A letter to Chemung River folks from Huck Finn

By Jim Pfiffer, Chemung River Friends Volunteer.

Author’s note: If Huck Finn were alive today, I trust he might have penned this following letter pertainin’ to the Chemung River.

Dear Chemung River folks,

You don’t know about me, without you have the honor of living in the very place where my creator, Mr. Mark Twain, wrote all them stories about me and Tom and our river capers.

You see, Mr. Twain was a river man. Had muddy river water flowing through his veins and his pen when he inked those tall tales. He did so writing for 20 summers in a study atop a hill with a mile-wide view of the beautiful Chemung River below.

A body’s got to figure that seeing that river while doing all his pondering, creating and writing, gave Mr. Twain a Mississippi River’s worth of inspiration. Nobody but an ignorant spider-legged fool would argue with that.

Rivers was a natural for Mr. Twain. He wrote about ‘em from experience. He told the truth, mostly. He explained how they is full of fun, adventure and discovery. A river is a fine place for young’uns to learn about nature and life and partake in a bit of hijinks and mischief-makin’ along the way.

That’s what this here letter is about – getting you danged folks to realize what a powerful treasure you got running through your backyards. I’m mighty downhearted to find out that she ain’t being enjoyed, protected and learned about, as much as she should.

You’re lucky to have a fine organization, by the name of the Chemung River Friends, right there in Elmira. They sees the value of the Mighty Chemung River. They is doing all they can to get more folks to enjoy it, respect it and protect it. I reckon, you all should make a pact with the river to keep her clean, safe and free running. Sign it in blood.

Why dog my cats if it don’t get my biles a boilin’ when I see all that litter and trash that some dunder-headed rapscallions toss about like it was a pig stye. It saddens me right down to my spleen to see such nonsense. Don’t they knowed that their drinking water comes from the river? It’s powerfully pitiful.

Human beings can be awful cruel and disrespectful to Ma Nature. They know right is right, and wrong is wrong, and a being ain’t got no business doing wrong when he ain’t ignorant and knows better.

Paddling on the Chemung River is monstrous fun. You never knows, for certain, what you might see or experience. It’s a fine way to get away from sivillization. When you’re feeling all dismal, closed in and hogtied, there ain’t no place like a river, after all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a river don’t. You feel as free as the bald eagles soaring overhead, and you just knows that life is mighty free and easy and comfortable on a river. Why, I dare say that a float on a river is better for you than a barrel full of the Widow Douglas’s castor oil.

It’s summertime, and that’s river time. Get out on the water, go fishing, walk the river trails or just rest a spell in the tall grass on the bank, with the sun warming your back, and watch the river flow. It’ll wash away all your troubles as nice as pie.

The Chemung is an easy river to get to with a boatload of public landings, boat ramps and parking places. And mind you, you can do it all for free, cuz the river belongs to you, the public.

Paddling a raft, canoe or kayak does a body good. Gets the blood and the humors flowing as fast as the current. All that paddling eats up all the supper in your belly. It gives you gumption and I reckon it gets a body in shape and as thin and strong as a sycamore rafting pole.

And by golly, there’s more of God’s creatures to see on and in a river than if a zoo and circus was to come to your town at the same time. It’s full of life.

And ohhhh my, how the fishing is fine. With a cane pole and can of worms you can catch a bullhead, catfish, walleye, bass or one of them big ole fightin’ tiger muskies.

And lookie here, a river is a fine place for kids to learn about getting along with nature and how they be connected to it and how they going to be the ones taking care of it when they grow up. Mostly they gotta learn to not hurt it.

A river gets kids’ imaginations a churning and bubbling and makes it easy to pretend to be pirates or a band of robbers looking for buried gold on one of the islands.

A day on the river is better than a whole school year of book learnin’. Course you knowed I played a lot of hookie from school, but I spent it learning, playing and getting self-confidence from the river.

You all got something called “life vests” that can protect you better than a lucky rabbit’s foot. Only a jackass wouldn’t wear one when out on the water. I’ve seen a fearful lot of drowned bodies in my time, and I reckon I don’t care to see no more. Wear a life vest and you never going to become one of them soggy bottom bodies.

I know there’s some folks who don’t take a liking to the river. They think its dirty and dangerous and ain’t nothing but a cause of floods. That’s just the way it is with some people. They get down on a thing when they don’t know nothing about it. They ain’t no better than a hole in a hull. Best to pay ‘em no mind.

Thing is, the Chemung River is a place for fun, recreation, learning, catching supper and enjoying the peacefulness. That’s the truth, and Mr. Twain says truth is better, and actually safer than a lie.

I ‘pologize for giving you a good cowhiding, but the river means much to me. Please use it with respect, enjoy it and most of all take care of it. Mr. Twain asks the same.

I hope you find a motive and moral in this letter. If you pay it no mind you will be banished. If you attempt to find fault with it, you will be shot.

I do not wish any reward for my advice, but to know I have done the right thing. 

Respectfully yours,


P.S. Tom said it’s ‘bout time someone up and told you to love your river.  

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