June 10, 2003—For River #2 Ian and I headed south to the Cannon River, a mutation of the words “River of Canoes.” Long ago this river was used by Indians and the French to reach the buffalo fields of the plains. They would travel upstream from the Mississippi and often along our trip we imagined the light, empty canoes headed inland and the heavy buffalo-filled canoes riding the return current downstream…But. Before we could imagine the Indians silently passing us I had to get us lost coming out of the Twin Cities, AND THEN, having finally found the tiny, winding dirt farm road where we would stash our second car for the take-out-THEN — I realized I had forgotten to bring our second and third paddle!
Ian calmed me down and we drove to the put-in at Cannon Falls in the hopes of
salvaging- the trip by finding a paddle to rent or buy. There, in a dusty old hardware store we found, high on a shelf, a long thin wooden paddle for $15.99 and the trip was saved.
We put in at a small park and found ourselves catching a few rapids, passing under a railway bridge, and then sailing down a swift current between wild river banks. Early in the paddle a giant bald eagle few right over us. It was being chased by a tiny black bird who seemed to be teasing it from behind. The eagle swept down the river and landed on a high branch where it joined another eagle. It was astonishing to see the two giant birds peer down at us as we paddled under them. I have never seen such a sight.
The water was higher than usual in the Cannon River and the full-water current made our paddling this gentle stretch of river nearly effortless. This river runs through what is called “the driftless area” of Minnesota. The glaciers missed this
slightly higher area of ground 10,000 years ago so rather than the flat, glacier-ground plains to the west, this region retained its limestone cliffs. The river now cuts deeply through the bluffs. We stopped on a rocky island for a late lunch. (Menu: tabouli, humus, pita bread, apples, and a Snickers Bar.) Ian found a dragonfly, papery and dry. The bottom side of the river’s rocks were covered with the tiny, gooey eggs of flies, the same flies we supposed were swerving all over the river’s surface as the sun moved deeply west. Fish were beginning to rise for their evening meal and the river felt alive when we shoved off.
My favorite moment on this river was coming up to a bend where a giant heron rose off ‑the bank and passed us on the left. The river turned right, then left, and the wind picked up and, in the shimmering of late sun, the air was suddenly filled with
the airy white puffs of milkweed and cottonwood. We sailed around the blue water bend with the fluff of summer snow spinning around us.
The trip ended too soon as Ian’s old Trooper appeared beside the river. We hauled the canoe up to the road and stopped to watch the trout rising just off the junction of Trout Creek and the Cannon River. We promised that next time we would bring our fly rods.
The ride back to my car in Cannon Falls seemed short, the summer sun still lighting the farms. When I’m off the river, the blue ribbon of water, I miss it immediately. The land seemed so still. But every canoe ride deserves celebrating. Which we did, at the Dairy Inn.