“The river is within us. The sea is all about us.”
— Thomas Stearns Eliot
• • •
Joe Lott is floating the Arkansas River, en route to the Gulf of Mexico. And he couldn’t care less when he might arrive.
“I’ll get there when I get there,” the 59-year-old Milwaukee native says.
Docked in Trulock Park below Pine Bluff on Friday afternoon in his “plain but fancy” homemade raft, Lott — who also goes by the name of “Hobo Jo Tramp” — said he was doing exactly what he pleased.
“I’m living the Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer life,” he said. “That’s what I’ve wanted to do since I first read Mark Twain when I was a kid.”
Lott calls his 12-foot by 22-foot craft the USS Hollis, named in honor of “my best friend,” the late Hollis Christensen of Van Buren. Christensen died Feb. 3 at the age of 65. Soon after, Lott commenced his journey as a tribute to Christensen, a family man who shared Lott’s affection for nature and living life as a free spirit.
“I’ve floated 300 rivers in the past 40 years,” Lott said, “and I’ve never gotten tired of it.”
He has no children and has never married, but Lott doesn’t travel by himself and never has time to become lonely.
“I believe in God,” Lott said. “He rides with me.”
So does Lott’s dog of the past 4-plus years, an Australian Shepherd by the name of “Mister Lizard Einstein III.” The dog followed his master’s lead in warmly greeting a visiting reporter and photographer Friday, and then joined Lott in staging an impressive array of tricks — including poking its head under water to retrieve a rope and raising its front paws as if “giving up” when Lott told the dog, “You’re under arrest!”
Lott boasted of his canine companion’s intelligence.
“He knows 150 commands,” Lott said.
Lott has made a number of human friends along his current voyage.
“I advertise for work as I go along and people are generous in giving me jobs,” he said. “I do whatever I can. I’m sort of a jack of all trades.”
The money he earns helps him to maintain a surprisingly comfortable life on his boat, which has solar-powered lights and a radio. Lott also has a computer and cell phone.
“I’ve got everything I need,” he said, “and people I meet are kind to me. This has been a good trip. The only trouble I’ve had has been a couple of storms that blew me around a little.”
Lott said after he reaches the Gulf, he intends to venture to New York state and then float the Ohio River to its intersection with “The Mighty Mississippi.”
He seemingly has no concern of what season it might be when he makes it to “The Big Apple.”
Chances are, he’ll get there when he gets there.