Sunday, September 11, 2011

WITH THE FLOW – Day's End on the St. Croix

The bow of my canoe says hush-h-h!, carving into the muddy sand. I obey and get out on the small stretch of beach, grateful for the chance to stretch my legs. The damp sand, still warm from an day of full sun, feels good underfoot. I'm in no hurry; I decide to unpack my camp chair, sit and enjoy the last hour or so of a clear, quiet, perfect day on the river.

A few hours ago, as I paddled past this very spot, I'd surprised a confab of red horse suckers in the shallows, their flight churning up plumes of sediment like so many cartoon dialog bubbles: "Zoom!" "Whoosh!" I love catching red horse, so I bait my hook with a night crawler and throw it out to the spot and let it sit. I keep one eye on the hanging arc of line, while the other scans the river.

A vulture, working circles just above the treetops, casts a darting black dot in the reflection.

Here on the Minnesota side of the St. Croix River, the sun's clicking off the last few degrees of its arc across a cloudless sky. As my little beach welcomes the shade, the forest across the way on the Wisconsin side glows with that rich, warm light that distills out of normal light just before sunset—the kind that artists love.


The northwesterly breeze, hazy with smoke from Canadian forest fires, has died down now, and the water's surface mirrors the golden sand banks and a hundred shades of green from the far shore. Even a vulture, working circles just above the treetops, casts a darting black dot just below them in the reflection.

A thousand insects have begun their evening chorus with a constant, high-pitched sizzle.

Instead of red horse, I'm catching bass— smallies. I'm surprised they're going for the weeks-old, nearly lifeless night crawlers I've brought. I play them for a minute or two, admire their elegant, muscular beauty and let them go. But for their obvious annoyance, I convince myself they're none the worse for wear. I wish they could tell me so.

From the woods behind me, blue jays scold, while across the river, a crow shouts them down. Still deeper in the forest, a thousand insects have begun their evening chorus, a constant, high-pitched sizzle. The percussion section chimes in—a throaty squawk that reminds me of a güiro, the hollow, grooved gourd played like a washboard in Latin music. I've never heard this one before; some kind of katydid, I suppose.

Just as I'm starting to believe there's really two of everything on the far shore, a motor boat goes by, addling the reflection…and me.

As the colors on the Wisconsin shore deepen, a bald eagle works his way resolutely northward toward the high rock cliffs, his size and majestic wing flaps making the vulture look scrawny, awkward.


Just as I'm starting to believe there's really two of everything on the far shore, a motor boat goes by, addling the reflection…and me. I watch patiently as both gradually regain their composure. I'm grateful this boat is the only one I've seen today.

I visualize the one-foot-thick vertical slice of water that's passing me in this instant, and wonder where it will be tomorrow at this time, next week, next month.

Though the river appears very still, a few floating leaves and sticks betray its slow, silent power. This is the quality of rivers that moves me the way the tides move sea-lovers. Every time you look, it's a new river. I visualize the one-foot-thick vertical slice of water that's passing me in this instant, and wonder where it will be tomorrow at this time, next week, next month. Will it outrun sub-zero temperatures before they catch and detain some of it till spring?

Now, as the sun sets behind me, the mosquitoes come on in their blood-lust. I appreciate the dragonflies that dart around me, picking them off in mid-air. Once again I needn't test the potency of my 30-year-old army surplus deet.

The shadow line crawls visibly up the trees on the other side, slowly snuffing what's left of the stubborn sunlight. As if on cue, the evening's first bard owl inquires in its inimitable cadence, "Who, who, who-who; who, who, who-whoo-o-o?" This sound echoes the very first sensation I remember when, as a child, I'd first come down to the river by myself at dusk—only then it didn't accompany this near-full moonrise.

 Might an Ojibwe or Dakota elder have stood in this very spot three centuries ago and experienced the very same sensations I'm feeling now?

The sun now departed, the day's warmth takes the hint and follows. A palpable wave of cool, damp, muddy-moldy-smelling air is pouring down the valley and envelopes me. And I wonder, Might an Ojibwe or Dakota elder have stood in this very spot three centuries ago and experienced the very same sensations I'm feeling now? Was this just another day at the office for him, or did he share the sense of wonder and gratitude I'm feeling now?

Taking this thought with me, I pack up, drift quietly back down to the landing and head home. But my reverie lasts, the memory of this last hour etched forever into my heart and soul. I feel so in harmony with the flow of the St. Croix and the ways in which it parallels my life.

Perhaps most importantly, it reminds me that I'm so much more than simply an observer of life's flow as it moves inexorably past.

I'm on it. I'm in it. I'm part of that flow, connected with other places and other times, with the rocks and sands that contain it, with all those slinking, swimming, soaring creatures that are drawn to it as I am, and with every single human being who's ever let himself be swept away by its wonder.

8 comments:

Robin Easton said...

Dear Jeffrey, this is SO beautiful that it was almost painful for me to read (in a good way). It made me long, intensely, for Maine, for the days I lived on Lake Pennesseewasse. the days I slipped my canoe into a glass surface, and my wake left a Monet like reflection of fall colors rippling across the water's surface.

Your writing is just intimately exquisite, and I feel this is because you are SO aware of the world around you. You know how to obverse, feel, and let in that world. That may seem a very obvious thing, but these days of fast food, fast cars, fast communications, fast shopping, fast, fast, fast, it can difficult for many people to slow down. Many don't even remember HOW to slow down.

Your writing washes over my soul so sweetly. It calls to me, beckons me "home", reminds me how much I hunger and need to connect to the Living Earth, no matter where I am. Through your writing...you are a weaver of magic spells. You remind us all who we are. I am thankful for this.

I too have stood and pondered---just as you did---wondered who stood "here", where I now stand? Did they feel what I feel? Did their bare feet touch this same sun warmed rock? I have a similar passage in my book, wondering if an Aboriginal man or woman stood and felt how I felt about the rainforest, about a certain creek and dappled light. Oh man, how we ARE connected, past, present, and future.

Thank you dear Jeffrey for a remarkable post. You offer stillness, beauty, and life in an often crazy world. Hugs, Robin

Big Zen said...

A great piece of writing. For a few moments I was completely there.

Jeffrey Willius said...

My dear friend Robin - I'm overcome by your generous praise! Part of it is just knowing that my writing touches you in the same way yours has touched me -- that's an incredible honor!
I remember well the passage from your book about the continuing presence of past generations of native peoples in certain places. I sometimes see that as a message from them carried down to us by the spirits of rivers, rocks, trees and just the spirit of place.
Thank you for walking with me now and then in my journey to understanding!!

Jeffrey Willius said...

Dear Big Zen - Thanks for checking out my site! I really appreciate those supportive words. I hope you'll come back now and then -- or, better yet, subscribe through the RSS feed.
Here's wishing you a wonder-filled day!

Robb said...

Kia ora Jeffery,
Really cool place you have here, and I find a real connection to the place as well,as I have spent time on the St. Croix, and a lot of time in the Boundary Waters, after growing up in Wisconsin and living in Minnesota for years as well. So the sights and smells and memories you invoke within me bring warmth and a smile to me. Though my footsteps are in a different place that my soul connects to it all started back in those waters of my original place. Rave on!
Cheers,
Robb

Jeffrey Willius said...

Hey Robb -- Thanks for the comment -- especially your kind words of support. How nice that we share such good sensory memories of the St. Croix and the BWCAW.
Checked out your great blog -- what a beautiful place you now play in! And what a beautiful family to do it with!
I'm following and look fwd. to checking in now and then.

Robin Easton said...

Dear Jeffrey, You I think you will love Robb Kloss. He is a kindred spirit. His love of the wild and his ability to hear its primal call is so like your own. I felt very happy that you both have connected. I've known Robb for several years and helped him in a fight to protect the Ruahine mountains, the mountains he has a love affair with.

Also, I teared up over your response. I treasure it. As I get to know you better, I am just taken aback by your depth of insight and connection to the natural world in which you life. I can't tell you how much it means to me, how much it confirms for me. These lines just HAVE to go in a book you write:

"...the continuing presence of past generations of native peoples in certain places. I sometimes see that as a message from them carried down to us by the spirits of rivers, rocks, trees and just the spirit of place."

Oh maaan, that is sooooo beautiful, and so true. You REALLY get it, and are able to express it with such incredible beauty. Thank you for seeing, for confirming, and for sharing it here on your blog and in your comments.

The world REALLY needs you now. They may not yet know it, but they do. They are hungry for what you have to offer. They have just forgotten what it is they hunger for. But I really believe that when the soul once again feels it, it remembers. That is why children heal in nature. Their spirits begin to awaken, remember, and resonate with the natural and vitally alive forces around them. I think we all heal in nature.

Thank you SO much dear friend. You are doing VERY important work here. You are helping people remember... It is an honor to know you.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Hey Robin - I hope Robb and I can develop even half as wonderful a connection as you and I have formed. Thanks for supporting that.

As for your comments, I hardly know what to say. It feels like you're right here with me, jumping in whenever I start doubting myself or feeling insignificant. You don't know (no, you probably do) how much that means to me, how much it helps.

I know how busy you are with your other connections, your book, your documentaries and all, so your generosity of time and spirit are all the more appreciated.

I too honor and treasure our friendship!

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