Some people here at the retirement community in Wisconsin measured up to 15 inches. But the temperatures are above freezing now, and the snow on Ed’s balcony is already starting to slump. People who live here are saying, “This is the last storm of winter. I hope.”
We went out for a walk along the river that runs through Oshkosh, Wisconsin, today. A Bald Eagle soared overhead, landed in a tree, and soared off again when we got too close. Then a couple of minutes later, there was another Bald Eagle ahead of us, sitting in a tree.
It was breathtaking to see Bald Eagles that close. But we shouldn’t be seeing any eagles over the river in Oshkosh in January. Instead, the river and the lakes should be fully frozen over, driving the eagles to Lake Michigan to find open water for hunting. It has been such a warm winter, the river is almost completely ice-free. So while I love seeing the eagles, we’re seeing them because of global climate change, which is not a cheerful thought.
Carol and I wanted to get outdoors one last time before the rain came in. “Let’s go fishing,” I said. So we grabbed our fishing tackle and went down to Sawyer Creek. We didn’t catch anything except weeds.
A man walking by told us, “You’ll probably do better if…”
“If we go buy fish at the market,” I said.
“If you go downstream to the bridge,” he said good-humoredly.
“Honestly, we don’t really want to catch fish,” I said. “We just wanted to get out of the house.”
Somehow that got us in a conversation with a man who was wading in the creek. He was wearing swim goggles, the water almost up to his chin. He was pulling out flying discs lost in the creek by golfers on the disc golf course on the opposite bank.
“You probably heard about me on the radio,” he said. “I’m the homeless guy who sells the discs he pulls out of the creek.” He’s no longer homeless, he told us, but he still makes good money selling the golfing discs he recovers. “That’s my son over there,” he said, pointing to a man who’d been in the water with him earlier. A friend of theirs was helping out, too.
“What do you make, 25 or thirty dollars a disc?” I asked.
He said he’d sold some discs for more than a hundred dollars. One particular disc he sold for over two hundred dollars.
He wanted to move down into the section of creek we were fishing, so we moved upstream. We didn’t catch anything there, either. Which was still just fine with us.
“I just felt a drop of rain,” said Carol.
The sky looked threatening. “Let’s get going,” I said. I quickly broke down my rod, and we walked quickly down the creek.
We saw our friend still in the water. “I’d tell you to get out before you get wet, but that won’t work,” I said.
He laughed. “If you see lightning, you’ll see me get out of the water quick,” he said. We all agreed that a day on the creek — or in his case, in the creek — was a good way to spend a day.
The rain started coming down harder. We got pretty wet before we got back to Carol’s dad’s place. It was still a good day on the creek.
We’ve been carrying a canoe across the country. Here we are in Wisconsin, right on the Fox River. It was time to put the canoe in the water.
Misty and Darren lent us some life vests. We decided to start with Sawyer Creek, a tributary of the Fox River. We drove to West Algoma Park, where there’s a nice grassy put-in for canoes and kayaks.
We’ve been walking along Sawyer Creek almost every day, and I went fishing in the creek a couple of days ago. But seeing the creek from a canoe is a very different experience.
We saw Black-crowned Night Herons and Great Egrets fishing along the banks of the creek. (We saw some humans fishing along the banks, too.) I turned just in time to see a small Yellow Perch roll up to the surface of the water, then dart away into the thickly-growing aquatic plants: Milfoils (Myriophyllum sp.), Pondweed (Potamogeton sp.), and Raccoontail (Ceratophyllum demersum).
Algae choked the surface in many places; but in the center of the channel, in the deepest part of the creek, the water was clear enough that we could see the sandy bottom among the plants. At least three species of aquatic plants were blooming: American White Waterlily (Nymphaea odorata), Common Water-Crowfoot (Ranunculus aquatilis), and Yellow Pond-Lily (Nuphar sp.). Common Water-Crowfoot, to my surprise, turns out to be a close relative of ordinary buttercups. And I have never seen Yellow Pond-Lilies before.
Dad-in-law and Nancy live near Sawyer Creek near where it drains into the Fox River. So that’s a natural destination when we go out for walks. I went out walking around Sawyer Creek this morning, starting along the north side near Eagle Street, crossing the creek at North Westfield, then following along the south bank through Red Arrow Park. Quite a few plants were in bloom, including attractive but invasive flowers Foxglove Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) and Creeping Bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides). Purple Crownvetch (Securigera varia), another invasive species, were everywhere, with their feathery leaves and clover-like pink-and-white blossoms. I was interested to see flowers of the invasive species Flowering Rush (Butomus umbellatus), a plant I’d never seen in bloom before. Actually, most of the flowers I saw were invasive species.
I did see one or two native species blooming. There were some elderberry (Sambucus sp.) in bloom, which were probably native. And some of the small scrubby willows (Salix sp., prob. Salix interior, or Sandbar Willow) growing along the south bank of the creek still had some catkins in bloom.
In the early evening, I went fishing along this stretch of Sawyer Creek. I couldn’t see any evidence that the water was flowing. The turbidity was high, and in some places the acquatic plants were pretty thick. I found a place with few plants, and at my first cast a small Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens), a native species, chased the lure right up to the bank. It was so small that it couldn’t actually get its mouth around the lure. I could see I wasn’t going to catch anything, and that was fine with me. I spent a happy half hour trying to read the stream, casting, and changing lures every once in a while. For me, fishing is better than mindfulness meditation: it clears my mind, and I have no concerns about whether I’m engaging in Whitened Buddhism.