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.
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.
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.
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.