River Wise by Pegeen Snoeyenbos
Published by The Writer’s Exchange and Toad House Publishing, Ladysmith, Wisconsin.
The words “Nature” and “Flambeau River” are interchangeable in my mind, because this magnificent river has been a tutor and guide to the natural world, both for me and for important people in my life.
I first heard of the river from my grandfather, who was a Flambeau lumberjack when Wisconsin logging was at its height. His tales of the logging camps held me spellbound, and his love and respect for the river came through with each anecdote. I couldn’t wait to see and experience the Flambeau for myself.
My introduction to the Flambeau had to wait some years, however, until I met, and later married, a man who had canoed the Flambeau since boyhood and has an intense love for the river. He took me for my first ever canoe trip on a beautiful, quiet stretch of the Flambeau, and I was enchanted. Later, we took many canoe trips on the upper Flambeau, and I became acquainted with the feistier aspects of the river, with its fast current and often challenging rapids. Scary stuff for somebody who could barely swim, but the combined beauty of the white pines and white water, plus frequent sightings of eagles, muskrat, heron, deer, beaver, otter and black bear kept me wanting more.
Today, we have the good fortune to live along the Flambeau, and the river continues to impart daily lessons in nature appreciation, from the rose-gold mist of a Flambeau dawn to the glistening white ripples of a reflected full moon upon its waters. If I had to distill the main lessons the Flambeau has taught me, they would be: (1) Be quiet! Learn to sit in silence on or by the water and you will learn that something is always going on in nature, even when it appears dormant. (2) Watch! The longer you are quiet, the more you will train yourself to see. That patch of white in the pine across the river is the head of a bald eagle; the seemingly empty log along the bank actually hosts five small turtles catching the sun’s rays and that beautiful flower by the water is a rare blue gentian. (3) Listen! As you train your eyes, so you train your ears. The hum of a hummingbird becomes very distinct from the whirr of a dragonfly, and you discover tiny tree frogs have gigantic, cackling voices that would do justice to creatures ten times their size.
Teacher, guide and friend, the Flambeau River continues to be a vital and sustaining influence in my life. May it long be so.
Want to learn more about the river? Check out the Wisconsin Life‘s radio story “One Woman’s Lessons Learned From Observing The Fox River.”