A Bend In the River

Twain placed Huck and Jim on the river because the river was time, motion, beauty, baptism and violence, but mainly because one could not see around the bend. Civilizations are formed by bends in the river--the Nile, Congo, Thames, Yangtze--a twist of the land, water and fate that, by making it impossible to see what comes next, raises hopes of the possibility of everything.

The Mississippi did that from the start. In the spring and summer of 1768, Montfort Browne, Lieutenant Governor of Florida, made his way along the lower Mississippi to the area of "the Natches," where he found "the...

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