Monday, July 15, 2013

Paddling Oxbo Pond

“Oxbow: A U-shaped body of water formed when a wide meander from the main stem of a river is cut off to create a lake.”

I’ve always been a wanna-be paddler- specifically in a kayak .  I’ve had chances to dip a paddle from time to time, years separating those excursions it seems, but enough to whet my appetite.  I don’t own a boat, but a few friends do, and when asked, I’ll gladly join them to explore some outdoors 6 inches above the waterline.

“Oxbo Pond” is located in the 68,000 acre Black River Falls State Forest, 11 miles east and north of Black River Falls off State hwy. 54 on South Cemetery Road.  Good friend Tom Krotzman suggested  this quiet, off the beaten path waterway to survey-a good choice for a reserved paddle as I discovered.  Oxbo Pond is a day use area, hidden below the mostly flat surrounding jack pine forest.  Facilities include parking and a few scattered picnic tables.  The “lake” was once part of Robinson Creek, which noisily flows nearby, separated by a thin strip of land.  The shoreline is low and easy to slip the boats into to begin our trip.  Although it’s a small body of water, the meandering ribbon seems to open up a new door around every corner.  I was reminded of Thoreau’s quote: “Wherever there is a channel for water, there is a road for the canoe.” Some of the shoreline is beautiful floating bogs, sprinkled with blue water Iris and other wetland plants.  The next bend in the shore reveals towering sand banks and evidence of beaver working hard to slide trees down into the water for a winter cache.  Towering, hundred year old white pine, once carpeting this part of the state, line another shore.  Tom and I marvel at the size of these trees and remark how majestic the forest must have looked at one time prior to the lumbering years.  The remnants of an eagle nest lay strewn beneath one, no doubt blown down during a strong windstorm-we see the platform of sturdy limbs 90 feet above us as we slide by in the water.

The pond constantly changes directions and we make no effort to reach the next bend quickly, but rather just pull on a paddle from time to time and drift slowly by the shore, water silently lapping against the hull.  The cool surface gradually gives up a thin veil of steam as the sun begins to warm, on track to produce another humid day after we leave.  I busy myself with the camera, trying to “see” pictures as I float by things I don’t see everyday.  Tom seems more intent on just letting the nature come to him, very Zen-like as we drift along.

 Although this was once part of a river, the stream long ago changed it’s mind and it’s course and we too soon approach a dead end. I’m a bit wistful at reaching the turn around point, but expect to see things I’d missed as we reverse course.  We do. The sun has climbed higher and throws light a bit differently on the shore.  Signs of animals, who make their home above us on the bank and opposite in the wetland are everywhere, although on this day stay hidden save for many species of birds flitting around.  The water trail takes us back to our starting point, the widest part of the waterway, and we split up, encircling the bay in opposite directions, each exploring things we may have missed on the outbound paddle.

If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water. -- Loren Eiseley

Oxbo Pond is a little gem, hidden away, and mostly unheard of, but worthy of exploring if in the area.  Jackson County, not only home to the state forest, but also an expansive county forest, has many other waterways to venture out on.  From what can be a big brandishing river like the Black to small still waters like Teal and Potters Flowages to lesser rivers and streams like Halls Creek and the East Fork of the Black River.  All seem to have a bit of that “magic” Eiseley speaks of.  For me, it was another chance to hear one of my favorite sounds, the serenity of quiet beads of water dripping off the paddle tips into cool water.

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