I thought about continuing the title of this post with “to Pray” as the song goes, but yesterday there was no praying at the river. The Farmstead is a 2-minute ride away from the Wisconsin River. Yesterday, after Mr. Muse and I finished a lot of yard work and were relaxing over lunch on the screen porch, sheltered from the clouds of mosquitos, he mentioned that he wanted to head to the river to kayak, or at least just go check out the giant sandbar-come-island that had started forming two summers ago after much flooding. My shoulders were already in a state of well done and I feared that an afternoon on the river, even if I was wearing my long-sleeve rashie was going to send me to bathing in bottles of after-sun aloe product for any skin that was exposed. We opted to check out the island.
When we first moved to the area, the little sandbar was just that – little. Now it has grown to what I would guess to be a 2-acre expanse of sand with small whips of black willow sprouting from it here and there. It is no longer a sandbar. A local canoe outfitter was dropping off some paddlers, fishermen and women were putting in and taking out their flat-bottomed john boats and fast and fancy bass boats. A few weekend kayakers were heading out as another few were heading back in. The mosquitos were present.
A channel runs between the shore and the island, the bottom of it thick with decaying leaves and a slightly scummy, unappealing mass of flotsam that is suspended in what is, by all appearances, a stagnant backwater. But that is why the Wisconsin River fools people, there are many places on the river that appear to be one thing (safe) when they really are not (really dangerous); this backwater channel that appears to be stagnant has a cold current whisking through it just below the surface. The river as a whole changes every year, often more than once a year. It’s sandy body shifts and move, undulating and curving with each new rainfall. Checking the river has become a common occurrence with Mr. Muse and I to see where the water is at, how it’s moving, if the island is bigger or smaller and how many people are on it. We’re not the only ones; people from both sides of the river talk about the water like they do the weather whether or not they are river rats.
We parked our car and headed to the water. No cameras, no towels; just swimsuits and hats. Reaching the island involves traversing the channel, stepping in and gingerly toeing your way through the matted leaves, hoping there are no snapping turtles or channel catfish, and squealing “That’s BRISK!” as you submerge to your waist in the deepest part of the channel. I’d reached the island and was waiting for Mr. Muse with my back to the water when I heard him utter, “WOO! That’s brisk!” as he entered the channel. I laughed as he’d not heard my exclamation – a good sign that we’ve been around each other for a long time?
Small pockets of people were populating this small island, a young family with a fortress of sandcastles surrounding their territory as they waded into the channel, tossing line in hopes of catching a fish. Two young women had beached their canoe for a picnic while their companion, Copper the Corgi, played island greeter in his lifejacket and carrying about a baseball cap one of the women had taken off.
Mr. Muse and I walked the circumference of the island, venturing out mid-thigh into the rushing, brown water of the river. The sand swiftly gave way beneath our feet and if we were to stand too long in one place we would soon find ourselves buried ankle-deep in the gritty substrate. At the western end of the island a sandbar extended far along the channel, ankle-deep, for a good 50 yards, slowly reaching to a point above my knees where I stopped my progress. That’s the other part of this river, you must respect it. People die every year in the Wisconsin River because they ignored the warnings about swift currents and playing on the wrong side of the islands and sandbars where they become lost in a labyrinth of underground tunnels, never to be seen again. I was at the point where the channel waters and the river waters were mixing in earnest, washing-machine like and that was a good place to stop.
And turning, the rushing water made every attempt to sweep me away. I pushed upstream, each lift of my leg felt as if I had ankle weights strapped to me and I stumbled against the current as if drunk. Mr. Muse and I laughed as we tried to compensate for the river pulling and pushing our limbs and we ended up overcompensating instead, lurching and stumbling along until we were once more back into ankle-deep water.
We plodded along the hot sand to a little spit of it on the north side that extended a finger out into the river and we sat facing the west. The river was swift, rains from last week across the state still making their way into the valley, but in that place on the island, it was calm. Vast schools of minnows crowded around our feet and legs, nibbling at the goodies we’d kicked up from the sand which had settled on us. The sun was hot. Damn hot. And the water felt icy cold as I lay back into it, enjoying the sun, the sound of the water, and the swallows that flew overhead as they caught the mosquitos closer to shore. The fishermen and women put in and took out their boats. Customers from a canoe outfitter headed out for an afternoon on the water. Weekend kayakers paddled back to the beach. Copper the Corgi ran through the water with glee, still carrying the baseball cap.
Mr. Muse and I didn’t say much as we sat. After nearly twenty years of knowing each other, our comfortable silences are more numerous. We just enjoyed the time spent together, down at the river.