Our children wanted to do right by their dad on Father’s Day, but other activities pressed on their schedule. Two of them had run the half-marathon in Duluth the day before; one needed to study for a professional exam. In the end, they decided on a quick trip down a portion of the St. Croix, picked up their paddles, and headed to the valley of the Home River.
I can’t say exactly when we began thinking of the St. Croix as “ours.” Perhaps it was 21 years ago, when we moved to Center City, leaving the Anoka Sand Plain behind and coming into the drainage basin of the St. Croix. (Technically, we lived in its drainage basin in our former house, as well.) More practically, with the move, the St. Croix was now ten minutes away by car.
We have taken jaunts down the scenic– the wild and scenic– river with family, with out-of-state-friends, and with just the two of us. For Father’s Day, we dropped in at Osceola, late in the afternoon and took out at a small landing seven miles downriver. We were less than two hours on the water.
Two hours, however, expand. We stretched them into the past, with memories of when we could fit all four kids in one canoe with both parents. We did this in the Boundary Waters on our way to Hegman Lake to see the pictographs. I duffed amidship and held the infant, decked out in a tiny lifejacket. the two middles sat together in front of me, and the eldest manned the bow.
We stretched them into the future, as we imagined all the wonderful trips our son would take with his recently-bought Wenonah canoe, which he was taking for the first time on the St. Croix. “You will have it,” I told him, “for the rest of your life.”
We stretched them in the present, as we tallied bird calls and sightings, including a bald eagle pair in a pine high, high on the bluffs; and the heron rookery on an island, with its impossibly vociferous occupants. “What’s that noise?” someone asked. “Frogs?” Nineteenth century birdwatcher T. S. Roberts thought that young herons sound, “to a remarkable degree,” like yelping and snarling puppies.
The yellow rays of a late-day sun cast a glow across the water and the verdant banks lining it. When we slipped under the railroad bridge and met the landing, we didn’t feel regret that it hadn’t been longer. We felt that we had had a nice visit home.