Area has potential, needs good leader

Published 11:04 pm Thursday, October 4, 2007

Floating down river is easy. It’s paddling upstream that is hard.

That was the lesson I learned Thursday morning after taking a two-hour canoe trip down and up a section of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers.

For the past few days, I have been attending the National Preservation Conference in St. Paul, Minn. I do this every two-years to get some continuing education credits, so that I can keep my architect’s license.

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Each time I visit, I get to step back into the role of architect and discover all the interesting and fascinating things about historic preservation, building and design.

This year I thought I would come to St. Paul, take a few courses and glean from them some words of wisdom and impart then to you in my weekly column.

After all, Natchez is a town that depends a great deal on historic preservation and in many circles is still a leader in the historic preservation movement.

Little did I know that it would be a two-hour canoe trip on the Mississippi that would offer me this life lesson — It takes a leader, a team and balance to make it work.

What is “it,” you might ask.

Well for me Thursday morning it was a canoe filled with 10 people all touring several archeological sites that highlight St. Paul’s beginnings as a fort and trading post.

But by trip’s end, I discovered that what I learned about canoeing could apply to almost any situation in life, including the running of a city.

Canoeing on the Mississippi River takes a leader. Now you would think that the leader in a ten-man canoe sits up front.

It would make sense. You want the leader at the head of the boat, watching out for things, leading the pack. You want him to be like Leonardo DeCaprio in the Titanic at the prow of the ship shouting, “I am the King of the World,” right?

Wrong. In canoeing, the leader sits in the back.

He watches from the back and with the flick of the paddle — moves the boat right and left — avoiding sand bars, logs and any other obstacles.

I was not the leader of our group and was glad for it. But I was a member of our team. And as a member of team there were a couple of things to remember. Despite all of our different backgrounds and abilities, we all had to paddle together and we had to follow the person in front of us.

Sounds easy, but it was hard keeping pace. Balance was important.

If all of us paddled at our own pace the boat started to rock back and forth. But when we hit the right balance and got into a groove, the boat moved with ease.

Now paddling down stream was easy. The current carried us most of the way without much effort.

But the trip back upstream, moving against the current and against the wind was hard.

For the first few minutes, I thought we weren’t going to make it back to the landing.

But when the leader steered and everyone on the team kept pace, the boat moved quickly.

You might think this has little to do with anything more than boating.

Yet I attended other lectures and tours this week that stressed the same principles embodied in canoeing.

In fact, one organization that invests millions of dollars for the arts in communities similar to Natchez said they first seek out communities that have strong leadership and where the community has demonstrated it can work together.

When they find that environment they are willing to consider investing their private money in such communities.

I have heard many times that Natchez has too many organizations working in different directions.

I also know that our area has great potential as a vibrant, diverse community.

Thursday’s canoe trip demonstrated that it is time that we find a good leader who is willing to steer from behind.

Oh yeah. There is one other thing. Make sure you have Advil, because your arms are going to be sore.

Ben Hillyer is web editor at the Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or