Greg’s kayak ready to launch on the St. Croix River
“With one more push of paddle against the river bank, the kayak slides off the ground and suddenly I’m suspended by water. It’s my favorite feeling, that first moment afloat. It’s freedom—from the ground, from the human world.”
So says writer and kayaker, Greg Seitz, in his article The Power of a Paddle: A simple tool provides solitude and scenery. Greg’s article was published on St. Croix 360, a website dedicated to stories about the St. Croix River that provides the border between Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Greg describes the surrounding trees—both living up on the shore and the dead ones “piled along the banks.” He describes the birds he hears and sees: a great blue heron, common grackles, Canada geese and a prothonotary warbler (Greg is obviously a birder!)
A solo kayak trip on the river provides that solitude, and yet that oneness with the surrounding natural world that reminds him he’s not as alone as he thought.
Greg loves to encounter the local wildlife and capture them on camera when he’s quick enough. His article from early in May 2019 includes several photos from a river trip when it was still in spring flood stage—it almost looks more like kayaking in the southern bayous than the upper Midwest.
We were, of course, pleased that Greg mentioned us in his article:
“I bought a new kayak paddle this spring, a Bending Branches Slice Glass. It was made at their factory in Osceola, just a mile or so from the river. I’ve toured the operation a couple times and get the impression it’s a solid company, which makes it a real pleasure to use a local paddle.
“The fiberglass feels great in my hands, and is just a joy to use. It’s light but the right amount of rigid, and seems to make each stroke both easier and more powerful. I also like a bright colored blade in the unfortunate event I need to be seen by search and rescue or something like that.”
We thought we’d ask Greg some questions about his kayaking, specifically on the beautiful St. Croix River:
BRANCHES: What’s your favorite section of the St. Croix River to kayak?
GREG: That’s like asking me to name my favorite child! I love the whole stretch from Taylors Falls to the Soo Line High Bridge at Arcola. It's Bending Branches' home stretch, too. The backwaters and areas where the river splits into lots of channels with floodplain forests are amazing because they offer quiet and solitude and wildlife.
That said, I love the whole river, and really its entire watershed. The upper river is wild and wonderful and pretty much only accessible to canoes and kayaks, and I also paddle as many tributaries as possible.
BRANCHES: What are your favorite wildlife encounters on the river?
GREG: The rare times I see otters are always exciting and unexpected. They're so interesting to watch because they're very active and curious.
A local otter
The most common cool wildlife are the many types of birds that live, breed and migrate along the river. There's a small, bright yellow and blue-gray bird called the Prothonotary Warbler that only nests in the kind of floodplain forest found along the St. Croix, and I always try to see one every year.
I love hearing the loud, prehistoric sandhill cranes, and sometimes seeing them. In spring I've paddled among hundreds or thousands of migrating waterfowl like geese, swans, and ducks swirling around in the sky and on the water and it's astounding!
BRANCHES: How often do you get out in the St. Croix in your kayak?
GREG: It really depends! But always at least a couple times a month from April to November—March to December, if I'm lucky. When work and family obligations allow, I'm out weekly. It's never enough. I always see something new, even when going back to places I've visited countless times.
BRANCHES: What’s your favorite paddling season?
GREG: Another tough question. Probably spring because it always feels so good after the hard winter season, and there's so much happening with wildlife migration and breeding. There are the first flowers and budding trees, everything feels really alive compared to winter.
Another good question is favorite time of day for paddling, and I love early mornings out there, because it feels like spring even in the summer. Seeing the sunrise and hearing the birds and other animals waking up is just a beautiful way to start the day.
Greg recorded this video on a kayak outing a couple years ago in early spring:
Thanks to Greg Seitz for his comments and for the use of his photos and video!
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