A little more than a year ago, we told you about a local author who spent three months following the entire course of the Mississippi River. Gayle Harper was in the process then of working on a book about that adventure. Now the book is finished, and KSMU’s Michele Skalicky catches back up with her.
It was a tidbit of information—something that you might learn during a trivia contest—but it was the spark that kindled a flame for author Gayle Harper.
"When I learned that it takes a single raindrop to travel the river from the headwaters of the Mississippi in northern Minnesota all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, I knew in that second what was happening next in my life. I knew that I would make a 9o-day , roadtrip, that I would follow the whole course of the river and that I would keep pace with an imaginary raindrop that I would call Serendipity," she said.
She said the journey started to fall into place easily, and it was clear that was what she should do next. She had many offers of lodging before she left after sending letters to local chambers of commerce and convention and visitors centers. She stayed one night on a tugboat converted into a bed and breakfast. Another night was spent in a mansion she had all to herself.
The trip was a learning experience for Harper. A key enlightenment for her was that there are many good people in the U.S. despite what can often seem like a society filled with isolation and suspicion.
"And I just met people everywhere--in their farm fields and on their porches and in cafes, and they just invited me into their lives in really very wonderful and surprising ways," she said.
The stories and photographs of the people she met are laid out in her new 240-page book, Roadtrip with a Raindrop, 90 Days Along the Mississippi River.
"There are almost 200 full-color photographs in there. It's organized in a series of 55 vignettes. Each one is a short story complete with its photographs, and they string together to tell the story of the whole journey," she said.
The photographs Harper included in her book were chosen from among thousands she took along the way. She said sometimes the photos selected themselves because they went with a story that begged to be told. Sometimes a photo mandated that a story be written to go along with it.
You’ll meet Terry Larson who Harper says is a legend in his part of Minnesota. He operated Northern Adventures Guide Services. And go aboard The Phyllis, a towboat that pushes barges—up to 15 at a time—up the Mighty Mississippi.
Not many people will have the chance to go on a journey like the one that Harper took, and she knows that.
"A lot of people tell me that they would love to do something like this, but, for one reason or another, it doesn't seem that it will be possible in their lives but that they do feel like they're getting to do this vicariously, and so that really right there is reason enough for me to be doing this," she said.
Harper will hold a book signing this Thursday night at 7 at Missouri State University’s Meyer Library, and she’ll show a video featuring highlights of her journey along the Mississippi. It’s free and open to the public.
As for what’s next, Harper doesn’t yet know. She says this project came to her fully formed, and she figures the next one will, too.
For more information about the book, click here.