President of the Great River Economic Development Area
I grew up in Osceola, an old river town, and in the 1950s a Sunday afternoon on the river was a busy time. Dozens of ski boats roared back and forth across the channel, some pulling skiers, some riding the big waves thrown up by the tugboats as if they were crew boats of Ahab’s Pequod. In the evening people grilled hamburgers on the clean sandbars and commented again and again how this was as close as they were likely to get to Hawaii.
To me today, there is an almost Zen-like peace to be had on the big river. When you are lying on your back in your boat or canoe or raft and understand that the sounds the water makes are the same sounds it has been making since the last glacier receded, it puts the catching or not of fish, and many other things as well, in their proper place. There are whirlpools and eddies that have been in the same place on the river since I was a boy. They were probably there when the French voyageurs and later Mark Twain came down the river. They will no doubt be in the same place when I too have gone on downstream. It’s a comforting thought.
That said, no two days on the river are alike. When the river changes in flow, it changes in depth and width and power. It can move at a gentle six miles an hour when it is low in the summer to a reckless 18 during spring flood. You can get killed there. Friends of mine have.
Most evenings the river will lie quiet at sunset no matter the number of tugboats that have churned the channel during the day. Like a sheet of glass, its brown tones turn to gold then violet before fading to black. On a recent trip, just at this time of the day, I saw a two- and-a-half-gallon can, almost submerged, moving upstream. I knew the can had a line and a hook on the other end — two and one half gallons, upstream mind you. It meant that somewhere down in the muddy depths was one really big, really mad, catfish.
You won’t find one like him in a lake.