Missouri's "Bootheel" - Charleston & Cape Girardeau
In the far southeast corner of Missouri, The Ohio River blends its waters with the Mississippi and the transition from “Upper Mississippi River” to “Lower Mississippi River” takes place. Culturally and geographically, there also seems to be a subtle transition from “Midwest” to “South” as the river squiggles and bows and loops its way southward. The land is flat and low and sometimes swampy, the rhythm of speaking starts to slow and fried catfish and hushpuppies show up on many menus.
The only way to really get a perspective on the confluence of the Mississippi and the Ohio rivers is to do it from the air. Fortunately, I met a man from Cairo, IL, who agreed to take me up in his small plane at sunrise. It was so noisy there was no way we could hear each other speak, but we gestured and grinned and communicated enough to get in position for some shots that show the elegant patterns made by the river and land and the barges sparkling in the sun.
Just east of the joining of these two great rivers is Charleston, Missouri. Settled in the early 1800s by families who did well in the shipping industry, Charleston has preserved many of the gracious homes built in that era. Today’s residents have fallen in love with the Dogwood trees and Azalea bushes that thrive in the warm, humid environment – and have created a festival that celebrates them. Each April this town of 5,000 dresses itself “to the nines” and creates a wonderland of blossoms that brings visitors by the hundreds.
There is, of course, a parade, an art show, craft show, plant sale and quilt show, but the real magic happens at dusk. The sidewalks are lined with white luminaries, spotlights shine into the blooming trees, ribbons interlace in white picket fences, neighbors gather on porches or stroll the sidewalks and kids roam freely. It feels safe and sweet and homey – like you have stepped into a Norman Rockwell painting. On a few porches musicians gather to play and the yard is filled with people listening and kids in the trees. When I asked someone if I could step into the light of their porch to change batteries in my camera, they insisted I stay for refreshments and a visit.
Sometimes people will say the world is a scary and violent place. I find myself wishing I could beam them here to be with me at this moment – to let them rest in this gentleness of spirit and this simple celebration of nature’s beauty. These are the experiences that draw me again and again to the Mississippi River and the Great River Road.
I hope you can take a moment to join me. Click here for a slide show or on the individual images.