August 31, 2003—Ian and I set off to find Jack’s Canoe Rental hidden somewhere beside the Namekagon River in Wisconsin. Jack himself had promised to shuttle us from put-in to take-out and back again. We found this tiny cabin serving as his office. It was surrounded by dozens of canoes and a line of people waiting to be shuttled to various points on this well-known canoeing river.
It was a hot and humid Sunday and the river was quiet with animals but lively with people. Once again the humans were as interesting as any wild creatures. Our first surprise came at the put-in where I waited for Ian’s return.
I met a pair of men who had spent Saturday evening building their one-of-a-kind pontoon boat and had hauled it to the river for its first voyage. They had built a platform over two kayaks with a canoe in-between. The craft could be steered by the canoeing bowsman, as well as poled by the other passenger on deck. They had spray painted the platform a rough camouflage green. They spent well over an hour on shore imagining how it might perform, and naming it. They decided on: The Green Party Platform. They set off and disappeared around a curve in the river and all was quiet once again. Hours later we found them alive and well, shooting fish with a cross bow. At our passing the fish were still winning.
The Namekagon starts in northern Wisconsin and winds its way to the St. Croix River.
The St. Croix serves as a border to Minnesota and Wisconsin and both rivers are protected by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, (1968), a visionary piece of legislation that protected 8 rivers in the United States from development. The early part of our trip found us paddling between sandy banks and spiky pines. The heat hushed the shoreline and the lack of bird song was eerie. The water was startling clear, shallow in patches, and filled with schools of fish. Throughout the day we crossed paths with a three-canoe family who was traveling with Sierra, a perky beagle. At one crossing I saw him perched upon the thwart (wooden cross piece) and the gunnel (side), nose up, a fine river-worthy dog!
We made a rest stop at the end of a series of Class I rapids. An osprey dived for a fish in the riffles and suddenly stopped mid-air, soaring away.
A tiny butterfly took a liking to my finger and returned again and again. Throughout the afternoon the river gradually changed from pine to hardwoods as the slow gradient took us toward the confluence of the St. Croix. House sightings were very rare but when we rounded the bend where the waters from the two rivers met, this tiny cabin sat watching those two rivers blend their waters.
We headed south, downstream, along the St. Croix and as the afternoon sun set we
passed a swamped canoe (they needed no help they said, though it was their fifth dump of the day!), a flock of ducks basking on the rocks, and a huge log held prisoner high and dry on a rock. It had been left behind months ago by spring’s high waters. I wonder when the river will rise enough to free it and send it floating off to the St. Croix, then to the Mississippi, or maybe all the way to the salty Gulf of Mexico?