RIVERS: The Rite of Spring

On a cold and starless night early last week, gaunt, red-eyed men patrolled the Mississippi levees near the Illinois town of Meyer (pop. 73), 18 miles upriver from Quincy. They walked in an eerie bath of spotlights, casting their flashlight beams over the tops and sides of the sand-and-soil embankments, looking for soil that had chinked away and for the brown tongue of the river flicking over the top. On the riverside, the great Mississippi growled heavily along, swollen by spring rains and by the countless acres of melting snow that boiled into the feeder streams and into the...

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