| || From its source in Lake Itasca, Minnesota, in the northern United States, the Mississippi river ﬂows through the heart of the country, traveling 2,347 miles (3,780 km)—3,856 miles, or 6,210 km, if the Missouri river is included—to Louisiana, on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, where it fans out in a vast delta. Known as “Old Muddy,” the river washes down vast quantities of silt scoured from its enormous basin, which covers 1,243,692 square miles (3,222,000 km2), or 41 percent of surface area of the United States. It deposits this load in the delta, south of New Orleans—a huge marshy plain measuring 248.4 by 124.2 miles (400 by 200 km), where various zones of silting bear witness to the river’s changes of course over millennia. Brackish marshes and bayous, the backwaters of the Mississippi and its ancient oxbows, form an amphibious landscape suspended between land and sea, home to alligators and rich in bird life, that surrounds this boat. For geographers, “Mississippi Delta” merely denotes the place where the river ﬂows into the sea. Usually, however, the name refers to a whole region—stretching from Memphis to Vicksburg at the conﬂuence with the Yazoo river—that was the birthplace of the blues.
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