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Monday, July 28, 2008

Friday night on the St. Joe

Friday night dinner with friends at Halls, the dining patio by the river. After drinks and dinner we pile into a pontoon for a cruise.

The St. Joe meanders somewhere between scenic and stagnant as the trees lean over water that doesn't seem to move. We're far below street level, below traffic noise, below anyone's attention. Except for folks passing over on the bridges (and not many look over), no one would know we're here.

We're the city of three rivers here, yet in most places, the rivers are invisible to daily life.

Not when you're traveling one, though.

Even before we leave the dock, two young men in kayaks paddle in close. --We'll dock up after you leave, they say to our "captain." --We're going to eat.

We wave as our boat pulls away.

The river water is opaque, and the city indiscernible, but the river's channel is unexpected and beautiful. Lined with trees and brush so dense that even houses above them can't be seen, we're in a thin green vein of wildness most people never see.

The great blue heron perched on deadwood doesn't move as we pass; the family of raccoons is startled and scurries away; the ducks making a small but furious wake as they swim out of our path.

The natural riverbed is made even deeper by the levees and concrete barriers along the high banks. --Just think how high the water must have been during the flood, somebody says. --Of '82.

And it gives us a new appreciation of that flood and others, the scope and breadth of the flooding, knowing the damage caused and the resources spent to contain future floods. Efforts that work sometimes better than others.

We turn around near "Stevie's Island," really a little peninsula named after a kid who used to play there. A pontoon festooned with American flags is moored there with a couple people nearby, someone who keeps not just a pontoon but a fishing boat on the river, our captain explains.

On our way back, I chat with a South Bend native sitting next to me. --This isn't anything at all like the St. Joe River near us, she says. --It's a lot bigger, and cleaner. And has a current.

--Different river, I say.

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