To really experience a river, there’s no substitute for floating it in a canoe. Slipping through the water, a paddler really participates with the stream, negotiating bends, feeling the current, and listening to the trickle of all the rivulets as they enter and feed the river.
A few days ago my husband Mark and I paddled a stretch of the Baraboo River from Union Center, where the river’s west branch joins its main stem, to a landing near the Sauk County line. In this segment, the Baraboo’s channel arcs and doubles back on itself like a watery labyrinth. In general, the river flows east-southeast, but for a few relaxing hours, we could only guess at our direction by the position of the sun.
For a while, two eagles circled overhead. A mallard and her fuzzy ducklings scooted away from of us, then paused as we drifted past. Beneath a mossy wall of sandstone, we watched cliff swallows swoop and dive toward their hive-shaped nests. A northern water snake shimmied through the water and paused near the bank with a minnow gripped cross-wise in its jaws. Twice we came face-to-face with woodchucks, and once we rounded a bend just in time to see a fox trotting away.
On foot, we humans are seldom quiet enough to sneak up on wild creatures. We can be more stealthy on the water, provided we keep our mouths shut. On a convoluted river like the Baraboo, though, it helps to have some skill with the canoe. The best resource we’ve found to learn paddling technique is Canoeing by Gordon Grant. With this little book and some practice, we made the canoe our favorite form of transportation.