A friend of mine sent me an email Monday advising me not to waste my time making a trip to Rolling Fork. I had sent him one earlier in the day letting him know that I was going over to witness the historic crest of the Mississippi River. He reported that the levee was closed to all visitors and warned that even if I weren”t shot on sight, I would end up in the county lock-up.
Those of you who read Strummin” know that the river holds a special place in my heart; somehow I”m connected to it. Bullets be damned, I was on a mission to see the crest.
My first sign of danger was the electronic billboard just south of Hollandale, bold orange letters flashing: “Highway 61 closed in 35 miles.”
My adrenaline was pumping as I turned off the highway headed toward Mama”s. To my amazement, Deer Creek was bone dry from downtown all the way to Mound Cemetery. That”s after all the news outlets reporting every other day how Rolling Fork was in the crosshairs of the deluge. I expected to see at least some backwater; after all, in ”73 it came all the way up to the street that runs along the creek bank.
I was almost beginning to think everyone”s overreacting, especially after seeing, of all things, farmers irrigating crops. The Delta is dry right now. Surprisingly, my farming friends all need a rain — maybe.
My friend was right. The levee is closed to everyone, and I mean everyone. I don”t think the news networks have access. I haven”t seen the first report from the “wilds” or a recent picture of the Yazoo backwater levee.
Tiptoeing right up to the line of out-and-out bragging, I can”t tell you the who, how or what, but I had what media pros might call “unprecedented access” from Mayersville all the way south to where the levee ends — followed by a walking tour of the Yazoo backwater levee, the sure ”nuff danger zone, where you could catch a bullet if you weren”t wearing the right hat.
It”s a shame I”m only a pseudo-columnist who lacks real talent to explain what I saw. I”ll try.
The water was more than three-quarters of the way up the side of the Mississippi River levee … nothing like I could ever have imagined seeing in my lifetime. The river widens out and gets shallow south of Greenville. As a result, when the water flows by my favorite vantage point just over the levee from Mayersville, as they say down around Onward, “it”s gittin” it.” Seeing the river “gittin” it” right up next to the levee is pretty darn amazing and scary.
There are only four or five places along the way traveling south that provide an unobstructed view across to the Louisiana side. How do I describe what water that deep, running that fast, looks like two miles across? No. 2 son, who shares my love for the river, was amazed when I showed him a picture from one of those places that he and I have visited many times together.
Gators and hogs
Traveling down the levee, I quickly learned that alligators are no longer an endangered species. I stopped counting after 20 in no time. The largest one I saw was 12 to 13 feet.
I saw firsthand how, as the Mississippi State man who visited Rotary a few weeks back explained, wild hogs are a threat to everything they touch. I was amazed at how much damage they could do. I saw a 100-yard span at the base of the levee on the dry side completely rooted up — not a comforting sight. Someone had dispatched one and left it lying as a reminder to the others.
Thanks to the work that the Corps of Engineers has done over the years fortifying the levee, I didn”t see as much seep water as I thought I”d see. Farmers along the levee have been dealing with it for years. Seep water does just what the name implies, its seeps in; however, it almost never causes any damage to the levee. Sadly, it does a number on the crops — lots of “yellow” corn.
Seeing the backwater from the Yazoo River wasn”t a priority on this trip; maybe next time. The only houses and buildings I saw that were underwater were those built on the river side of the levee at Chotard.
My last stop was the Yazoo backwater levee. The rising water appeared much more threatening than I had imagined. The water came to the very top of the levee, inches from trickling over. As we walked along, we spotted a huge alligator sunning just off the road bed, his back to us. I was determined to sneak up and get an up-close-and-personal picture. Can alligators smell? I didn”t get the picture.
Having spent almost six hours on the levee, it was time to head back.
One observation. The Corps of Engineers and the Mississippi Levee Board guys know their stuff. I saw firsthand the professionalism and dedication that these guys have to their mission. I can”t imagine what would have happened had they let their guard down or not completed all the flood control projects they have undertaken over the years. And no, I was not their guest nor did they, or would they, have had any time to deal with the likes of me. Indulge me one: You who did make my visit possible know who you are, and I thank you.
One true, funny story is making the rounds over that way. For you who can”t appreciate its humor during the moment or under the circumstances — save your email — noted.
When it became evident the flooding might get out of hand, the federal and state emergency gurus convened a meeting with the local powers-that-be to review their action plans. (There is an abundance of characters in the South Delta, one who happens to be a good friend and elected official.)
During the meeting, one of the federales inquired as to what preparations were being made to care for the animals. Understand, there is an abundance of wildlife in the area, too; however, there are no farm animals to speak of. My old friend inquired as to what kind of animals they were talking about. The federale explained, “Pets, like dogs and cats.”
My friend rolled his eyes and quipped, “All I can say is, I hope that they know how to swim.”
In closing, what”s been written is about all I can say, too.
Oh, before I forget, I would be forevermore beholding for your lifting up a prayer at church today for that backwater levee to hold and for all those folks underwater to find strength to cope with their loss.
Roger owns Bayou Management, Inc. and is also a semi-pro guitar player.
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