Guest Blog By Tim Spitzack
An excerpt from the book “Reflections from the Riverfront: Essays on Life in the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area,” published May 1, 2015.
It’s a Saturday morning in mid-June and I am quietly floating in my kayak in a Minnesota bayou. The river is running high and fast this year so I’ve chosen to paddle in the backwaters of the Mississippi in an area that is normally inaccessible, even in a kayak that can float in just inches of water.
I’ve traveled past a dense forest where the trees are stretching over the water and appear to be bowing in humble reverence. Others seem to be reaching for the sky, as if wishing they could break free from the deep roots that hold them. I imagine they envy the eagles that fly past them daily, soaring freely and going where they please. I think of the eagles and how they likely look down and envy the trees, for they can grow and flourish without having to roam constantly in search of daily sustenance.
I paddle toward an area where tall trees emerge from black water and shoot toward the muddy sky, which is threatening rain. I pick my way through the boreal obstacle course by paddling when I can and by grabbing trees and pulling myself along when the swamp is too thick for me to dip my paddle. It is slow yet adventurous work.
Once through the grove I find myself in a marsh. The water is shallow and chocked with weeds that swirl lazily below me. I’ve been paddling for a half-hour so I allow myself a moment to rest, and as I do I bob gently on the water. Small waves come from behind me, force me to rise and fall slightly, and then continue on and lap at the earthen dike that separates me from the main channel of the river. The dike extends more than a hundred yards to my right and left and is lush with native grasses swaying in the summer breeze. I see shades of green and yellow and brown. The heads of the tallest grasses are fluffy with sprigs of grain, resembling tiny firework bursts. These grasses are under constant duress from the wind. It blows them down. They rise again, and the pattern is repeated, producing ripples and waves across the riverfront. The waves look remarkably similar to those around me and I watch them as they hit the shore. I’ve observed shoreline waves many times before and have always thought they look as if they are trying to escape confinement but are pulled back just before reaching freedom, but today I notice something different. It appears the waves before me do indeed escape and that they jump ashore and dance with the prairie, and the two become one in a graceful waltz across the landscape.
Suddenly, another partner appears. Small drops of rain bounce on the water and fan out until they become one with it. It’s as if they are tapping the waves on the shoulder and asking, politely, “May I cut in?” And the rain joins the dance.
A fish rises and breaks the water with a splash just a few feet away. It’s possible that it, too, wants to join the dance, or maybe it is saying, “Come see the dance happening down here.”
A red-winged blackbird is perched on a tall reed nearby. He is sharply dressed in tux and tails, seemingly conducting the orchestra producing the melodious bird song that fills the air.
The rain begins to heighten in intensity so I turn my bow and paddle for home. As I’m gliding along I remember that my wife has suggested we take ballroom dancing lessons this summer. As a youth, I enjoyed dancing, if what we did back then can be called dancing. We mostly jumped, gyrated and swayed to classic rock and ’80s metal. I’ve long since lost my rhythm and no longer enjoy being on the dance floor. However, I admit that watching skilled dancers glide gracefully together, entwined as one, in a fluid, flowing waltz is like watching poetry in motion, much like the dance of the prairie. I think I’ll agree to the lessons so I, too, can join the dance.
Reprinted with permission by Tim Spitzack
Author of Reflections from the Riverfront: Essays on Life in the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, published May 1, 2015. For more details on this book, visit www.timspitzack.com