield resident, journalist, and award-winning photographer Gayle Harper read this factoid on the National Park Service’s website, she decided that she needed to recreate the journey herself.
Her journey began with planning. The length of the Mississippi—more than 2,300 miles—split up over ninety days would come to a little more than twenty-five miles a day. First, she reached out to local communities along the banks of the river to start plotting her route. For Gayle, this project was just as much about the people of the river as it was about the natural beauty through the heart of America.
The book starts out in Lake Itasca, Minnesota. Immediately, you’re immersed in beauty with stunning photographs of the cradle of the Mississippi and one of the oldest hardwood forests in the country. And the writing is just as captivating as the photography. Gayle recounts a chance encounter with a timber wolf that she wasn’t quite quick enough to capture on camera, and she packs the pages with interesting tidbits. Did you know a timber wolf territory could encompass a ten-mile radius?
Missourians will especially connect with the middle section of the book. Chapters five and six both include Missouri communities. However, chapter five—titled “The Story Keeper”—is all about Missouri, and it even starts with a Mark Twain quote: “Apparently there is nothing that cannot happen today.”
Here, you can explore Hannibal with Gayle, and later, you can view the mighty Mississippi and the Gateway Arch from atop one of the tallest buildings in downtown St. Louis. You can also see splendid photos of the French colonial settlement Ste. Genevieve at its best.
Chapter six begins with Gayle leaving the Show-Me State and venturing into Tennessee and Arkansas. On her way out of her home state, she stops in Charleston and New Madrid, where she takes a side trip with Missouri State Parks naturalist and historian Chris Crabtree to see Temple Mound at Towosahgy State Historic Site. Aptly titled “A Gumbo of Cultures,” Gayle connects Missouri culture to the South, opening a new leg of the journey and an entirely different region of the country, the Delta.
Aside from the remarkable photography and writing, Roadtrip with a Raindrop succeeds in connecting a diverse array of cultures and sewing these great river communities into the fabric of the country. It’s a reminder how tied to each other we all really are in the United States, especially along America’s great artery.
To that end, residents of the Show-Me State will delight in the fact that this journey is brought to you through the lens of an Ozark native. You can live vicariously through these pages and get a taste of what it’s like for a Missourian to explore the near Canadian states of Minnesota and Wisconsin and venture into ’gator country down in Louisiana. Afterward, you might want to have your own Mississippi River adventure.