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Mark Twain had two love affairs--one with his wife, Livy, and the other with the Mississippi River.

At 34 years of age, Twain entered into the longest and most faithful contract of his lifehis marriage to Olivia Langdon. She was the daughter of a New York coal magnate, a member of the country's wealthy elite. For a poor boy from the West, who had seen the world from bottom up, this was such high society that he often felt like "Little Sammy in Fairy Land."

"The Mississippi is well worth reading about. It is not a commonplace river, but on the contrary is in all ways remarkable. Considering the Missouri its main branch, it is the longest river in the world—four thousand three hundred miles. It seems safe to say that it is also the crookedest river in the world, since in one part of its journey it uses up one thousand three hundred miles to cover the same ground that the crow would fly over in six hundred and seventy-five."

The days I traveled the mighty Mississippi the sun was hot. The reflection off the river surface was blinding. A slight breeze blew off the river. A typical summer day on the river most likely was much the same.

The antebellum mansions across the water stood guard over the waterway as they have for over a century. The air smelled sweet and clean--refreshing. The ship's bell rang three times. It's whistle filled the air with a powerful blow-me-away sound. "All ashore that's going ashore," announced the captain.

As I drank my morning coffee, a soft muggy morning mist rose like steam from the pond-like river. A sparkling morning on the Mississippi is a wash-job for the soul. I spotted a large hawk gliding smoothly on the warm air currents as a mother duck led her small convoy of ducklings toward shore.

Next: Life on the Mississippi

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