Canoeing the Flooded Dunnville Bottoms

I was able to sneak in a canoe trip to the Dunnville Bottoms between rain storms this week. The super wet spring combined with the heavy snows from this winter have kept large portions of the river bottoms under water all spring. The river bottoms are formed by the confluence of the Chippewa and Red Cedar Rivers. Both are extremely high right now. I launched the canoe off of 580th Street into a bottom land lake. Late last summer this lake was mostly a muddy pit as the water level was really low. Now it is flooded. While paddling around the flooded bottoms, I was reminded of the bayou country I visited around Pine Bluff, AR. At least when floating the bottoms up north, I didn’t have to watch for alligators or water moccasins.

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I went around a bend and a goose exploded out of the brush. A closer look at its exit point revealed this goose nest. I snapped a quick photo and got out of there as the two geese were flying over head and angrily honking at me. I expected to be divebombed by the geese. But I guess, I am too hairy and scary, so the geese left me alone. I hope the waters don’t rise even higher and flood the nest.

Once among the trees, navigating the tangled mess of trees and brush was interesting. I used a combination of paddling, poling with the paddle, and pushing and pulling on the trees and brush to crash though the areas where the trees and brush were the thinnest.

I was surprised to see water flowing swiftly in this area. The water creating the current had to come from the Chippewa River which is about a mile away from the launch point. The flooding is indeed mighty.

When you a paddling this summer, I hope the wind is at your back and the skeeters are few.

Fire

Sitting in front of a fire watching in burn is one of the most mesmerizing experience a person can have.  Fire triggers many sensory reactions.  The constantly changing and shifting flames and colors First burn from yellow, to blue to glowing red.  The flames flicker, and dance and constantly shift shapes.  Fires have an auditory sensation also.  The crackling a spitting and hissing of the wood as it burns is music to one’s ears on a cold wet winter night. Experiencing the warmth of a wood fire after being outside on a cold winter day is one of life’s great occurrences.

Sitting in front of a fire is required on any camping trip.  As a child, my family went camping nearly every other weekend.  My dad always built a campfire at night.  He built big camp fires with flames that were five feet tall.

In my neighborhood, campfire sitting is a favorite pastime of many of my neighbors.  We all have fire rings in our yards and it’s a common occurrence for at least one fire to be blazing in the evening while we relax and unwind. In the winter, many of the neighborhood’s residents are fortunate to have a fire place.  We try to keep the dark and cold of long winter nights at bay, with a cheery fire burning in the fireplace.  I like to enhance the auditory effects of a fireplace fire by tossing an occasional piece of cedar in the fire.  Cedar crackles and pops more than most woods lending a nice touch to the fire.  Guests love the sound effects.  Unfortunately, our dog does not so she hangs out on my wife’s bed when the fire is burning in the fireplace.  When we have a fire going in the summer, the mutt lays right on the light where the light of the fire, meets the dark of the night.  If the fire gets to crackly and poppy, she retreats to the darkness.

Of course, the fireplace is only supplemental heat in a modern house.  We have very controlled fire’s burning in our furnaces which enable us to live very comfortably indoors during our long dark and cold winters.

Our dependency on fire was driven home to me during this deer season.  I camped for 10 days in the wilds of northern Wisconsin in  a large canvass tent with a wood stove, a cot, a chair, a table and a few kerosene lanterns. After being in the woods from “can’t see in the morning until almost dark in the evening, having a fire in the wood stove to heat the tent and cook supper was of paramount importance.  I had many useful fire-starting helpers with me to ensure I could get a fire started no matter the weather, or the wetness of the wood.  I had made up fire starters with egg cartons, sawdust and wax.  I gathered birch bark while wandering the woods, and I gathered small starter wood to use to get the fire going before adding the larger pieces that I had cut and split for heating of the tent.  The initial “roar” of the fire as it took off and began to burn as the draft developed was as sweet a music as any song by Muddy Waters.

Today, fire is so commonly used, we often forget it is even there.  The fire that propels our cars and trucks, the fire that heats our homes and the fire that cooks our food is often hidden or so simple to use that we take it for granted.  Long gone are the days where making fire was difficult and verged on the sacred.  The ancient Greeks and Romans had goddesses of the hearth and fire.  The Greeks had Hestia and the Romans had Vesta.  In both instances the fires for these goddesses were tended 24-7 and never allowed to go out.  In the Roman temples for Vesta, Vestal virgins kept the fires burning day and night. Native American Plains tribes carried coals from their fires in a sacred bison horns, so they could start a fire at the end of their days travel.

Many ways of lighting fires were developed over the millennium.  A few include flint and steel, fire bows, striking iron pyrite together, magnifying glasses, fire pistons, matches, lighters, and batteries and steel wool. And for the fire starting challenged we have match light charcoal and easy-light premade fire logs.

Many people find having a fire during the Christmas celebrations a vital tradition.  The fireplace is lit when the presents are opened, or the guests arrive.  If one is not fortunate enough to have a fireplace, its technology to the rescue.  There are dozens of videos of fires burning in fireplaces that can be played on the phone or the big screen tv during the holiday celebrations.  Is a fireplace video not to your liking?  Then play the numerous videos of campfires on the big screen.  All the videos even have sound tracks of crackling fires.

We are totally dependent on fire.   And we are fascinated with fire.  Fire can be a most useful thing or it can kill and destroy.  Watching a fire is a most enjoyable and contemplative activity.  This holiday season spend some time watching a real or virtual fire and think about the amazing impact fire has on our lives.