A portrait of imperfect peace

Words fail, but the St. Croix’s silence lets us hear.

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4 minute read

It’s late in the afternoon when they push away from the dock on the St. Croix, two 40-year-old men who have known each other since they were kids. It’s late but the light will last a long time yet. The solstice season is slow and patient.

The motor won’t start at first, so the boat drifts downstream away from the dock as the captain fiddles with the old Yamaha. It’s a fine machine but finicky tonight. Then it finally rumbles into action, and the boat is no longer at the mercy of the current.

The purpose is fishing, but it’s merely a means to another end. Both feel like they’ve done nothing but work and watch the world wobble for weeks and months. They seek peace, and perspective.

In a season of quarantine at home and chaos in the streets, demands for change and drastic steps for safety, viruses and raised voices, the St. Croix seems removed from such madness. But anyone who visits the river brings their worries and woes, prejudices and pain.

In the deep water of an old channel through the floodplain, the fishermen stand and cast fly rods toward the grassy and sandy banks. Poppers and streamers attempt to entice smallmouth bass — or anything else feeling hungry.

Nothing happens and nobody cares. The fishing is slow and it couldn’t matter less. The great wildness and silence of the St. Croix wash over them.

They wonder how can they spread this calm to every corner of the country. Not just bringing a few folks out here who might need it, but to infuse this peace in every precious life.

The pair cast and cast, trying to land lures right next to the bank, or up against snags, yanking the line back to jerk the flies through the water. Fly lines whistle overhead, there is very little talking, just the rhythm of cast, strip, cast.

They watch the water, and they look around at a broad valley where there’s no one else but mergansers and muskrats, red-winged blackbirds and spotted sandpipers, bluffs bathed in the deepest green of the year. Life comes in so many forms — and creates something far greater than the sum of its parts.

There’s surprisingly no other boats around. They can’t even hear any of the usual noisy motorcycles on nearby highways. With no wind, the surface is glassy and smooth, reflecting lush green maples and a sky white with high clouds.

A bald eagle flies overhead and they can hear its wings beat the air. Only silence lets us hear what the world is saying.

When a cast lands in a good spot, they whisper “c’mon fish,” and when it doesn’t, they curse quietly. Good cast or bad, the fish aren’t interested, and no pleading or cussing can change their minds.

Everyone is equal in the eyes of a fish; it’s long past time for that to be true of the law.

The river matters, the fish and birds and trees matter, the water and the sunset matter, and many people work hard to protect them. Black lives matter, and we must defend all our brothers and sisters like the powerful life force they are. The world must be a place for everyone to prosper and live in peace. It is not.

The St. Croix’s rich diversity of life is what makes it magic. But the humans who haunt it are almost always white. Its peace is confined between the bluffs, instead of growing and spreading throughout the land like it should, like it must. It’s an unacceptable weakness.

Finally the sun sets over the Minnesota bluff, and the moon comes up from Wisconsin. The fishermen drift down the current 50 feet from the bank, still casting and stripping, and watching, and wondering, and wishing, minds at peace, souls at work.

The Negro Speaks of Rivers
By Langston Hughes

I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

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4 responses to “A portrait of imperfect peace”

  1. Doug Seitz Avatar
    Doug Seitz

    Wonderful. Greg. Fit for the times.

  2. Carrie Avatar
    Carrie

    Beautiful meditation.

  3. Lisie Avatar
    Lisie

    Thank-you, for a moment I was taken away to being on the peace of the river.

  4. Maureen Avatar
    Maureen

    Beautifully written Greg. I could feel the peace and stillness of that summer night.

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A portrait of imperfect peace