Gunshots on the River: Canoeing the Upper Mississippi during hunting season

A vengeful crosswind blew from the West the day prior. Like a mere piece of paper to a board, my canoe and I were pinned on the East riverbank. Four hours of crawling speed and lost composure, I made it 4 miles where I was able to tuck on the leeward side of a big island deep in backchannel sloughs surrounded by marsh. Prime habitat for migrating waterfowl (ducks, geese, their cousins) and since it was late autumn on the Mississippi River in the Midwest, I knew at daybreak the area would be flush with hunters.

An hour before sunrise and I was finishing breakfast and breaking down my temporary camp. Around me, I watched as spotlights pierced the dark, and scanned for position while small craft motors conversed with the wind still gusting strong from the West.

Noting where engines lulled and spotlights ceased, I planned an exit strategy back to the main navigation channel on the river.

****

See I grew up and have been living primarily in the city. Guns=violence between humans. Hunting to fill the freezer or shooting for sport has not been part of my story to date either.

I addition, I have been privileged to mostly live in neighborhoods where I need not worry about people shooting at one another to define territory, keep business moving, or settle conflict. Or presently in other cases, as acts of war generally fueled by greed, fear, lack (or misuse) of resources, differences, and mistrust.

Time and place undoubtedly can greatly influence experience and perspective.

*****

The sound of gunfire has not been commonplace for me. Needless to say, the last two months canoeing the Upper Mississippi River (northern Minnesota to St. Louis, Missouri) has been perspective expanding as gunfire has been apart of every morning and evening.

One time in northern Minnesota, Paul and I must have upset a tucked away hunter with our chatter, or we weren’t seen, because a shot ripped 50 yards in front of us. It felt like a clear warning sign and reminder that we are passerby in these parts and to be in accordance with what is.

*****

Which brings us back to near sunrise in the back channel river sloughs- a place I have learned I ought not to be in this time of year at this hour. As I loaded up my boat, the cold west wind laughed at me and my blinking headlamp attempting to communicate, “hey! I’m here!“.

The first gunfire crack called out.

A funny thing I have observed is that all the rifles, pistols, you name it-seem to sit like an obedient dog until they get the ‘OK’ and then all hell breaks loose. Well, the first note cued the orchestra and shots began to echo all directions.

I pushed off while battling wind and navigating fear, passing many duck blinds and boats decorated in natural camouflage on the 3 mile trek back to the main channel. I prayed the whole way my headlamp would blink loud as ducks scattered overhead.

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I write as a form of processing and storytelling. I share this experience so I can let go of it. Pen to paper (later to digital) so these emotions can be released from my bones and this perspective shared-especially for others considering traveling the Mississippi River during autumn.

I have met and chatted with hunters along the way. Most have been quite kind and respectful. Some even generous offering me food and story. This is my first immersion into the hunting world.

I believe in food sovereignty-people producing, distributing, and consuming their own food as opposed to corporations and market institutions controlling the scene- and thus I respect hunters who are out here in the cold and act in a ethical way.

Hunting for sport is sadistic, out of balance, and needs to crumble away. Killing for pleasure is not a viable way into the future.

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Now, as an aside from hunting, and direct focus on firearms. I’ve observed that people like to assert their constitutional right to carry and cite the necessity for protection. The only ‘need’ for this (spare I could possibly see very remote wilderness settings) is for PROTECTION FROM OTHER HUMANS WITH FIREARMS.

Now I know this topic is a loaded can of worms but violence begets violence. Seen throughout the ages. And in this light, firearms perpetuate cycles of fear and violence.

I don’t anticipate the immediate widespread disarming of people but I would rather breathe energy into a paradigm beyond the infamous guns, germs, and steel.

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I am often naive, but I learn from experience, and am committed to growing. This writing is a form of letting go, a prayer, an invitation for future conversation with folks across the board, and as a perspective offered to the cultural stew.

*****

I send out prayers to relatives near and far who are immersed in violence and fear in hopes that in generations to come we can settle our inevitable differences and conflict without death and harm ‘to the other’.

This may sound idealistic but I am a unapologetic optimist. A simple half hour of flipping through TV channels provides a clear illustration of the dramatic and violent cultural stories we are enacting. Mindfulness of what we consume, and the systems we give consent to, can be a great place to start.

I am grateful to the people who were hunting for safe passage and a sharing of what the river means to them. This blog has many layers to it, thanks for meandering.

-Brother Spec.

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