A renewed respect for ‘our river’

Published 12:33 am Sunday, July 19, 2009

An article published recently in a newspaper of a neighboring city referred to “the muddy brown Alabama River.” This modifying phrase is not only inaccurate, it is also irritating to those of us born near “our river” and those living near it. Anyone who looks at it while crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge sees the beauty of this powerful waterway.

Reading this rather scathing description brought awareness that often we do take our river for granted as we are inclined to do with much of the natural beauty in our part of the Black Belt. But, back to our river: Other than admiring it briefly when crossing the bridge, I confess to being one of those who take it for granted. As a child my sisters and cousins and I played on its banks, when we could escape our mothers’ eagle eyes. Our greatest delight was the drought-ridden summers when the river was low enough to reveal the sandy bottom, water a clear green, sandbars visible and in reach of our swimming ability. But that was a long time ago.

Last weekend I had the joy of revisiting our river, in the company of a group of learned academicians and from the comfortable environs of Selma’s recently arrived riverboat, the Phoenix.

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We departed the City Marina at 9 a.m. headed upriver between the banks rising on either side, sometimes sand-surfaced, others the familiar, so-called soapstone. Beneath the Phoenix the water moved gently in rhythm with the current, the pattern interrupted only by an occasional speeding cruiser, its huge wake and noise-shattering engine broke the quiet of the day.

Inside the boat, the conversation was fascinating, with the geographers, geologists, folklorists, historians and archeologists, each an expert in searching for Mavila, each contributing to the richness of knowledge.

Meanwhile, the beauty of the river unfolded, showing cascades of verbena and fern known to grow only in this area. At one point attention was drawn to two adult white cows, reclining lazily in the shade of riverbank trees. At Durand’s Bend attention was drawn to the burial place in the large Mississippian site, where a 16th century Spanish candlestick was found.

The tidbits of historic knowledge heard in the conversation of those learned men made the day on our river a truly golden time. The battle site of DeSoto and Chief Tuscaloosa was not found, but the importance of searching for it remains, as does the importance of The Alabama River in doing so.

I shall always remember the enjoyment and knowledge found in the company of Dr. John Knight, Dr. Doug Jones, Dr. Neal Lineback, Dr. George Langford, Dr. Kathryn Braund, Dr. Eugene Wilson, Dr. Craig Sheldon and photographer Laura Shill as Capt. Thompson steered us up and down the river. And I finally learned the true origin and make-up of our Selma Chalk.