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Sunset in St. Croix country

Driving home through Wisconsin along the St. Croix River valley. A February sunset brings me to the river’s edge.

The river in winter

We were lulled by a mid-February thaw last week, but winter exerted itself once more this past couple days. The temperature brushed 50 degrees early Wednesday and one began looking for buds on the trees, and then ominous forecasts began and increased as the weekend drew near.

About noon on Sunday, tiny flakes started falling as if one at a time from the clouds. It quickly became thick, and has been waxing and waning ever since. I think we got 15″ at our house; it didn’t stop coming down until after 6 p.m. today.

Late Friday afternoon, on the precipice between thaw and blizzard, still making pretend it was spring, I was driving back toward home from St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. I took a scenic route on Wisconsin Highway 35 down the St. Croix River valley. I spotted a road sign between Osceola and Somerset, pointing west for both a Wisconsin “Rustic Road” and a river landing. I turned right.

Edge of the light

The road went through upland fields for a while, some cultivated or used for pasture, some prairie and scrubby woods. Occasionally, I saw small homesteads set back from the road.

Just as the road dropped over the crest of the bluffs, it narrowed and became rougher. Soon it started to twist down toward the river, though thick hardwood forests, the almost-down sun beaming through the leafless trees.

Down the frozen river

I drove through the woods along the base of the bluffs for another mile, forks occasionally branching off, me always choosing the westerly branch. I came around a bend and there was a parking lot and an outhouse and there was the river. I had never been to this landing before. After a few minutes, I figured out that I was directly across from Marine on St. Croix, Minnesota. I had once eaten lunch after canoeing on the deck of the restaurant right across the channel.

Down by the river, the sun was already just over the trees to the west, silhouetting white pine trees against a yellow and orange glow. The river ice, laid bare and warped by a week of thaw and wind and freeze, shone purple and blue.

Up the ice

It was 20 degrees and there was a steady breeze from the north. I didn’t stay long at the landing, but retraced my path to the top of the bluffs and then wandered downstream via more back roads.

As I followed roads that zig-zagged between upland and river bottom, I got pretty turned around. I was fine as long as I kept the river close to my right. The daylight was fading, but when I reached high points on the landscape, the sun was still in this hemisphere.

Go down to the river

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