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This boy, alone with his dog, poling a raft he built himself along a quiet stretch where the Mississippi flows by a big drooping willow, is James Edward Lucy, 12. He lives on Island 26 between Arkansas and Tennessee, and he has never read Huck Finn. He hardly needs to. James Edward feels, like Huck, that some places "do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don't. You feel mighty free and comfortable on a raft."

Like Huck Finn, James Edward Lucy never uses a gate when there's a fence to climb through (top left). His island, also called Shoaf Island, has about 100 inhabitants, mostly tenant farmers and their families. In the summer, when his one-room school is out, James Edward spends a lot of his time in the fields tending cotton. But there is still time for hunting fox with Cousin Donald, 12, and Uncle Carl, 17 (left), working on his tree house (right) or fishing for carp with a pole that he cut and trimmed himself.

Huck Finn used to go swimming "so as to freshen up and cool off," but the modern Huck goes him one better: he enters the water, as Huck never did, via a rope tied to a limb on the river-bank. In a moment James Edward will let go and plunge into The Chute, a narrow channel of the river between his island and Arkansas. Later, as Huck did, he'll "watch the lonesome-ness of the river, lazying around and listening to the stillness."