Thursday, June 7, 2007

That Old Canoe

Oh I stopped in Monticello
For a brief just one night 'hello'
Main Street was pretty mellow
and I felt like a drab old fellow

Oh well-o well-o well-o well-o
what am I to do
paddlin' down the Mississippi
in that old canoe
clicking along on the internet
but hey what else is new
I'm paddlin' down the Mississippi
what about you

- traditional American folksong

"The canoe is a noble craft." Danny says it one morning while we load our things into the water. When we get out in the river, you can see what he means. Sixteen feet long, it rides smoothly on the current, angling in the sun, and the strokes of our paddles propel it along.

Most days, we get on the water by 9:30. If we've camped near a grocery store, sometimes we cook up bacon and eggs. We take down the tent, and pack up our packs, and load the canoe and carry on our way.

We paddle for hours and hours. When we are tired or hungry, we pause for a minute and let the current carry us down. It can be exhausting to paddle a canoe. You feel it in your shoulders and arms and back. Your hands blister. Most of all, you feel it in your head. For miles at a time, a single thought will haunt every stroke. A single song lyric from a song you can't stand will crawl inside you and refuse to leave. You will stare at the shore as it shuttles slowly past, wondering at how far you have gone.

The saving grace is the current. It lends you a sense of getting ahead. And after a while, time becomes a relative term. You sit on the waves of your half-formed thoughts, and forget you are even paddling. It becomes as ordinary as breathing, as if you have been pulling blade through water for your whole entire life.

Above the dams, the river turns wide and slow. Above the International Paper Co. Dam in Sartell, MN, it was huge. All sorts of watercraft were out: motorboats, yachts, jet skis. One fisherman motored past us three times in less than an hour. With our Duluth pack and dirty clothes, we must have looked like ugly ducklings. Along the shore, huge houses cropped up in all shapes and forms. One looked like a Victorian mansion. One looked like a decadent swinger pad. One looked like Disneyland. Behind all of them, huge lawns stretched down to the water. Middle-aged men ambled across them in the sun, sweating and pushing lawnmowers. Dogs barked at us. American flags flew everywhere. We paddled and paddled, and passed right on through.

Below the dams, the river moves fast. Below the Blanchard Dam, we sit in the canoe and admire the graffitti that's been thrown onto the pylons. There are all sorts of pretty and unnerving things. One guy with the body of a skeleton sticks out a gun and says "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways." A message nearby reads, "Love Nothing." And across the river on the other side of the dam, someone has scrawled "This is Indian Land." We pass under a highway, and a sixteen-wheeler wizzes by. On its side, in huge letters, it says "Sysco." At sixty miles per hour, it is there and then gone. The driver doesn't even look down. He has no idea we are there. We pick up our paddles and keep going.

Below the dams, in Sauk Rapids, we stay at Kevin's friend Tim Marrinin's house. His family is wonderful. They give us showers and a huge lasagna dinner, and beds upstairs to sleep in. It is a much needed break, and we can't thank them enough. In the morning, Mr. Marrinin drives us to a boat access and helps us load the canoe. "The river's pretty shallow here," he says. "It'll be easy to find your bodies."

Tonight we are staying in Anoka, MN, and are much indebted to the City of Anoka Park Department, which has graciously allowed us to stay at Two Rivers Park due to inclement weather. Thunderstorms are rolling in. We sit and read and listen to the iPod, and wait for the rain to hit. Out past the trees and underneath the freeway, the river keeps rolling past, waiting for us to lift our canoe back in and carry on our way.


chewey said...

glad your doing good. we havent heard from you in a while.. thank you Tim Marrinin's family for giving them a shower we want to keep our river(up north) on paddlinand let nature write your song...... from Matt and Deb from brainerd area

Justin Kai said...

Hey brother, can I put a link to your blog on my blogsite? It is really great. I read it everyday so keep us all posted as to what you are doing. It is all very interesting stuff.

lisa said...

apparently my greed paid off. i suppose i can say more than "yes."

love the details. keep getting blisters and writing about them.

marooned said...

This is good. I like this.

Angela said...

I agree with Lisa.
Type away your adventure although your shoulders ache.
As you said . . You have probably acclimated to it so it is as ordinary as breathing.
I've said it once. . I will say it again. . . Your writing is fantastic.

wanda1234 said...

thanks for sharing....

Entertainment at one stop