An Unexpected Accident, Clamming Goldrush, and Bald Eagles in Lansing

Jeremiah went back to California and was tagged out by Mikey in Lansing, Iowa.


Mikey and I were at the public mooring in Lansing, Iowa when our breakfast was interrupted by disaster. It was pretty common on the main channel to be pummeled by the wake of big boats, but this must have been the Queen Mary moving at highway speeds. Suddenly the shantyboat was heaving up and down and slamming into the riverwall. Waves were crashing over the wall onto the banks. As we were bracing ourselves we could hear a crashing and rending from the rear of the shantyboat. I jumped across the heaving cabin in time to see our back porch post ripped off, our anchor dropped in the river, and the shantyboat becoming partly adrift.

But let’s take you back: Jeremiah and I had installed new cleats on the back porch of the shantyboat back in Santa Cruz. These were cute little things that recessed when they were not being used. This was an improvement over last year where mooring lines and bumpers were tied to the back porch posts. However, when we got to the river we found that the new tiny cleats held the bumpers nicely, but were too tiny to hold the hawsers. So unfortunately, we had to moor to the back porch posts anyway.

With predictable results. It turns out mooring to the porch post is a bad idea. This is what cleats are made for.


We wrestled the shantyboat back to the mooring, saved the anchor from a watery grave, and retrieved the post. The heaving shantyboat had torn out several nails and broken several screws. But happily nothing was irreparably broken. Then we spent the rest of the morning repairing the post and installing new and bigger cleats. Nice size cleats that were only $3 at the amazing Lansing farm supply store.


Later that afternoon, we were interviewing Terry Sykes who was a clammer in the area. He told us great stories about hunting clams with his bare feet and hauling in up to a quarter ton of clams a day. Later he hunted clams diving in the blackness of the river feeling with his hands with an air compressor sitting in a boat above.The 70s through the 90s were like a goldrush for clammers with many shells going to Japan turned into little beads used to seed oysters for cultured pearls. Now he grows flowers and plant starts in greenhouses he sets up.



Afterward, Terry invited us for a sunset cruise along the river. Hazel got to take a car ride with air conditioning.


Terry took the pontoon boat along the shallows of the main channel near Desoto. He was excited for us to see bald eagles and he did not disappoint. We saw eagle nests, full grown birds, and adolescents. Eagles hunting, eagles dramatically perched in sunset light, bald eagles posing like they were modeling for the silver dollar. Dozens. We lost count at some point. The Driftless Area is well populated by eagles.

It looked pretty much like this:


Mikey told us that he’d seen Bald Eagles before. When he was working at a McDonalds in Alaska, bald eagles would eat out of the dumpster like seagulls or pigeons. I imagined someday bald eagles being so populous on the Mississippi River that they were considered a nuisance.


Inside the Shantyboat through the Driftless Area

Jeremiah took a nice panoramic photo of the inside of the shanyboat. Scroll right to see the whole thing.

Shantyboat Sunset Interior. Photo by Jeremiah Daniels. (Scroll right >>)

Currently Hazel and I are on the loose on the streets of Prairie du Chien. One of many adorable little towns on the Mississippi River through the Driftless Region.

Did I tell you about the Driftless Area? Referred to geologically as the “Paleozoic Plateau,” it is an area near the intersection of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois untouched by glaciers in the last major ice age. Because the area escaped the deposits of drift and scouring effects of glaciation, it is marked by high sudden bluffs and deep valleys (called Coulees locally, a French Canadian word associated with low places where water flows). This gives the area a dramatic geography, wholly different from the flatlands surrounding it.

Driftless Area from the back of the shantyboat. (Scroll right >>)

People here are mighty proud of it, and it’s not just geology nerds who sport bumper stickers that say “driftless.”

driftless sticker