Reading the River: Life along the Mississippi with Erwin A. Thompson

I’ve come from Northern California to SW Illinois now, to vist Pop for a month. We live in what my poem “Rising” refers to as “the oldest house in the world.” It’s the house my 91-year old father, Erwin A. Thompson lived in all his life, built in the 1860s by his grandpa Riehl, and where I’ve lived a good bit of mine.

Huge rain storms blew through the other night, with thunder claps so loud I wanted to hide underneath my antique bed!

In the next storm-stilled day, Pop stood on our bluffs and looked over the river. “You can see it rained.”


“Because of the color of the water. When it’s brown like that it means we’ve had a heavy rain and the water is carrying silt…all the the way from upstream down to here. It’s the silt that made the Mississippi Delta, of course.”

“What color was it before?”

“I don’t know. Whiter. River-color.”

My father has lived on the bluffs above the Mississippi River all his life, and knows how to read it.

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