Life on the Mississippi

Portraits of the urban river in words and pictures

We get out later in the evening when you don't want to be wrassling no boats. So we drive down in the car and grab a spot and do some fishing. This is a new spot. We've been here about a month. Sometimes we go through the lock and dam and fish behind the University. Sometimes, when it's really nice, we just ride the boat around. For the most part, we just sit out here. We done met a lot of nice people out here on this river. We just come out here, get old together, and fish. There's two or three of us who come out here. Every chance we get. Usually about three days a week

Pookie: I'm from East St. Louis, Illinois. I got here the day before Thanksgiving '87. Doc's cousin told me to come up here. He told me there's jobs and opportunities. So I got my last g.a. check, cashed in, and came up here. I had seven dollars in my pocket on Thanksgiving Day. Ate real good. Got a job that following Monday, been here ever since.

Anytime my wife and I get in an argument, I'm out of there. I'm going to the river and going fishing.

Doc: I'm pretty much the same. If my wife gets to shouting, I call Pookie and say, "Man, let's go."

Pookie: His wife's a preacher.

Doc: She's a minister. As matter of fact, she just went to T.D. Jakes in Houston, Texas. I hope we can catch something to eat while she's gone, so I can fry some fish. [Pause] We don't stay out here too late because at nighttime the river comes alive. Lots of critters. One time I saw a guy here holding an eel. I didn't think they had eels here. I used to jump in the water when it was hot. But after he showed me that eel, I don't go in anymore.

Pookie: And I don't fish down here at night because I don't want to get caught up in some of that nighttime activity--you know, being as I'm a married man, having children and grandkids and all.

Last year, we saw that guy who swam all the way down the Mississippi. I thought that was kind of strange. What's he trying to do? Trying to kill his self? Then I saw on the news, he swam the whole Mississippi.

Doc: We ain't seen nothing fatal on the river. The Mississippi's been kind to us because we handle it right. You can't be messing around on this water. Even a good swimmer will drown out here. I can't find nothing better to do in the summer time, to be honest with you. I love my family. But after God and family, it's fishing. It's joyful out here for us.

Ain't no telling what you're going to catch out of the river. Get you a worm, man, everything hits worms. Get you a worm, no telling what you're going to pull up. I heard there's some walleyes down by that bridge. You got to jig 'em. If the catfish ain't biting, you got carp. My cousin came here from Springfield, Illinois. I went over to his house, he had some fish fried and battered up. I asked him, "What kind of fish is that?" He said carp. And I said, "How do you eat carp?" Then I ate some and said "May I have another piece?" because, man, it was good.

 

"We Thought We Were Gods"

For more than a decade, Terry Kriesel has called the Mississippi River home. He lives on a homemade houseboat that was built by a pipefitter, but which he is constantly modifying. He uses river water for bathing and dish cleaning. His electricity comes from solar panels. There are 600 pounds of fork truck batteries in the closet. If he falls asleep with the TV on, the charge sometimes run down and he has to use a gas generator. Because space is at a premium, Kriesel only brings new objects on board when he can demonstrate to his own satisfaction that the object has at least two legitimate functions. Kriesel's boat, along with about 10 others, sits in the river channel at Island Station, a bohemian marina located not far upstream from downtown St. Paul. Long targeted for closure by the city of St. Paul, Island Station's days now appear to be numbered. The day after I met Kriesel, the St. Paul Pioneer Press ran a story in which a city official said he expected to clear out the marina in a matter of weeks. Plans are underway to erect a high-end condo development on the site.

Terry Kriesel: I've been living in roughly this spot since fall of 1991. I had gone through six months of chemotherapy for non-Hodgkins lymphoma and I didn't know how long I was going to live. I had the boat already. I split with my wife, and moved here, figuring I'd be happier with whatever time I had left. As it turns out, it's been 12 years.

I grew up on Seventh Street. These were my stomping grounds when I was a kid. We used to go swimming, fishing, bicycling. When I was about 13, they brought down a whole bunch of riprap to make the ramp at the east end of Crosby Park. There was a big section of flooring, 10 feet by 18 feet, with joists. It floated about two and a half inches out of the water. It was a perfect raft. I stole a bed sheet from my mom. Me and a buddy set a pole on it, and made a makeshift sail. We thought we were gods, floating across the water that day in May. We hid the raft and camouflaged it really well, but next year's flood took it out.

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