A day on the Black

Posted by Ken Campbell March 21, 2008 0 Comment 648 views

When I was a kid, 11 or 12, maybe, I wanted nothing more than to be floating on a river. I’d read Tom Sawyer; I wanted to be Tom Sawyer, or maybe Huck Finn. I wanted a raft on a river, like the mighty Mississip’, no chores, no adults, just a fishing pole and a sense of adventure. I had read Rascal, in which Sterling North and his plucky raccoon shot the rapids of the Brule river, in northern Wisconsin, teasing the trout out of hiding, making them rise to the fly before turning the next corner of the river. Doing it again.

There’s something about a river. In his seminal book on the art of canoeing, the Path of the Paddle, Bill Mason spoke of the canoe as an instrument that people can use to “journey back to what’s left of the natural world.” Mason published his book a quarter-century ago, back when there was more of the natural world left. There’s still a lot of it out there, but things are changing.

The area around the Black river has changed since I first paddled it back in 1990. More houses, “ranchettes,” they call them. A home plunked down on five acres, and another on the five acres next door. And another, and so on. The towns of Rochester and Little Rock still seem small enough, but the kids at the bus stop are flashing gang signs and showing the passing cars that they’re from the hood, not just some small-town kids from Washington. More cars too, and more trucks.

I do the shuttle on my old 10-speed, and the float down the river takes almost 6 hours. It’s not a fast river, the Black. Because it is a rarity around these parts, fed by a lake rather than a mountain glacier, the feel is more like a bayou than a Northwest river. Alders grow thick along the shore and beaver swim along the margins. Ducks and geese take to the sky as I approach, scolding as they rise, though I probably would never have seen them in the brush if they had quietly stayed put. Heron, eagle, and cormorants reel around my path from time to time. It was supposed to be raining, but after an hour or so, the sun breaks through the scud and I have a pleasant day instead.

It was almost 35 years ago that I first aspired to be Tom Sawyer, but nothing has changed really. To float along on a river current, to watch the scenery move past me effortlessly, quietly, and to watch the faces of the water as they change, that’s all I want, even now.

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