When a float is probably going to be the last time on the river for the year, you don’t take a rain check. Even if it’s raining. And thirty-eight degrees. Postponing is the same as cancelling.
We picked the day to drift and fish, a last minute last chance in early November, and when it dawned cold and wet, we went anyway. The rest of the week was cold but clear – and dry. This day was as ugly as you can imagine. But we went up the river anyway, windshield wipers waving, and then put the boat in the water in the rain. When we pushed off, I saw my first snowflakes of the year, occasional cotton amidst the gray drizzle.
The upside of going out on such a day is you aren’t going to see anyone else. I’m a solitude addict, and needed some space. We found it, seeing not another human. We did see swans – brilliant white specks even at a distance through the gray sheets of water. They were forever far off, until toward the end of the day when a small wedge took off from downriver and gradually gained altitude, nearing the tree tops as they passed by us soundlessly.
There was no wind, and the water was flat except for the dimples of raindrops. It was black and silver, flowing thickly like mercury. We did jumping jacks and arm circle whenever we pulled up to the bank. Fishing was half-hearted. It was fun to cast and hope, but after a while we just sat and looked at the river in the rain, joked, had some brandy and beer, and were pretty happy to be in a boat on a cold and wet day. This same group plus another were some of the first people on the river back in April, when there were still big chunks of ice floating next to us.
Dark started to arrive early, catching us a little off guard. We got on the oars and pressed down the river. As the skies grew dim, the cranes started coming over. They flew northeast from Minnesota’s farm fields to Crex Meadows, where I hear there are thirty thousand right now, gathering to head south. One of my crew tried counting the birds, pointing out groups of fifty and seventy-five. They too flew mostly silent, all of us quiet in the cold rain.
Finally, we bumped into the gravel at the landing, the last light nearly gone. The boat was secured and we hopped in the car. The drive home was through snow streaking in front of the headlights. Winter had come to the St. Croix, and we had seen its arrival.
Note: Enjoying and surviving the river in such conditions brings extra risks. Please stick to the warm months if you’re not an experienced boater. We follow lots of precautions, have the necessary gear, and keep our eyes open. Besides, why would you want to spend a day on the river when it’s 38 degrees and raining?