August 24 – Today is sunny, after days of rain. Once again Minnesota is on the national news, this time with floods in the southeast corner of state. That is nice country down there, rolling hills and wooded bluffs and lots of little rivers, the kind of places you’d expect to find trout. It’s not as nice when the rivers rise and rip out roads and bridges and houses. Most of the people down there did not have flood insurance. I can’t fault them. They didn’t live on a flood plain. They lived next to — or down the street from — a creek or stream.
In any case, the state Republicans are trying to decide if the flooding plus the 35W bridge collapse is enough to justify a special legislative session and a new gas tax. I think, because it’s sunny today, and the Minneapolis skyscrapers — all dozen or so of them — are reflecting the blue sky, and sunflowers and goldenrod are blooming along the freeway, I will say nothing more about Republicans.
But I guess I have to point out that we need to spend money on infrastructure. Patrick and I have two favorite day trips — one up to Duluth and the other down along the Mississippi, through some of the towns that are currently unreachable by road. There are lots of eagles along the river in the winter. In spring and fall there are all the migrating waterfowl; and summer has vultures, hawks, gulls and herons. I think I once saw a peregrine falcon fly along the bluffs, going really fast the way they do. I forgot to mention the wild turkeys. They are in the bluff country year around. We need the roads so Pat and I (among others) can go down the river and through the little towns and look at birds and towboats pushing barges on the Mississippi and sailboats on Lake Pepin on a sunny day like today.
I want to say something about Lake Pepin for people who aren’t from around here.
According to the 19th century poet William Cullen Bryant, who was known as the American Wordsworth, every poet and artist in America should see the Lake Pepin.
What it is, simply put, is a wide place in the Mississippi.
South of the Twin Cities, the Mississippi flows through the bed of its huge predecessor, glacial River Warren. It does not fill the river bed. Instead it wanders back and forth across a wide, flat valley between two rows of river bluffs. The rest of the valley is filled with back waters, side channels and flood plain forest. There is some settlement and some farm fields, but the valley is prone to flooding.
About 90 miles south of St. Paul the Chippewa River flows into the Mississippi. It’s an wide, shallow, sandy river; and it has deposited an underwater sand bar in the Mississippi, which impedes the river’s flow. As a result, Mississippi has backed up, forming a long, narrow lake that does fill the bed of the River Warren. This is Lake Pepin. Eagles gather there in the winter, because there are areas of open water, and they can fish. On a sunny day in summer, dotted with sail boats, the lake is a darn fine sight.