I went for a drive on a recent summer afternoon, looking for a place to fish. Out of town on Hwy. 45 to Goshen, we passed Twin Bridges, the first possibility. Headed up Blue Spring Road, there are several places to access Beaver Lake, but it was hot and windy and I thought the river would be better. No access at the hwy. 45 bridge over War Eagle Creek, so we turned back and took a dirt road around Hindsville, ending up at the old WPA bridge on hwy. 412 east of Huntsville.
The pool below the bridge is deep, heavily fished, fairly clean. Further down, in clean shoal water I caught sunfish and found a big healthy mussel. Chippy ran the riverbank, splashed and swam until he was tired out. I figured out that the paddle blade slips under the foot brace or the seat and I can push upstream in really shallow water with very little effort and lots of control. I honestly think I could live on a small river like this.
Back in the mid-70’s, I was at Fort Benning, Georgia, for a while. Part of a series of misadventures that had begun with me joining the National Guard to avoid Vietnam, then joining the Army to escape the tedium of monthly drills and dead-end jobs. Summertime in Columbus, Georgia, with a broken car, I found a bicycle shop and soon had a nice used ten-speed.
Not too far outside town, a likely-looking creek enticed me to wade upstream casting a fly for panfish. Within minutes, I was beyond the sounds and sight of “civilization” and marveling at the huge tulip poplars. Realizing that a relatively undisturbed natural world could be found nearly within a stone’s throw of four-lane America helped to keep me what still passes for sane.
There, and in many other places I have found that people just don’t bother to explore upstream. Following old roadways, stream crossings are often at a relatively shallow place in the river, where they could be forded by oxen or wagons. Where there were no accessible shallows, ferries came into being. The place names are often still used. What we seem to miss entirely is how often streams actually were the roadways, river bottoms the smoothest and most reasonable routes for foot traffic, small boats moving easily through slow currents and shallow water.
Looking at John Singer Sargent’s Under the Willows, then out of the gallery at Crystal Bridges®, I was struck by the irony that the water there is inaccessible by design. No shallow edges, no punts floating lazily beneath willows, just water and lots of concrete and glass.
Fisher Ford, on the Illinois River near Siloam Springs, is a Walton™-financed effort to bring more people into contact with water. Lots of concrete again, weeping willows and lazy punts are nowhere to be seen. Fisher Ford apparently caters to a sort of high-tech athleticism, excellent for beating upstream in roto-molded plastic kayaks, but certainly not very relaxing.