Heave Ho!…on the Mighty MO


She’s an angry, vengeful river—that’s what I’ve always heard. Dangerous as all get-out!

The Missouri’s full of logs, barges, and monstrous jumping carp…not to mention the mangled bodies of foolhardy fishermen, of course. “A heck of a gal!” say the Old Timers. “She’s got a mean streak in her. You’ll stay away from her if you’ve got good sense.”

I remember the day I lost my good sense—the day I first stepped into a boat cradled in the bosom of the Missouri. She seemed calm enough. No angry waves, or white-capped fangs. She looked almost peaceful. Seeing her pleasant mood, I dared to venture out on her dark waters.

Truth to tell, we seldom saw a floating log that day, and we never did see a barge, or a bloated body—not that day or in the days to follow. In the ensuing months, I became a bit complacent about the Mighty MO. I nearly forgot the dire warnings of the Old Timers….

Till one fine day this past summer….

It was a day like any other. The air was fresh, the Jon boat was stable and the river stretched before us like a long and winding pathway. With each bend in the river, another vista slid past…the swelling heights of the Barada Hills, the staunch cliffs of Indian Cave, the sprawling flats that lay between the bluffs. There wasn’t a hint of trouble on the breeze.

I leaned back and yawned. “I wish we could have a little excitement,” I said to Skipper Dan. “This is almost boring. I’d love to have a real adventure!” Poor choice of words as I soon found out. You just don’t say things like that. Not when you’re at the mercy of the Mighty MO.

Trouble set in almost immediately. From around the bend came a great hulk, churning up the water and making monstrous waves.

A boat-crushing barge! The first I’d ever seen up close.

I could feel my pulse pounding in my veins as I watched the dark waters being sucked beneath the bow. In an instant, it could bury our little boat in a watery grave. We gunned the outboard and scooted out of the way as the barge rumbled past.  Enormous.  Unstoppable.  Soon, another object hove around the bend—much smaller, but definitely powerful in its own way.

It was bloody and bloated.

The stench was unbearable and only got worse as it drifted past. “What is it?” I asked, “ A dead fisherman?”

Skipper Dan said no, but even if it was, he sure wasn’t going after it.  I didn’t argue. I had other things to worry about.

We were heading into strange waters where the surface seemed to boil. A moment later, the river erupted with flying fish. Russian carp began hammering the boat with a vengeance. I screamed and tried to get out of the way, but there was nowhere to go. Then, something massive launched itself into the boat, thrashing wildly and scattering things about.

“I don’t believe this!” I shrieked. “We’re being torpedoed!”

We headed out of there and made for a nearby shore. I felt better once I was on firm ground, again, but I’d hardly caught my breath when I was spotted by one of MO’s little minions. An angry bumblebee dive-bombed me repeatedly, following me up and down the bank. My screams echoed across the river as I thrashed my way through thistles and poison ivy.

Panic-stricken, I headed back to the boat at a gallop. “Help me, would you?” I shouted at the Skipper. “Don’t just stand there laughing! Help me!”

He did try. When he took aim at the bee with his fist, he nearly took off the top of my head. The bumblebee departed and I collapsed in the boat. “I’ve had enough adventure for one day,” I said, holding my head. “I’m starting to think that boring is beautiful. What else could possibly go wrong?” I shouldn’t have asked.

When we headed into the river, again, the outboard started to sputter. It coughed, then died. Silence descended upon us and we could hear nothing but the low murmur of waves against the bow. “Out of gas,” Dan sighed. “We are out of gas.”

“This can’t be happening,” I said. “How can so much go wrong in one day? What if a barge comes along, now, and runs us over?”

We began to drift down the river—at the mercy of the Mighty MO and more of her minions.

Wily currents began pulling us toward a tangle of driftwood. Soon, we found ourselves crashing through low-hanging branches along the shoreline. Branches whipped our faces and scattered everything across the deck, raining mulberries all over the boat. Amid the hailstorm of berries, we grabbed for the fishing poles and nets just before they sailed into the river. The boat’s depth-finder beeped out dire warnings while the fishing tackle clattered across the deck. I got banged in the head, again.

Amid the ruckus, I could hear MO’s deep murmur—almost a chuckle, it seemed.

We survived that day, somehow. With the good Lord’s help, we made it safely back to land. But I’d learned my lesson. I was never tempted to become complacent, again, nor was I reckless with my words when I was anywhere near the Mighty MO.

Although it had taken me a while to discover the truth about the Missouri, I can assure you of one thing. The Old Timers knew what they were talking about. There are, indeed, boat-bashing barges and torpedo fish and bloated bodies in the MO. Her shores are guarded by angry bumblebees, poison ivy, and slap-happy trees, as well. She’s a mysterious, sometimes vengeful river, who doesn’t like being insulted, or taken for granted.

So—a word of caution to any cocky young whippersnappers out there. You’d best stay away from that muddy, moody river. For if you should offend the Mighty MO and her minions, believe me….

You haven’t got a prayer.


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