September 26, 2003—I promised myself that when I finished the pictures for The Incredible Water Show I would head to the Bois Brule River. Immediately after driving the boxed pictures to Fed‑X (for the second time) I headed north, meeting Amy, Steve, and Ian in the tiny town of Brule, Wisconsin. Rain was predicted for the next day but we decided to prepare for any weather and stick to our plan. Early the next morning we ate breakfast under gray skies and crossed the street to the Brule River Outfitter who would shuttle us (with canoes) down to Stone’s Bridge for the start of our sixteen mile paddle.
The Bois Brule River basin was created as the last ice sheet retreated. The rushing southern flowing meltwater carved the river’s valley but eventually the meltwater tapered off. These shallower waters met the ridge between the St. Croix and the Bois Brule and were forced to slide back, finally reversing the water’s course. Today the Bois Brule drains out of the bog created from those early meltwaters, and still empties into Lake Superior.
On this Friday morning the rain hung heavy in clouds. It stormed to our right and our left, but not a drop fell on us. We set out between the pine and cedars hugging the narrow river and paddling around our first bend we were Fall-Struck by a tree turned brilliant gold. The water was so still that every leaf shined twice, once on the tree and once on the river. Steve turned out to be a very good paddler and one of his tricks was a mid-water exchange. It is best explained by pictures.
Much of the river runs through the Brule State Forest but a long section in the middle is privately owned.
This section includes Cedar Island Estates, a group of log and cedar lodges and cabins built on 4,000 acres. Five presidents have visited this river to fish, (the only river to claim so many presidential visits), three of them staying at Cedar Island, and all of them probably crossing this old foot bridge linking the homes. (The Presidents include: Grant, Cleveland, Coolidge, Hoover, and Eisenhower.)
Most of the upper Midwest was logged in the 1800’s, and some areas have been logged yet again. Along the Bois Brule an occasional old growth pine had, for some unexplainable reason, been left standing. The sight of our first magnificent, giant tree took our breath away – it was royal, magical, towering, and strong. My awe was so great that I forgot to reach for my camera before we floated past.
After the majestic old tree we came upon a short Class II rapids. I would have portaged the rushing water but Steve said we could do it easily. We beached the canoes and walked the rapids, planning our route. Our traveling companions went first and Ian and I followed. Steve took this Black & White picture just as we sailed into safety, dry and happy!
We lunched next to a tumbled down picnic shelter. The sun came out to join us, and the tiny grove of trees looked like a scene from the Shire in Bilbo’s day. (Ian and I listened to the The Fellowship of the Ring (by Tolkein) on tape as we drove to our rendezvous.)
Later the river widened into two long thin lakes and twisted past huge log homes that often had boathouses floating on the river. This one had only red canoes and inside that dark door hung a long row of carefully stored red-handled paddles. The sun joined us again and the banks lit up with color, setting the river on fire.
The next stretch of river was peppered with rocks that had to be dodged and the canoe rocked many times. Please remember that I am a fourth generation Floridian. There is nothing a Florida native hates more than the thought of a cold water spill so when the roar and tug of Little Joe Falls reached us, I was ready to portage.
Just short of the falls we beached the canoes and walked the steep, slippery scouting trail. It was clear that it would be impossible to carry the 17 foot Lunar Eclipse over this path. We studied the rocks and discussed a route through the rapids: Enter center, then veer sharply right, watch the boulder at the bottom. Back at the beach we secured everything to the canoe, and checked that all cameras were double bagged. I stripped down to a single layer so I’d have plenty of dry clothing should we tumble in the cold water. I was certain we would soon be wet.
Amy and Steve went first. We could not see them but we heard their victorious cry. They’d made it! Far above we pulled off shore and sculled at the top of the rapids. Amy signaled the path to the right and we shoved off. The river caught us and I barely remember anything but white froth and wet rocks shooting past, then the huge boulder suddenly popping up right in front of our canoe. I made a quick draw stroke and Ian steered hard from the stern. We flew by. When we joined our partners below the falls I realized I wasn’t WET! I went ashore to dress warmly again and we were off to paddle the last few miles of what Ian called his “favorite river, yet.”