Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Search for the Peace Tree

Last month the VOR and I received disturbing news from Marion County, Iowa.  Some early season paddlers had braved the shelf ice and ventured out on to Red Rocks Lake,  an impoundment on the Des Moines River.  During their trip they were unable to spot the remains of the famous Peace Tree, a giant Sycamore that marked the boundary between Native American land and the settlers land as far back as the 1840's.  The 'Red Rock Line' was the informal boundary and the Peace Tree was a gathering spot for trading and other interactions. When the Corp of Engineers flooded the valley in the late '60's they put five villages and the Peace Tree under water, effectively killing the trees as well as the villages.  The trunk of the tree remained a landmark, one which could be seen from the Mile Long Bridge to the south.  Something was up.

It was apparent that this situation needed to be explored further and the following advertisement was seen on a number of semi reputable internet venues:

Enterprising Not-Quite-So-Young Men and Women
The subscriber wishes to engage TEN MEN AND WOMEN, to ascend
the reservoir Red Rock to its source, there to be employed for one,
two, or three hours. For particulars enquire of Major Brian
Lange, near the Canoe &camp; Kayak Launch, in the County of Marion, (who
will ascend with, and command party) or to the subscriber at
St. Louis.
J.A. Pearson

Eleven intrepid paddlers responded to this call to action and launched from Elk Rock landing in the rain on the day before Easter, year of Our Lord 2013.  The air temperature was in the 40's and a SE tailwind pushed the expedition toward the site of the famous tree.  When we reached the Mile Long Bridge a low shape in the water was spotted by the forward scouting party.  Group discipline was a bit lax on this first expedition of the year and things tended to get a bit strung out but then so was Major Lange.  He got exactly what he paid for with this motley crew.  As we approached the site through the drizzle, it became apparent that the ice had hammered the Peace Tree severely over the course of the winter.  The upper part appeared to have broken off and the stump was now cocked at an angle.  This new configuration offered a pretty good looking Lazy Boy-like perch and one of the expedition members took advantage of that.  Like the Lewis and Clark expedition of two hundred years ago we had our own naturalist.  President Jefferson reminded the expedition "Other objects worthy of notice will be the soil & face of the country" and that they needed to be observed and noted. Our very own naturalist, Professor Lichen, disembarked from his kayak and 'took possession' of the remains of the Peace Tree.  Maj. Lange offered to sell his kayak back to him or to bring it around on Memorial Day but relented and returned it after several majestic and heroic images were taken.  Satisfied that the Peace Tree still had visibility above the water line, the group headed off toward the sandstone cliffs to the west, an area where snow and ice were still present on the north faces of the rocks.  A comfort break further splintered the party but the intrepid eleven reunited at the Mile Long Bridge and paddled  back to Elk Rock. In honor of the Peace Tree, as well as a slick new double kayak picked up at Canoesport Outfitters in Indianola, IA, an intrepid quartet stopped at the Peace Tree Brewery, a fine local micro named after the tree. It was a dangerous place, an establishment frequented by Red Ramblers, Hop Wranglers, and the extremely dangerous and alluring Blonde Fatale.  We all adjourned to the home of the VerminWhisperer and his long suffering wife for debriefing and chow.  OK Deb, OK, there might have been too much beer talk among the guys, if there is such a thing.  Too much talk that is, not too much beer.

We wanted more.  That new double needed to be christened by the UndergroundHippie and the FlowerChild and the weather forecast was sunny, although the wind was building and forced a launch on the lee shore of the lake.  Ten of us headed north into the wind and when we hit the cliffs and got out of the wind shadow it became apparent that we had all of 20 knots blowing from the northwest.  Since the wind was coming straight down this thirty mile long impoundment there were some nice swells and some significant clapotis near the cliffs.  Once again group discipline deteriorated and a third of us headed into the soup, another third hung back and watched, and the balance turned around and headed back to the launch.  Since we had ten paddlers we still had groups of three or four but ProfLichen and I hung in the midst of this paddling schism and kept an eye on everyone.  Five of us wound up shuttling cars a few miles downwind and surfed down to the cars.  There was much whooping and hollering as we all got some pretty decent rides no matter what model of boat we were in.

Two weekends in a row on two very different bodies of water is a good start for the paddling season in these parts. My guess is that we will have ice on the local lakes until Tax Day at least.  Chequamagon Bay still has two feet plus, Little Sand Bay is choked with pack ice, and Bayfield is completely iced in, although the ice road is closed. Some folks have been out on the river and that will be an option until the snow melt starts in earnest.  No matter is there is a hiatus of a few weeks, we are still happy the boat got wet and are ready for more.

(Photo credits: me and the two of the three kayak divas on the right side of the image)

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