Aug 4, 2011

Floating Past Pigs Eye

In keeping with the nautical theme of the past few days, Jim and Sue treated us to a boating excursion on the rivers in the Twin Cities area on Thursday. Because the water has been so high this spring and summer, they've not had much opportunity to get out on the river... something they love to do and do often in more normal years. High water, especially on rivers, can mean more floating debris, limbs, entire trees, etc. than usual... so if you're going to be out there it's important to keep an eye on the river ahead while moving. Hitting a partially submerged log isn't good for the boat, the motor, or the riders.

We launched into swift current on the Minnesota River under the Cedar Avenue bridge about 6 miles  upstream from the confluence of the Minnesota and the Mississippi. The name "Minnesota" comes from a Dakota word for the Minnesota River... which is translated loosely as "somewhat clouded water", in other words, murky water... exactly what we found at the boat launch. But the day was sunny and warm and very nice for a relaxed excursion... so we sat back to enjoy the ride.

When cruising down the river my thoughts wander. I think about people, especially the historic people that lived here in the past. Rivers have always attracted human settlement, and a lot of history lives along the banks of these rivers. For thousands of years native Americans used the river for transportation and food. Later, explorers and settlers did the same.

I think about the power of nature... how this water, over thousands of years, gouged out the channel and riverbed... how all of this water... every bit of it... must fall 750 feet before it reaches the Gulf of Mexico near New Orleans. There's an attraction to being on the water and plying these ancient water highways. The power of nature is always present.

As the Alumacraft runabout purred downriver and into the Mississippi the heavily treed banks through here provide a scene much like what early explorers must have seen. In many places there is no sign of civilization at all... and we're in the middle of the Twin Cities metroplex! It's really an amazing thing.

Heading downstream... the Minnesota from the left, the Mississippi from the right.

It was about a year ago that we were standing at the source of the big river, at Lake Itasca in Northern Minnesota, and ceremoniously waded across just to be able to say we did so. From that point to here, the river has already dropped about half of it's elevation. Below the Twin Cities the river is controlled by a series of locks and dams, and channeled to allow reliable barge traffic.

Before long, around a bend in the river, downtown St. Paul comes into view as the river flows right through... under bridges and past tall buildings. It's a wonderful thing to experience a city from the river -- a different perspective on our civilization. Just a few feet away from our boat, people are frantically dealing with traffic jams, high pressure business situations, congestion, irritating personal interactions, grinding teeth, bulging neck veins, high blood pressure... while we're floating calmly by with few cares or concerns.

I'm sure most of you know the story of Pierre "Pigs Eye" Parrant.  He was the first settler in the area after being kicked out of Minneapolis, a bit further upstream, in the early 1830s. A trapper by trade, he trudged downstream to an appropriate place (now St. Paul), set up a still and a bar, and called the place "Pigs Eye".  With success now assured, he commenced to attracting like-minded souls to the area until a Catholic priest set up shop (a chapel) and used a connection with the supernatural to start making changes... big changes. Pig's Eye was out... in more ways than one. The name of the town was changed to St. Paul (after the chapel of the same name) and Pigs Eye himself left town shortly after, apparently seeing no more future for life as he'd like to live it. There's no definitive information on him after he left. I guess it all happened for the best... St. Paul is probably a better name for the town than Pigs Eye.

River, railroad, airport, highway... every major mode of transportation comes together here. As the river flows northeastward through downtown St. Paul and then makes a bend to the south, right there, within a short distance of just a quarter mile or so, barges are parked three or more deep along both sides of the river;  the downtown St. Paul Holman airfield is on the west bank; major railroad grades line both east and west banks; and running right past the airport and over the river is the big Highway 52 bridge. What a confluence of transportation systems in one spot.

We found a restaurant in a marina a few miles south of downtown St. Paul for lunch. A small place, we enjoyed the meal and had a good time with Billy and Jenn... the two running the place that day. Then it was back on the river for the reverse trip back home.

Our visit with Jim and Sue is always like old home week. You see, we used to live right next door to these two... and it really was our home for a short year back in the mid 1980s.  We really connected with these great neighbors and have been friends ever since... and try to get together every year or two. When we do, we start in right where we left off... on the screened porch behind their house... laughing, telling stories, and having a great time.

Thanks Jim and Sue. Can't wait until next time.

Beyond Branson; Pondering Future Travel

This past Tuesday, we moved from Branson to a very nice Corps of Engineer’s Park on Wappapello Lake.  We’re in the Redman Creek CG. This fac...