I currently live in a Wisconsin land of lakes– including one about a hundred yards from my door– but I spent my first couple decades as a “river rat” on Iowa’s flood-prone waterways: The Cedar, where our family’s river shack (calling it “vacation home” is way too polite) vanished without a trace after a flood surge. The Iowa, where as a Hawkeye I blew off many afternoons of study in a tractor tube trailing a six-pack in the cool current. And Big Muddy itself, the mighty Mississippi where I was born and raised.
I’m no stranger to floods, but Mother Nature flowed nostalgic on a recent three-day swing through eastern Iowa/western Illinois to perform my “Boogie in the Barnyard” concerts at local libraries. My arrival at my parents’ house in Muscatine coincided with an unusual July flood crest, illustrated by the above photo. I feared that my singing chicken persona for this show would have to morph into a duck to get into Iowa City, where flooding required two detours from my route. The show did go on– promptly followed by another cloudburst– and a swimmingly good time was had by all.
As floodwaters began to slowly retreat, I was able to perform high and dry at two spectacular century-plus old library buildings at West Liberty and Rock Island before surfing home to my well-behaved Lake Waubesa. The road trip released a flood of memories (pun intended) reminiscent of a verse from my song “Big Ol’ River”, inspired by my Wonder Years on the Mississippi:
Fighting the flood back in ’68, floating down the big ol’ river
We’re all sandbagging, trying to shut the gate, floating down the big ol’ river
Chub climbed the levee, about half lit,
Fell into the current, got swallowed by it,
They fished him out in Keokuk, bit by bit, floating down the big ol’ river
You can hear the whole song here: