Tag Archives: logging

go with the wind


Today was a really fun day of paddling: partially because the wind was with me and the current is picking up more and more, so without any particular effort, I did my twenty miles in less than five hours. This whole area has a bunch of islands made from logs that got stuck on their way down the river, but there’s no navigation anxiety, you can basically take whatever channel you like: they all end up down the stream one way or another. Very fun!

My stint today took me past Camp Ripley Military Reservation, so the sound of heavy artillery was a very strange accompaniment to my peaceful paddle down the river. The target range was blessedly out of sight, but I did see various military vehicles and lots of DANGER signs on that side of the river. I took them seriously and mostly stayed on towards the east bank of the river, the non-military side.

And for the first time in days and days, I actually saw some people! I passed three boats of fishermen today: the first set were very pleased to hear I had started at Itasca and was aiming for NOLA; one guy said he sees at least one long-distance paddler every year and had been waiting for this year’s. The second boat was completely stuck in the reeds, their motor having inhaled the green, which I guess is not a good thing for a motor. One of them said he wished he were in my boat today, asked where the next boat launch was, and was not happy to hear eight miles downriver as the answer. I told him if he cut loose he’d probably float down without needing any engine, but he didn’t seem too eager to try it. Note to self: if powerboating on a river in low water, go UPSTREAM of your launch point, so you can float back down to your car if you run into trouble. (although WHY one would want to power through these waters is a bit of a mystery to me anyway…)

My man Mac found a campsite (with shower!) and scoped out a rather tony Carnegie Library here in Little Falls, and I could happily spend the rest of the day here, but I want to explore Little Falls a bit. There are A LOT of layers of history here, and I want to see what traces of it I can find…

charged again


kayaking day today on a real summer day — the river through this area was straightened by the loggers so it’s practically a canal, no trouble to find the channel. and on some turns you can see the Blandin Paper Company smokestacks ahead in Grand Rapids, sort of a weird and unexpected sight in this waterway that’s nearly completely empty of people. two powerboats passed me, heading up to the lakes, but other than that, my company is birds and insects, and no doubt lots of fish as well.

when the wind was with me, I would stop paddling and just feel the current and the wind easing me downstream. when it was against me, if I stopped paddling, I would end up at a complete stop in an excellent equilibrium of upstream wind and downstream current.

I’m getting comfortable enough with this kayaking business that I begin to be able to just ease into thinking in that nice, loose, relaxed way that I so enjoy on a long car trip, with the added pleasure of the mild physical exertion of paddling. I could definitely get used to this life! a good thing, since I’m going to be doing this for a while!

one of the things I was thinking about was the whitman poem, and corey and steve and yvan’s comments on it, which I really love. I’m thinking that perhaps by “charged with”, Whitman didn’t mean that contentment and triumph are demanded of him, but more that the energy of contentment and triumph fill him, like an electrical charge. I like thinking of contentment and triumph as a continuum, and that they are visited upon me, not as an act of will, but by my learning to be conductive..

the earth remains forever

While I was paddling from Bemidji to Cass Lake today, Richard spent some time in the library in Bemidji and found some microfilms of early nineteenth century local newspapers – a fascinating trove recording the lives and voices of lumberjacks, shopkeepers, etc. who were part of a temporarily flourishing economy in the area not unlike the gold rush farther west. It was a timber rush, and after the trees were downed and floated down the river, towns that had sprung up overnight to support the lumber trade disappeared nearly as quickly.

The first night of our travels, we stayed at Wanagan’s Landing, wanagan being not the name of a person, but of a traveling kitchen boat that moored along the river to feed the loggers. we learned this from Keith Butler, who lives just up the road from the campsite, and who came down to visit and tell us stories. He also told us about a ghost town called Mallard, a couple of miles away.

Here’s a picture of the town at its height (from an information board posted at the site):
Mallard Then
and here’s a picture I took of the same location on 2 August 09, after going to the church I told you about the other day:
Mallard Now

Makes me think of Ecclesiastes more than Jonah:

Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever. [1:4]

It’s an interesting thing: we read each night about Schoolcraft, Tolliver, and Sibley, about Chief Hole-in-the-Day and Little Crow, but as I paddle along this river during the day, no matter how well I keep in mind the layers of human history this river has witnessed, there is very little in the way of actual markers or voices to embody that history. The Mississippi River is not the Parthenon or Stonehenge or Macchu Picchu. Quite the contrary: it obliterates human history, or is at least indifferent to it. The bones that the Ojibwe buried on the ithsmus between Lake Andrusia and Cass Lake where I pulled out this afternoon have been washed into the river. And no traces of the mission the Episcopalians built there remain, either.

The birds remain, the reeds, and the new trees that have grown to replace the ones cut down in early nineteenth century. And the river itself: that definitely remains.

In a way, it’s all very melancholy to think about, but I find it oddly comforting. Walmart and the Super 8 and Applebee’s will also disappear sooner or later, and probably no one will lament their loss.