The river was placid in a blue and bright autumn day and a bluegrass band had set up near the (mini) Gulf of Mexico where some parents and children were actually paddling boats. The "Gulf" was so near the actual Mississippi that it looked like they might merge at any minute. The museum inside the building prolonged the unsettling illusion of being inside a real world shrunk just enough to be made comprehensible. There was the prehistoric civilization of the Mississippi Valley, followed by a replica of a steamboat with unsteady floors that sat in moving water, a fortified Confederate fort on the bluffs of Vicksburg with real-sized cannons flashing into an ironclad Union ship below, a music world of honkytonks, a movie of river-related catastrophes that was like an epic poem that stopped just before Katrina, and a small fishing universe.
I'd always known that the Mississippi River had a dense and complex history that mirrored its constantly shifting course, but I never saw it all at once, in a flash. And what I saw was that the geological and human history of the river experiences major events every few years, that the river is alive and vast, and that we cannot understand American space and habitation without making the river part of every decision about the future. Mud Island was a perfect mirror for thinking about all this, and the music provided an eerily spiritual background to a story of heartbreak.
Andrei Codrescu's latest book is New Orleans, Mon Amour: Twenty Years of Writing From the City (Algonquin Books).