Google Maps developed a capacity to fly to places I could only imagine visiting. I’m filled with childlike curiosity, exploring adrenaline-rushing areas unreachable by my aging body with a raging distaste of receiving a 30 point rating on the Zagat Insect Guide to Mammals – a movable feast for blood-sucking life forms. Physically my butt is comfortably established in a reclining chair while my mind soars as a two-year old Whooping Crane over the myriad wetlands a short flight from White River Marsh where I pretend I fledged.
Geeze, last year’s chat-room time may have affected my thinking process. Google Mapping Green Lake or Marquette Counties shows a vast difference in land-forms and environments in its wetlands. The Fox River is the watershed for the eastern half of south-central Wisconsin. Unlike the majority of American Rivers, the Wisconsin Fox flows north into Green Bay, eventually to spill over Niagara Falls and into the Atlantic Ocean.
White River Marsh is north of the Fox River in Green Lake County, with a small section in the northwest extending into Marquette County. South of the Fox River, adjacent to White River Marsh, lie the Princeton Prairie and the neighboring Puchyan Prairie State Natural Areas. There is a strip of unique land flowing southeast of these two prairies called the Snake Creek Fen State Wildlife Area.
I focused via computer on an isle on the Fox River approximately halfway downstream from the outlet of the White River and upstream from the outlet of the Puchyan River. Both rivers look like exemplary examples of topography from a couple of worms. Perhaps a vigorous earthworm undulated the White River, broader, curvier strokes – deeper, at times and maybe navigable by canoe if you’re patient with obstacles. The Puchyan, hurried along by a slightly meager red worm, impatient by its thin water over melon-sized glacial rocks among the riverbed. The Snake Creek looks like a blunder by a sloppy cartographer after a night of heavy drinking. It’s a gray-green swath of watery smudge applied to the landscape and given a poor attempt at erasure by a giant slug using that portion of the county to skate slime.
The map’s colorful layers whisper stories of the Fox River – it gossips in a more complex language than its cursory cousins. If the Fox were human it would be an egotist, not for its attractiveness, which has long since lost to the ideals of man’s need to reconfigure for purpose and management. Oh how this river must have looked running wild a couple of hundred years ago. What songs it must have sung as it tumbled over rapids and falls long since buried under a system of locks and dams that leave it sounding like a phlegmy centenarian.
In spring this is a capricious river, a river of vast floodplains, channels, currents, overflowing banks, and prayers that my car won’t leave the road for flooded ditch or plunging riverbank. It’s not the widest, or the longest, or the mightiest, but nature knows it has a purpose, it has an “I’ll be damned attitude”, and when allowed it may appear a mouse but thinks it’s a mongoose. Google shows topography that looks like a wild night of tossed bedding in a whore house room shared by the Hodag and the Hoop Snake on a brief stay over before heading up north.
There is a bridge over the concrete remnants of a boat lock long abandoned. The gates are gone and the river runs freely through it, the river current taking time to sing around one of the remaining abutments in lieu of a set of rapids that perhaps once sat there. The Fox took umbrage with the boat lock, several times in fact. The lock must have become useless in a fairly short time because it cut another channel north of what was once solid land. It then carved a large oxbow into the land above that channel as if to fiddle away man’s folly in building a lock in that position. Another oxbow, nearly dry on the map, sits directly downstream and south of the lock. Clearly the Fox River would choke the life out of the man-made structure that attempted to impede its natural course.
On a sunny afternoon after studying the Google Map I drove to the real location and let the river tell its story. I was unprepared for the water music it had composed. I fumbled and shook when I realized my camera should have been set to video with sound. A brief conversation between a Sandhill Crane couple and a still single Whooper was over by the time I’d turned the dial. An elusive Whooping Crane had, once again, teased me and moved on. He flew upstream where he let out one more faint bugle before leaving.
The three successive, heavily wooded riverbanks, cut during the period the lock stood, now guard the territory between the last oxbow in the river where it’s scoured to marshland. Non-accessible marshland. Safe territory for endangered Whooping Cranes being raised and trained at White River Marsh to return and raise their future families.
Map of County Highway J – Princeton to Ripon, Wisconsin