Living on the Crow River

| 1/22/2013 11:06:32 AM

B.L. LietzauRivers are utilized repeatedly by different cultures and for diverse reasons. The landscape surrounding a river continually changes as it is deliberately re-sculpted to mean something new to the current dwellers. My family takes on each new season, each new force of life and nature, and we struggle sometimes with what we are given, but we keep moving forward taking on new adventures, just like a river. 

It was known as The Big Woods, the land west of Minneapolis. Forests of oak, maple, elm and basswood coveted the area and wildlife abounded. During the period of westward pioneering in the mid-1800’s, towns sprouted along areas where the railway cut through the dense terrain and settlers started to claim plots of land for farming as industrial trade grew along the Crow River. Lumber was this area’s richest resource for a time as European settlers made their way west. The Crow River, now my river, was giving me a place to call home.

Rockford, Minnesota, is a small town along the North Crow. According to the city’s website, its history holds secrets not choosing to remain silent. Rockford began as a milling town for lumber, grain and wool. In this area, two branches of the Crow River, north and south, merge to combine one force that flows north to the Mississippi. The combined rivers are gentle in their journey, twisting and turning throughout the countryside. Through town, the riverbanks are low. Walking near the water is easily done by taking the city park path. The water feels whispery to me. It’s telling me stories about where it has been and where it is going. In the springtime, smaller tree branches float past me downstream and become lodged in a larger fallen trees, making an improved hideout for the bass. Plastic grocery bags float on top of the water, graciously waiting for deposit downstream into the fallen, twisted elms. In the summer, the kids and I used to make boats out of overgrown, hollowed out cucumbers from the garden. We put a toothpick in the front end of the boat for a mast, poked a little paper sail onto it, and sent them sailing down the river to parts unknown; never to be seen again. The river is part of my family’s playground.

It was a place the Winnebago Indians called their home before any Euro-settlers claimed rights to the area. Fish were plentiful, maple syrup overflowed, and wildlife was abundant. Considered a sacred hunting ground by the Indians, the Big Woods later attracted white trappers. The Winnebago had lived in this area for approximately 50 years—transplanted from Green Bay Wisconsin, as noted by local historians. They, along with the Dakota Indians, were forced by General Sibley to move onto reservations further southwest.

Indian mounds along the river remain intact and undisturbed. I can see burial mounds as I drive Rebecca Park Trail, which hugs the river between Rockford and the city of Delano. They are long and thin to fit into the gulley that acts as an overflow area for spring waters. I’ve never seen a mound built in the middle of a gulley—they are usually on a bluff.

It’s difficult to believe the woods were so thick here no light could reach the forest bed where I now stand. Even now, as my home in the Autumn Oaks addition turns twenty, deciduous and coniferous trees that have been strategically planted to give shade to decks and block out the neighbors wandering eyes across our backyards. We live side-by-side, yet we have carved out our own private, contemplative backyards that we are unwilling to share. Fences surround many homes adding to the secrecy; the privacy of our own little cookie-cutout pieces of nature. Yet the stars remain unlocked, free of possession and boundless in the sky from my deck at night. How did the Winnebago see the stars? Possibly, they amassed in canoes on wide-open river bends to see the universe past the canopy of thick branches. As I grow older, I appreciate the Native American’s spiritual viewpoint of nature. That is, sharing land, water and air as opposed to European settlers who seem to cultivate great pride in owning their personal piece. This river and this land are used by many living creatures whose level of intellect and will determines control of ownership.

1/24/2013 11:10:38 PM

B.L., welcome to the GRIT blogging community. I can tell the Crow river is dear to your heart. Rivers do have their own culture they survive around it's banks. Our river in Nebraska is, of course, the mighty Missouri. I have never lived near the river but always in a town that touched the river. The Missouri is one of the fastest flowing rivers in North America because of how the engineers have squeezed it down to confining banks with high levies to direct it's course on route to the big Mississippi. The Missouri is a mysterious deadly force that needs respect or it will snag you and pull you down in the whirlpool depths only to surface miles away. As a result I never acquired a love for being around the river. I mostly steered clear of being on the banks of the river. Bridges and interstates were built over and beside the river. Bluffs were along the river for excellent views. Deep down there's something to be said about an almost living force in nature that is in motion and sustains life. Although man tries to change the course of rivers, it remains a constant in the topography of life that can be counted on. Have a great Crow river day.

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