Surprise, Missouri

As I paddled down the Eleven Point River, I knew that within the better part of a county in every direction, I was a population of one. This is the Irish Wilderness.

Along the river there used to be a town named Surprise. It’s long gone. Gone too is its centerpiece, Turner Mill, although the mill’s old rusty iron water wheel survives, overgrown with climbing vegetation, looking like it rolled downhill out of a Spiderman movie. As if on cue, inside a cave a few yards away, I met the biggest spider this side of a Goliath Bird-Eater Tarantula.

The arachnid that lurks on the walls of Turner Mill cave sees few people, and she likes it that way. Isolation has its soothing benefits. And she doesn’t have to endure wave after wave of drunken idiocy, as exhibited on more accessible Ozark rivers. The spider drilled me with a fangy stare—a deathly silent fearsome fix that suggested I leave her alone. Fine with me.

–from Coastal Missouri

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