Jeff Butler: Reflections on ‘Spirits on the Croix’ canoe trip down the river

Canoeist offers memories and insights from two weeks solo on the St. Croix.




5 minute read

Jeff Butler arriving in Marine. (Painting by Kami Mendlik)

On May 15, I paddled out of the St. Croix River and into the current of the Mississippi River. Just as the Namekagon current turned the bow of my solo canoe, the Mississippi did the same, except the water color change was much more obvious, from the beautiful dark clear St. Croix to the big muddy water line of the Mississippi River.

I met up with several family members and friends at the Great River Road Visitor Center in Prescott, WI. A special Thank You goes out to the Director Israel Hass for providing this location and root beer floats to all that attended. A heartwarming thank you goes out to Russ Pederson (Horseshoes & Hand Grenades band) for bringing his family and banjo to the event and entertaining us with several of my favorite songs such as “I Want to be a River Rat and Live all of My Years on the Croix”.

Special thanks to my support staff: Marty Harding and Greg Noren, Greg Seitz, and my “eye in the sky” locator and tech support Mike Lamkin.

I tried to talk with everybody, thank them for being there and answering many questions about the last 14 days on the river.

So many good friends contributed support, shuttling me and my canoe and a few really good meals along the way at several locations… I owe all of you a very big THANK YOU!

My sister Julie (Northfield, MN) and brother Joe (Blackduck, MN) along with some very good friends met me at Osceola Landing and paddled with me to Marine on St. Croix Landing where we met up with Kami Mendlik painting a beautiful picture that now includes me in my canoe coming into the landing. A treasured reminder of a canoe trip with my brother Dick.

I have always said that “this river has connected people for hundreds of years” and it continues to do so now and will carry on that tradition long into the future.

I named my solo trip “Spirits on the Croix – Past, Present and Future” and I believe it lived up to its name in what I saw that reminded me of the past, a look at what it would have looked like if not for the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and what the future will look like for generations to come.

My trip started in the small St. Croix Creek flowing out of a cold spring in the Brule River State Forest following the historic St. Croix-Brule Portage Trail and entering Upper Lake St. Croix while it thrashes over rocks and meanders for 170 miles until it joins the Mississippi River.

Along my river route I paddled into and with nine different rivers that meet up and join the St. Croix River and have a better understanding of the significance of the energy and power that is formed “Where Rivers Meet.”

I paddled for over 75 miles before I met another paddler on the river and at the end I had to weave my canoe through dozens of fishing boats, trying not to cross over their fishing lines.

This trip as a tribute to my brother gave me a new sense of connecting again with him, I talked out loud to him everyday. I would ask him what he thought of that dehydrated meal, I even yelled at him for not telling me about a rock I bumped into, and I thanked him at the end of every day for being with me on this journey. I now realize that a part of his spirit is in the St. Croix and I can now go talk to him anytime that I want.

The day after I completed my trip I woke up to severe chills and a 101.9 fever and spent 4 hrs in the emergency room getting blood tests to determine what tick-born illness I brought home with me. I had many, very many tick bites and of those two were embedded that I removed with my knife at the Kettle River campsite. I was given my daily dosage of Doxycycline for two weeks and felt better within three hours. Diagnosis: ehrlichiosis. Thankfully I have had no symptoms or side effects since taking the medication but remember: Do your tick checks often and immediately when you get home and always bring a tweezers and iodine on your next outdoor adventure.

What’s up next? I have started the process of meeting with a writer consultant/mentor on writing my book. It’s exciting and challenging to think I’m ready to tackle this project or journey.

In September I’m making plans to do a road trip to Maine and paddle their St. Croix River. This St. Croix River is an International Border River and part of the Canadian Heritage River System.

Happy paddlin’ and hope to see ya on the river someday!

From Marty Harding, chair of the North Woods and Waters of the St. Croix Heritage Area (NWW):

“NWW is proud to have supported Jeff’s journey. NWW connects storytellers, like Jeff, with people eager to hear what they have to say. Their next newsletter will feature Jeff’s paddle and the St. Croix Storytellers. Sign up here to stay connected:”


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2 responses to “Jeff Butler: Reflections on ‘Spirits on the Croix’ canoe trip down the river”

  1. Robert M Lupient Avatar
    Robert M Lupient

    Please notify me when your book is complete.
    I took a similar buy shorter trip down the river with my dad about 65 years ago.
    I’d love to relive that trip with your book.
    Rob Lupient
    El Dorado Hills CA

    1. Jeff Avatar

      Thank You and great to hear those past paddle adventures.
      I hope StCroix 360 will post it.


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Jeff Butler: Reflections on ‘Spirits on the Croix’ canoe trip down the river