Student of the River by M. Anderson

This river story was submitted to the Friends of the Mississippi River story mapping project in the Twin Cities, MN ( Check out the map page and send in your story too!


Student of the River

First and foremost, I am a student of the river. And as it goes, I was a student at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities when I met the mighty Mississippi.

I walked over her on the bridge connecting the West and East Bank campuses and paid little attention to this feat which would have undoubtedly astonished my ancestors in the area. The river just seemed to roll on under me and I didn’t think much of it.
Little did I know Old Man River was working her fluid and powerful ways on me, and by the winter of 2009/10 of my freshman year, she became my main professor and saving grace.

During that winter, I was nested on top of the river gorge banks in Pioneer Hall and I became very sick. My head was unstable, spirit in the dumps, and I was unable to get my body into motion. In the lecture halls, it was slide after slide of ecological devastation at the hand of human initiative and gray depictions of hopeless futures from my professors. The university’s psychiatrist concluded depression spinning off of seasonal affective disorder and a mindfulness course was prescribed.

I found myself called down the river gorge walls to the floodplain at East River Flats where I noticed a certain stillness present around the frozen riverway. The vibe seemed to match my inner reality: desolate, harsh, dead.

I began practicing the walking meditation, feeling as each footstep pressed into the stiff ground. I took notice of my body and this awareness expanded to my surroundings. Slowly continuing on, I ended up at a spot where 30-foot icicles clung to the sheer gorge walls. Transfixed, I approached them, feeling their coolness and observing their light tint. The next day I came back. And the next…

I practiced the various mindfulness techniques and began seeing signs of life present around the river – the icicles dripping and forming, the occasional bird chirping, the shifting snow on the trail.

The river taught of constant change and I began letting go — giving my sadness and hopelessness to the river while she filled me with curiosity and wonder.
I began skipping class not because I was paralyzed in the dorm, but because I was down at the river observing the frigid drum of winter releasing its tune to a softer spring melody. Water was flowing everywhere and my spirit began to heal.
The river taught me about give and take. Reciprocal relationship. 
Nowadays, this type of relationship continues between me and the river. I offer my energy to help clean her waters by removing trash and other hazards to the riverine ecosystem.
I paddle her currents and try to connect other people to her healing powers. I give in this way in hopes of healthier futures for the people, the water, and all life which resides along the river.

The river still takes. As I write this, I am returning from a 2,000-mile journey on the mighty river. I traveled from the headwaters with the intention of seeing her currents join the sea at the Gulf of Mexico.

But 250 miles shy of her mouth the river claimed my canoe (or did I offer it?). A slight breeze coaxed the lightweight vessel off the shores and into her channel while my back was turned gathering firewood.
And still the river takes. Her currents create and destroy, transforming all in her path. This past spring — just upstream from where I was restored that dark winter — she took my friend and fellow River Citizen, Chris Stanley, into her depths to not return as we knew him.

The River gives and the River takes. These are her stories, my stories, the stories of every heart which bleeds into her banks, forever flowing on.

Through her floods and droughts,

oxboughs and straightaways,

I am student of the river.

For the river,
by Michael Anderson, Winter 2017


Check out the complete Friends of the Mississippi River story mapping project and submit your own!:

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