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River Romance in Time for Valentine's Day

As it gets closer to Valentine's Day, I'm posting one of my favorite pieces from my Chasing Lewis & Clark Across America book: Missouri River Romance. Flying above a river and seeing its curves is the only way a river's true character is revealed. This tribute was inspired by many days spent above the Missouri River. Missouri River Romance Studying all the maps and aerial photos of the Missouri River I thought I knew its every nuance. Little did I know that my growing sensitivity to her beauty was going to turn my experience into more than a casual relationship. Perhaps I was spending too much time in the cockpit, because this river came to seem increasingly like a woman to me. It appears those two years of map studying served to do nothing except to keep her from being a blind date. Like they say, you don’t know a woman until you live with her.

Like a drunken seamstress, the Missouri River stitches together Nebraska to Iowa.

The last 800 miles of her length were smooth and tan and flowed in gradual curves like legs. The oxbows in the bottomland showed evidence how she would exercise her prerogative to change direction. Rising gradually to the high plains of the Dakotas and east Montana, she takes on more depth and character. Flying over the river near Glasgow, Montana the river is now turns turquoise and very clear to reveal her soul. A flock of pelicans floating on the surface cast their shadows on the rippling sandy bottom below, teasing me in the afternoon heat to the point that I can’t wait to land and immerse myself in her purity.

Like spilled blue paint, the Missouri rolls across nearly level land.

At the Missouri Breaks the degree of erosion of the steep canyon walls says that this lady has experience. Passing through the Gates of the Rockies, I can’t help but think they resemble her breasts. At last, reaching the head waters at Three Forks I can see where the delicate curving and curling streams of the Galatin, Madison and Jefferson rivers flow like the waves in her hair.

Three Forks, Montana: Like two silvery serpents, the Jefferson and Madison Rivers inch their way across the valley floor.

For six weeks and thousands of miles I have studied her every curve and tributary that makes her tick. Sometimes I would ascend thousands of feet into the sky just to see more of her at one time. Other times dip so low as to nearly touch her rippling surface and smell the cottonwoods on her sandy shores. Many times I would climb into the cockpit before dawn to capture with my camera her shining first expression in the morning glow. In this evolving intimacy I have truly grown to appreciate her resourcefulness and variety of her many features.

Here at the headwaters, I wonder how upset she will be when she realizes I have to travel across the Rockies to visit with the Clearwater, Snake and Columbia rivers. Tossing a kiss to her cheek, Cloud Chaser and I begin our ascent over the mountains.

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