The River Will Have the Last Word
Through deluge and drought, the legendary “Hawk Man of Iowa” has spent decades along a remote stretch of the Mississippi known as the Driftless Area. But can the river help him escape his grief when he needs it most?
Illustrations by Michael Molfetas
“Meet me under the bridge,” says Jon “Hawk” Stravers. The bridge spans the Mississippi River between Marquette, Iowa, and Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. I arrive early, not knowing who it is I will trust my welfare to on the river. But more than one person has told me, “If you want to understand the Driftless, you have to talk to Hawk.”
Covering parts of four states that share a shoreline with the Mississippi River—Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota—the 24,000-square-mile Driftless region is more defined by a shared landscape of hills and coulees than by state boundaries. Named because the glaciers and their deposits of gravel and rocks—drift—passed it by two million years ago, the Driftless today is a distinctive bioregional culture, a culture that values all things small and local, including food, music, education, environment and media. Its un-Midwestern landscape attracts back-to-landers and off-the-gridders. One farmer described the area’s ambi…