By Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz -
This morning Dean and I were having our morning coffee and watching the news, when the weatherman casually mentioned that the temperature today will be dangerously hot with a heat index of around 105° F. Dean looked across the table at me scratching myself bloody from all the new chigger bites I acquired this week and thoughtfully suggested we hit the river for a cool, bug free day of floating. I was up and in my bathing suit before the last words came out of his mouth.
Just to be clear, when I say float I mean in a river tube, not a canoe or a kayak. On a day like today, I want to be in the water where it’s nice and cool. Besides, there is absolutely nothing lazier and more relaxing than letting the river do the work of getting us from one place to another while we slip in and out of the water at will and watch the scenery go by.
We’ve decided to float the Eleven Point River from Greer Landing to Turner Mill. This is a nice 4-5 hour float, depending on the level of the water and the whim of the floaters.
When we float this stretch of river, we like to hike our tubes about a mile or so above the mouth of the Greer Spring branch and launch into the river from there. Along the forested path, the trees have grown tall and lean as they compete with one another to reach the sunlight above. The closed canopy of leaves allows only dappled bits of sunlight to reach the forest floor, which is carpeted by bright green stinging nettle and dotted with smaller understory trees such as redbud, dogwood and immature hickories.
The imprints of deer hooves lead the way down the sandy trail and soon we are standing above the river. The old gravel beach that was here last year has been scoured away in heavy winter floods and we have to scramble down a sheer, seven-foot sand and gravel cutout to get down to the water’s edge.
After a quick application of sunscreen and a double-check of waterproofed goods stuffed into an old daypack tied to the tube, we wade out into deep water and launch ourselves into the tubes. The water is deliciously cold and refreshing and after we get ourselves settled in, we turn our complete attention to the rhythm of the river.
The upper portion of this river is completely different from the parts below Greer Spring. Here the water moves slowly through narrow banks chock full of vegetation that hangs low over the edges in an ageless quest for light. It is endlessly slow and completely silent.
Just as we have settled into the slow pace, the water suddenly deepens. Just ahead, we hear the rush of clashing water. We turn our tubes to face the sound and quickly maneuver around a sharp, fast turn and directly into the rushing rapids of the spring branch.
Greer Spring is the second largest spring in Missouri, discharging an average of 344 cubic feet of water per second – that’s 220 million gallons of water every single day. There are many springs along the length of the Eleven Point River, but this spring alone nearly doubles the river’s size.
The water pouring out of Greer Spring also averages a bone chilling 56° -59° Fahrenheit. As we collide with the cold spring branch, we involuntarily scream.
In less than three minutes our hands, feet, and butts are numb with the cold. We dare each other to jump all the way into the freezing water. At the end of the run, we float backwards and admire the spring branch as it stretches back into a deep, lush limestone canyon.
Despite the rapids at the mouth of the branch, the water above it appears deceptively placid with its floating gardens of crisp, lime-green watercress. A great blue heron silently takes flight and disappears up the creek.
As usual, we spy many creatures along the river during the course of the day, including cooters and red-eared sliders basking on half-submerged logs. When we get too close to their sunning places, the turtles drop into the water with an audible plunk. We also enjoy seeing a mother duck with her six little downy ducklings touring the slow water near a cache of boulders. Pensively watching over the scene is a shy green heron perched high above the river on a dead snag.
But the wildlife-watching highlight of the day was getting to see an adult mink as it emerged from the water with a long, slender fish dangling from its mouth. It eyed us for just a moment before making its way along a well-worn trail in the smooth, hard packed mud of the steep bank. Suddenly it slipped into a deep crevice and was gone.
The day might have been hot somewhere, but not here on the river. Even when we stop on a rocky gravel bar to stretch and bask in the sun, the slight breeze picks up the river’s cold breath and brushes it across our wet skin. Near the end of the day we are covered in chill bumps each time we float through a patch of shade.
At the end of the run just above Turner’s is a set of wild rapids, that are especially rowdy today because of the recent rains. We bump and roll through the run, dodging boulders and whooping out loud. It is so much fun that we land the tubes on the gravel bar and walk back to the beginning to run them again and again – laughing like little kids the whole time.
Eventually we make our way to our agreed-upon pickup site and haul our chilled terrestrial bodies out of the water. Our driver awaits to return us to our car. As the old pickup bumps and churns its way out of the deep river valley – back to the bright hard sun and the wilting heat – a small part of the cool green river lingers and on our skin and in our memories. Excerpted in part from A Journey of Seasons: A Year in the Ozark High Country
(Excerpted in part from A Journey of Seasons: A Year in the Ozarks High Country)
© 2013 Jill Henderson
Set in the rugged heart of the Ozark mountains, A Journey of Seasons is memoir, back-to-the-land handbook and nature guide rolled into one. Henderson’s 20-years of living off the land and foraging in the wilderness shines in this cyclopedic work filled with nature notes, botanical musings, back-woods wisdom and just a pinch of “hillbilly” humor. This is one journey you don’t want to miss.
Available in the Show Me Oz Bookstore
Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill’s work has also appeared in The Permaculture Activist, The Essential Herbal, Acres USA, and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac.