July 19, 2003—Again we headed back to the “driftless area,” the southeastern corner of Minnesota that the glacier missed. The map showed an outfitter outside of the Mississippi river town of Wabasha but that outfitter proved to be long gone, so the river trip began with a very early morning study of the canoe map to find another outfitter who could run our shuttle. With the help of map, telephone and local advice, we drove thirty miles to Zumbro Falls where we were ferried up to the Zumbro dam for our put in. (Our shuttle driver turned out to farm the 300 acres he grew up as well as drive a dynamite truck, delivering explosives all over the Midwest. This is the first certified dynamite delivery person I ever met.)
The canoe landing was behind a nook, facing a thirty foot dam, and the water was sludgy and green. The dismal looking start made the turn into the river even more startling — The water was clear and sparkling with a swift current. We called it “Fishy River” as clouds of fish darted under our canoe.
The day proved to be gorgeous and we sailed under bridges and around bends with a cool edged breeze behind us and a clear, sun-filled sky around us. Small islands dotted the river and we stopped by several to eat, swim, and wander. On one sandy beach waves of mating dragon flies lighted on us, the male brilliant turquoise, the female camouflaged brown. I could not feel their light-as-air touch on my arm. How does such a light creature manage in the tumult of wind and rain?
Ahead of us we saw a bald eagle fly down to a log alongside the river. It stood there, imperious, king of all he surveyed. Suddenly a wide-winged blue heron flew up the river. Evidently that log belonged to the heron because the massive eagle lifted and gave the heron his perch. Later we saw a strange silhouette on top of a tall, dead tree trunk — We think it was a turkey vulture.
Ian insisted that it was time I learned to steer- and so we swapped places in the canoe. The river was sprinkled with very easy Class One “riffles,” (small rapids), so it proved to be the perfect place to learn to steer with the paddle from the back. I learned to dodge rocks and head for the clear “V” of open water at each rapid. I’m hoping canoe school is in my future so I can better learn to manage the canoe in rivers sprinkled with boulders.
Two events startled us — First, evidence of Very High Water was all around us. Grass and twigs were caught in tree branches and huge mounds of logs were wrapped around bridge pilings.- It was impossible to imagine this perfect river swollen above our heads, dangerous with rushing tree trunks.
It was impossible to imagine this perfect river swollen above our heads, dangerous with rushing tree trunks. The second startling event was, after having the river to ourselves all day, suddenly rounding a bend and finding a hundred people in inner-tubes dotting the river! This proved to be the most challenging steering of the day as I threaded us through the human obstacles. A few bends later we were back in the peace of this most gorgeous of rivers with the fabulous name: Zumbro!