Seeing spring

Two trips to the river reveal the rapid arrival of the new season.




4 minute read

A steady wind that had been blowing all day was the only reason not to go on the river. It was blowing 15 miles per hour out of the southwest, carrying spring on its currents, swirling the seasons, kicking up waves on the wider waters. Such conditions make it hard to enjoy the scenery or spot any wildlife.

But the trees were finally beginning to bud and a wet week was ending. The St. Croix was rising, making new areas accessible, and new birds were arriving — all good reasons to go. I made a plan to avoid the wind and waves by sticking to narrow backwaters, and launched my kayak late in the afternoon, to loop through the twisting channels of the Apple River delta.

I was greeted by geese, serenaded by the song of wind through pine needles, entertained by bald eagle antics.

Some days after, again late in the afternoon, a friend and I launched a canoe seven miles upriver. It had been breezy again, more rain had fallen, the St. Croix was swollen, its current insistent, the spring flood was spreading across the low areas of the floodplain.

After another day of bluster and blowing, the wind died down and the sun came out about 4 p.m., and the river called with light and color, life and water.

The smooth water reflecting the sky, we followed more side channels, slipping between islands, maneuvering through tight turns, crossing flooded gaps to go deeper into the low-lying land of silver maple, beaver, and duck. The maples on the islands and the oaks on the bluffs were all showing shades of green only seen for a few days each year as they burst from winter slumber.

On my first, solo, outing, I paddled upstream three-quarters of a mile, then drifted down another side channel. Where I was sheltered, it was still and silent. Sometimes the wind rushed through the tops of the budding silver maples, the nascent foliage adding a new note. As I approached a bend, a bald eagle left its perch and circled across the water, then returned to the branch and stared at me as I slowly made my way against the flow.

I crossed the main channel, the wind blowing me north, upriver, and the current pushing me south, downriver. Stuck between two opposing forces, I made a fairly straight crossing, waves splashing against me sideways.

Reaching the other side, I dawdled in the lee of an island. When I looked up, two bald eagles soared out over the a bluff bathed in soft green. They circled and caught the updrafts climbing the valley. Then they swooped toward the river and over the floodplain forest, and one half-heartedly dove at the other bird, and they chirped and screeched at each other, then disappeared upriver.

As the day lengthened and the sun sank toward the Minnesota bluff, my canoe companion and I drifted between shade and golden sunlight. The trees their glowing green, tinted red by the flowers of the maples, and the sun at angle like late summer, it was a delight to the eyes, a singular season.

In an open pocket against the base of the bluff, four or five male red-winged blackbirds called and fluttered between last year’s cattails, fighting over precious nesting territory. A shorebird of some type skimmed across the water’s surface and then hopped across mats of dead vegetation among the rushes. Four wood ducks burst from concealment at our approach and flew away in their urgent, efficient way.

Then, from the submerged grasses at the fringe, a trumpeter swan slowly swam out. Its neck and head were tinted red with tannin from repeated dunking. It may have had a nest back there, we turned to leave; the swan stayed quiet until out in the open, and then it flew, its wingtips beating the water as it took off.

I got out and walked along a steep embankment, where several large oaks stand, their crowns probably 150 feet above the water. Any flowers were clenched shut on a cold and overcast day. Most birds were also hunkered down, it seemed, and the sense of solitude was deepened by a largely lifeless landscape.

A blue jay winged out from the tree tops and across the channel, screeching. Then, silently, an eagle, perhaps one I had seen earlier, soared down the channel. It followed the water south, beating its wings only once or twice.

I got back in the kayak and pushed away from shore. Bright green shoots of grass poked up between the brown, matted leftovers from last year. The past, present, and future of this patch of ground all represented at once. Safe from the wind for a while, I let the current carry me down around the next bend.


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2 responses to “Seeing spring”

  1. Laurie Larsen Avatar
    Laurie Larsen

    Almost as good as being there myself. Thanks!

  2. Sue Avatar

    Ahhhhh, beautiful and peaceful.



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Seeing spring