Summer on the Snake River

The Snake River of east central Minnesota has nothing to do with reptiles and everything to do with the Ojibwe’s narrowed-eye view of their near neighbors, the Dakota, living up river from them. The Ojibwe word for “snake” is “kanabec.” The Ojibwe had once enjoyed good relations with the Dakota, but these deteriorated as the Ojibwe moved westward into traditional Dakota lands, under pressure from EuroAmerican westward expansion.

Tom and I decided to paddle the picturesque, placid Snake River and visit the Northwest Company’s Fur Trading Post on the river this past week. Before there were roads, the Ojibwe claimed the lower Snake River as a major route, and brought the fur pelts they’d trapped to the post to trade for desired goods, like blankets and cook pots. So the river, the Native Americans, the fur-bearing mammals, and the Northwest Company all are parts of a historic whole.

We dropped in our canoe at the Canary Road landing and paddled a relaxed six mile trip to the trading post. The Snake River basked in the warmth of July. Fragrant water lilies spread their star-like petals, River Jewelwing damselflies clung to emergent grasses, and fuscia swamp milkweed grew in great profusion on the banks. A smoky haze from far-away Canadian wildfires hung in the air and cast a filmy gauze over the pastoral scene.

The lower part of the river flows through a sand plain. Thus, the river bed is sandy and the river winds with little drop over a fairly flat terrain. It was a pleasant paddle requiring little exertion and who needs to work hard on a humid summer day?

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