A hot summer day on the bank of the Mississippi is a place for beer and cigarettes and fishing. It’s a time for watching the float bobbing in the current, and storytelling:
“When they was going to build the new bridge across down at The Cape, there sent this diver down to tell them where to set the pillars. Well he went down there with his tanks and all, and it’s deep, and he’s poking around and picking a spot. All of a sudden he comes a shooting back up. Said there was catfish down there big enough to swallow a man. Guess he told how he’d found the spot for the pillars and they could believe him or not, because he was not a going back.”
Somebody caught a fish, and it was time to unwind the stringer, light a cigarette, crack another cold one; tell another story.
“When the water is high there’s a whirlpool right out there. Takes up this whole side of the river. I know a man saw a cottonwood tree sixty feet long go into that thing. It turned around a couple of times, stood on it’s end and just disappeared. Nobody never saw it again.”
Around the fire roasting a mastodon long ago, or fishing with ripe hot dogs, storytelling is as old as language, as old as man. It’s the anchors we bury, story by story, into our the landscape of our lives. Our local stories hold us against the current, hold us from floating away, alone.