Season of the Switch


Switchy Woman

The Red Sox wore red caps and helmets for Saturday’s Game Three of the World Series. Sunday they switched to blue.  Most Midwesterners have switched the AC off and the heat on. All of the harbor masters along the Alton Pool have warned their members that the water and pump out facilities will be switched off within the week as temperatures are bound to fall below freezing at night. The sun that recently glared mercilessly to further overheat the hemisphere now rides the horizon at hip-height, its rays lazily grazing the cooling waterways. It sleeps late and retires early allowing the supercilious river waters to brusquely deflect its tepid brassy rays. Red to blue, warm to chill, on again, off again. Must be the season of the switch.


Cool Sails Warm Bluffs Illinois Great River Road, Alton Pool, Mississippi River Aboard S/v Sandpiper

Fall foliage is a clever disguise for a certain arrogance that permeates fall. When it comes to high honors for best-dressed landscapes, New England wins. Nature flips a switch around the Equinox and the green fields and mountains ignite with a Red Carpet display of organic haute couture. Northeastern foliage screams, “Envy my brilliance – it’s all about me, me, me!” Inflamed crimson  leaves glow with golden auras. Brazen mums dominate gardens and resonate with pride. Swirling clouds of leaves slap away at summer highs and signal the all clear for in bound winter lows. Foliage, like guild actors, eventually lie quiet and forgotten as the season passes and they muster patience to endure until next year’s season premier.

Last SoccerGame

Pitch Perfect Attire

October is far less dramatic and a more humble of a season here in St. Louis. Rusty pin oaks dominate the sights beyond many windows. Locals are satisfied when the grass fades beneath a loose shawl of dull brown leaves. Pumpkins brighten lawns and dark pots of chili satisfy cool weather appetites. A sea of red floods Busch stadium. This is the season to awake in darkness, switch the alarm clocks off  and the lights on to greet the day.  It’s strange.


Red Bird, Red Girl, What Do You See?

Thousands upon thousands of men, women and children in and around St. Louis adapt to the season by piling on more stitches of clothing to ward off the chill. Short shorts are switched out for tight jeans. Tank tops are flipped for layers of thermo-dynamic, sweat sucking – heat preserving attire. Body heat is amped up by joining a cacophony of revelers bedecked in scarlet, gold, and navy outerwear highlighted with ornamental birds, wild prey, and beasts burden. We’re swapping the last thrills of Cardinals baseball and kids’ soccer for Mizzou and Rams football. Everyone is soaring from hot to cold, dockside to fireside, and outdoors to indoors. It’s a switch.

Pack up the flip flops – break out shoes and socks. Pull out and hunker down with those books you meant to read last summer. Chill. All of the year’s long sunny days have been redeemed for languorous evenings to savor HD TV shows recorded for “the time when we’ll have time.” Crock pots fill as grills chill. Slow food beckons us to while away time savoring a good meal shared well. The Cards are still wearing their red caps for tonight’s game. I don’t know about the Sox. Must be the season of the switch.


Sox Fans Unite! Photo By SMCL

World Series Advisory from a Card’s Fan to Sox Fans: Bring a CDD


Gateway to the Cardinal Nation

WelcometoBusch Stadium

St. Louis Welcome Center. Photo By Lori Mertz Millar

The boys of summer become the men of Rocktober here astride the Mississippi River at the Gateway to the West. Once again the Cardinals Baseball Team has invited out-of-towners to stop by and play ball. This week America celebrates its favorite pastime with our old pals the Boston Red Sox. As a good sport, I’m extending the hometown hospitality spirit shared by Card’s fans nine years ago when we enabled the Red Sox to break the Curse of the Bambino by swamping us 4-0.  Welcome to St. Louis but be forwarned: St. Louis is a gutsy river town, not a touristy seacoast port. If you travel to Busch Stadium by boat, be sure to have a kill switch for the engine, a PFD for everyone on board, and a bunch of CDDs. 

Let’s compare venues for the upcoming World Series. I’m concerned about the furry faced ballplayers from Bean Town who are used to tossing, hitting and catching balls close to predictable tidal waters and lazy brackish streams.  The Red Sox are accustomed to muddy waters named after the heir of the British Throne (who’s mother has been alive since the shot heard ‘round the world). They’ve got a bridge that is the sole place on Earth where you can sail under a train that is under a car that is driving under a Southwest Airlines jet. Our sailors have only sunscreen between them and the sky. The Cardinal’s are river men who play ball in eyeshot of the world’s largest croquette wicket, a tribute to wanderlusts who left the east coast astern, crossed North America’s greatest drainage ditch, and founded the Cardinal’s Nation.

CDD Helmets

CDD Helmets Photo by Donna Smth

Smug Sox fans will slam into Busch Stadium, punch their fists in the air and yell, “We’ll get you, Carp!” Card’s fans will tail gate with Coleman’s chuck full of cold frosties and grin, “Oh, no you won’t.” It’s not that our leading second base man is invincible, it’s our smug security that the visiting team will not be protected by CDDs; Carp Deflecting Devices. 

Carp on Deck

Carp on Deck Photo by Donna Smith

A bit of background for the few American’s not familiar with Major League Baseball. Matt Carpenter, affectionately known as “Carp, the Card’s go-to-guy”, can bat once and be a game changer. That impressive – but a select bawdy bunch of Card’s fans are Mississippi River Rats who make sport of Pacific rim immigrant fish – Asian Carp. When boaters such as the Smiths go cruising on their 26’ pontoon boat, The White Trash Palace their crew and guests wear life jackets, helmets, and other CDDs. They know the game and are ready on deck. A startled carp can launch its 50 pounds of scales and slime 10 feet airborne, knock a boater upside across the head and cause serious damage to the vessel. Undaunted and courageous to the core, River Rats fend off line drives with lawn chairs, trash can lids and snow shovels. Boats rather than Bass Pro fishing lines catch pop flies.

During coverage of the St. Louis games, newscasters are sure to note the sea of red blanketing the riverfront beneath the arch – Cardinal fans tailgating alongshore and dead carp splayed on docks. Watch yourselves Sox fans. You need a bigger boat. You’re from a provincial New England town where everyone knows your name. We’re hometown to the King of Beers whose brew will fill your mugs until the only name you’ll remember when you go home is Bud.


This Carp’s for You, Bud. Compliments of Commodore Doug ‘n Sec’y Donna Smith of Anchor Yankers Boat Club and the White Trash Palace

Higgs Bosun and Huck Finn


Fair Winds and Current on the Alton Pool

Last week the Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to two guys who confirmed that all stuff exists in a sea of energy. The Laureates explained that the dark voids of the universe are more like molasses than Tanqueray Gin. The sea of energy known as the Higgs Field is precisely where It was built and to where everything, including us, came to be.

Visualize the universe as a snorkeler would while exploring a coral reef three meters below the surface. You’ll wear a diving mask because human eyes are made to see through air not water. The mask puts a barrier of air between your eyes and the water so that you can see clearly. There are zillions of particles a millions times smaller than anything visible. What you can’t see even with goggles makes the universe happen. Every gazillion or so of these minute particles is an unstable piece of stuff that makes much of the universe matter. It’s the missing piece of the creation of the universe – the fuse that set off the Big Bang. In a universe that appears perfect this one tiny, incredibly complex and unstable particle broke the perfect symmetry between dark and light, matter and energy. This Higgs Boson particle energizes nothing into everything.  We are all children of this ocean of energy.


Ex Libris on the hook behind Slim Island – Holding Against the Flow

Quantum physics has finally answered the age-old question, “What’s the matter?” Matter is everything that interacts with energy. Stuff encounters a lot of resistance along the way and that’s known as matter. You know matter because you can feel its resistance – like poking the Pillsbury Doughboy. Unlike emotional anxiety or depression that destabilizes people, matter is made to deal with resistance. We matter because we flow with energy. Dealing with friction or drag doesn’t stop us from being – it is what causes us to be something of matter.

Huckleberry Finn understood that things that matter change other things. People who never get to be on the river don’t understand the freedom of getting away from stuff. Huck found it lovely to live simply on a raft with the sky “up there, all speckled with stars.” He and Jim spent many a languid evening just looking up and debating whether the stars “was made” or simply “happened”. Huck figured there were so many stars that it would take too long to make them – so they must’ve just happened.


Courtesy of Captain Ron, “If it’s gonna happen, Boss, it’s gonna happen out there.”

The Nobel winners would probably sit on Huck’s raft, puff on their pipes and nod. Seems something came along and spanked that dark empty space up there above the river and found it wasn’t nothing a’tall – it was some thing. Outer space is a big jiggly thing that sort of snapped a bit when God only knows what gave it a spanking and a little teeny tiny speck o’ stuff – so tiny it could hide behind light – flew off. That little Higgs Boson rogue was different from all the other stuff. It didn’t spin around and around like other particles and it gets smaller and smaller the longer it exists. Then the universe started to move and more stuff was made as things moved through the Higgs force field.  Pretty soon that energy and stuff were everywhere making galaxies, planets, life and everything known to be something, happen.


Resistance Makes it Matter More

And so it is that a young freckled kid born of Twain’s imagination became as real to readers as the Higgs Boson, “God Particle” is to scientists. Some people are closest to nature and answers to eternal questions when like Huck, they “escape cramped and smothery places” to “feel mighty free and comfortable aboard a raft”. A raft is as good as any place to ponder the unknown. To exist as a human being or an Asian Carp is matter that deals with energy. Like the flow of the river it’s something that just is. Huck Finn felt free and easy when he was on the river, away from land. The stuff between people became matterless  while onboard a raft. The stuff back on land seems to have no mass, or to quip in Spanish, “No mas”, our worries weigh nothing.

Huck found that by lying comfortably aboard his raft he came to understand that some things happen to be because it takes a bunch of energy to make them be and energy’s gotta do something. The God particle is everywhere – within and around everything in the universe. It’s an energy field that is felt but not seen and only recently begun to be understood.  It always was, is and will be, part of Huck’s river.


Mass and Energy

Wakes and River Life



Confluence of Illinois & Mississippi Rivers

The dynamic relationship between a river and the land is constantly changing and it’s all because of water. When there is a lot of precipitation a river rises, breeches its banks and floods the land. A river shrivels during droughts when its flow is not much more than an old guy straining to pee. It rips up some parts of land while at the same time building new land in other places. Whether raging or meandering, life in and on a river is ever changing. Fail to respect water’s power and it will kill you.

Wakes on the river are the natural effect of boats breaking through the surface tension of water. We once crossed a wake head on with our powerboat, flew above water, slammed into the next wave with an impact that seemed as solid as hitting a Sequoia. Injuries to the crew, guests, and vessel were relatively minor but the experience was upsetting. Going into a wake head on amped up our respect for the fearsome power of water.



We saw many of our river friends today at the wake of one too young to die. If all the tears shed  today were dumped into our river the force of gravity would take them far downstream and finally out to sea. Our tears would encounter life forms barely imagined by Dante as he pondered Hell. They would become the new normal as we adapted to the currents. A tear is so small among billions of gallons of dark churning water that even if it’s pumped through a carp’s gills the tear would be comfortably floating free in no time. Its seaward journey would be punctuated by terrifying encounters with the unknown and the ecstasy of learning how all systems connect.


Drifting with the Current

On very hot days it’s fun to set the anchor, put on a life jacket, tie a strong line around your waist and secure the bitter end to a cleat on the boat. Even when the water seems gentle and listless the current is strong and tireless. Being swept downstream would be life threatening. Looking face down at the water it’s impossible to see your own feet. As Mark Twain mused, our river is, “too thin to plow, too thick to drink”. I have never seen below the surface but my belief that all sorts of life exists below keeps me on high alert. I do not need to see fish to believe they swim nor snag myself on a branch to fear letting go of the safety line.

The famous physicist Stephen Hawking once said he had done “all of the math” and could not find Heaven anywhere in the universe. Therefore Hawking does not believe Heaven or God exists. And then he did some more math and determined that there were many other universes and some are the opposite of everything we know. Last week some oceanographers figured out that most of what lives in the oceans resides far deeper than explorers have ever ventured. The scientists don’t know what lies beneath but believe that down deep all life is subject to change. Since we don’t know the nature of life miles below the surface we cannot determine how changes to it will affect relationships between other species, ourselves included. We simply don’t understand how we are related.

There are no Apps for a map of the universe that pinpoints Heaven or a route between where we stand and that destination. Like tears in the river left from a wake, we can take comfort in knowing that every living thing is programed to make the journey with no need for a map. Our guides are those who journey ahead and share the basic wisdom that life prepares us all for death. Just as we share the bias that river floods are disasters, in real life they are predictable and necessary for rivers to exist.  Wakes are the physical effects of movement though water, and of a loved one crossing the boundary between life and death. Wakes confirm our deep desire to live though the powerful currents of compassion and caring. Water is within and around us. That’s life. I’ve never been to Heaven but know it exists because of the peace of knowing that it is where all life flows. I did the math; 1 life plus 1 faith = eternal life. Peace Out, Mackenzie.


Heaven’s just a different address. GHL