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Atchafalaya: an analysis



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                In John Mcphee’s book The Control of Nature, he attempts to look into several natural phenomena and how people have attempted to cope with the serious effects brought about by these events. In Atchafalaya, Mcphee notes that attempt of man to “prevent the Mississippi from changing course by controlling flows diverted into the Atchafalaya Basin (Mcphee 1990, p 12).” One of the measures taken by the people near the Mississippi River is to put a “lock” or a control in the Old River by installing sort of a concrete armor.

                The power of the Mississippi river is beyond the power of any river in the world, with the Mississippi river ranking as one of the world’s longest and fiercest water systems, carrying silt and its fresh water across the Gulf of Mexico. It has been observed that the Mississippi River has gradually changed its course throughout the years caused in a large degree by the force the water carries along its path and earthquakes. These events have led to shifts in the course of the lives of those who lived within the proximity of the river, adjusting every now and then when the river overflows. In essence, past attempts to alter these unwanted consequences were aimed at controlling the water flow of the river through the installations of locks in the Old River towards the Atchafalaya area.


                The instances when the Mississippi overflowed can be best understood by looking into the processes that define these events. The grand force of the river’s current is strong enough to excavate the soil beneath by a couple of feet and that “more than two million cubic feet of water had gone by this place in every second (Mcphee 1990, p 9)”, exhibiting the force of the current way beyond the human capacity to stand against it. It is inevitable for the citizens concerned to find ways in order to preempt the possibility of disasters or calamities induced by the river to occur. However, the cost, benefit, effectiveness and the sustainability of establishing a lock system in order to control the flow and the course of the river do not substantially sum together as a practical answer. Nor does it stand as the best solution and preventive measure. Quite on the other hand, it appears that the river cannot be stopped for its force cannot be simply contained and controlled via the efforts of man and machine combined. Man appears too weak to leash the mighty waterway as “the Mississippi had spilled out freely to feed the Atchafalaya” many times in the past (Mcphee 1990, p 13).

                Or even if these people attempt at controlling the flow of the river, there will come a time when the river cannot be contained any longer, the time when man’s machines succumb to the wrath of nature. Human structures and machineries decay and rust whereas the river and the rest of nature gather strength at the stretch of time when humanity weakens at will and activity. As these withholding structures weaken by the year, the Mississipi and Atchafalaya Rivers, on the other hand, intensifies with time.


                In summary, people have attempted to control the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers by setting-up structures that will remove the possible occurrence of a calamity or disaster brought about by the natural phenomena created by the river. All these efforts have indeed contributed to some extent, but unfortunately the might of the rivers simply cannot be contained for all eternity. There will come a time in the history of mankind that the rivers will gather more strength than ever before, and that the water flow will ravage everything that stands against its path. For the meantime, efforts are still being made in order to preempt that fateful day.


    Mcphee J. 1990. Atchafalaya. The Control of Nature. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p 9, 12, 13.

    Atchafalaya: an analysis. (2016, Aug 04). Retrieved from

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