Thursday, May 24, 2007

Cry Me A River

I am going to take a week next month to canoe the Rock River from my hometown, Loves Park, to its confluence with the Mississippi River at Rock Island. It's about 165 miles, and includes some of the most scenic sections of the entire river. In the summer of 2005 I paddled about 180 miles of the river from the source of the east branch (near Theresa, WI) to Loves Park in 2005, discounting the 10-12 mile stretch from Watertown to Jefferson, which I will also make up some time this summer.

I own this book, Paddling Illinois, by Mike Svob. I first met Svob in 1999 when I worked for The Antigo Daily Journal. He was promoting another book, Paddling Northern Wisconsin, and I drove out to his family cabin on the Wolf River to interview him. We hung out on his back porch an hour and I got enough quotes for the article. He stopped in at the office from time to time. Editor Fred Berner knew Svob because he'd written a few outdoorsy guest columns for the paper.

I looked over Paddling Illinois yesterday morning because, in addition to a week on the Rock River, I plan to take a bunch of short (15 miles or less) day trips on various rivers around Chicagoland. Planned day trips include the East Branch of the DuPage River, a series of short trips on the Des Plaines River, the Chicago River, Salt Creek of the Des Plaines River (which flows through Brookfield Zoo), the Fox River, and... Nippersink Creek.

When I saw the route for Nippersink Creek my heart skipped. I love that part of Illinois -- it is the most glacially-altered terrain in the state -- but whoa, oh, I didn't realize it, even now, so much emotional baggage there, and in the river, the water, the spirits there, and the eyes in the fire. I looked up from the book and over to my shelf to the Mythology encyclopedia...the volume of Jack London I still plan to read... and up to the wall, the purple ball with the red tassel hanging off a heat vent handle... and, dammit, the dish rack! Who can forget the dish rack?!

I thought I was over all this stupid nostalgia. I thought this was all behind me... but it's not, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it. But at least I can live with my wistfulness, and prosper, and make it through, even if I can't put memory or curiosity behind me, and even if reminders sneak up on me awares and unawares every day.

The last time I was on the Rock River was Oct. 8, 2005. That wasn't that long ago, but it seems a lifetime ago. Before fatherhood. Before divorce. Before the beautiful, stark emptiness. I've kept so, so busy to since August to avoid these ghosts, but they assail me now and I must embrace them.

On Oct. 9, 2005 I ran the Chicago Marathon. The next day I climbed a flight of stairs and my life changed dramatically. I still haven't quite gotten over that particular journey. I don't know if I ever will. That's fine. I'm glad I took it and am on the path I'm on. But it's still going to be tough to canoe the Nippersink.

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