August 7, 2004—Every trip on the river brings interesting people with it, and this trip was no exception. A trail of clues brought us to the Black River Falls Interstate 94 Towing Service, who also ferries canonists through the Black River Canoe Rental (715-284-8136). When we pulled into the wide driveway of the Towing Service, the grassy lawn was littered with various wrecks from the Interstate. As we walked around, the proprietor told us the story of each disaster. It was like listening to a movie of continuous tragedies, only every one of these were real. The yard was
busy this morning. A huge semi trailer had caught fire on the freeway in the night. The contents—five family’s belongings that were being moved across the country—were now smoldering. The doors were thrown open and a few of the families had flown in to survey the damage. It was quiet, smoky, and very sad.
We arranged the shuttle and the drop off and set off on the water under ideal conditions—summer, sun, no wind. The river was wide with gently sloping sandy beaches edging the curves. After a couple hours of paddling we stopped to rest. Daydreaming under a tree I suddenly noticed that one of the branches swaying above was not original to the tree! Here, again, was evidence of water once so high that a huge trunk was caught in the middle branches of the tree overhead. Amazed at what spring snow melt can do to a river, I snapped this picture to show you.
The river twisted and turned but stayed luxuriously wide. Around a huge sandy bank we found a section where dozens of trees had been stranded just above water level. Each was long ago striped of bark or leaves, and the silver trunks all pointed down river, reaching out like giant hands, or looking like jumping dolphins, poised midair. I took so many pictures that Ian poked fun at me. The giant tree trunks lasted only a few hundred yards,
then disappeared. (The thing about a river is that it is always flowing—you can’t stop, and you can’t go back, so now I try to pay close attention and snap pictures as soon as we come upon it.) Next, a high limestone cliff loomed, and a father and daughter were fishing from a red canoe. “We’re having a blast,”
they called, and reported catching and releasing three big ones.
The river opened even wider and puffy clouds sailed over. We startled two deer who had come to drink. Suddenly the sky started darkening. Thunder rumbled off to our right. We ducked into the curve of a beach as rain drops
drew quick circles in the flat water. The rain passed and the river grew so still that our canoe made the only ripples. The water mirrored the late afternoon sky and it felt like we were paddling through the clouds.
Dusk edged the river and we both stretched out in the canoe to rest. The day was darkening quickly and we did not want to take time to beach the canoe. Back to our paddling, night falling, we rounded a wide turn and there was the car—and a barking beagle who paddled out to greet us and bark us all the way to shore.