When I moved to Waukesha, Wisconsin, people noted with pride that it was situated on the Fox River. Where I came from, water, in the forms of lakes and rivers, was a given. As a kid, the summer social season didn’t swing into action until we could barrel down the sand hill and run right into the lake. That meant June, usually, after the water warmed up. From then on, it was swimming in one of the two lakes or canoeing on the river. Now, that was a River! Wisconsin Rapids ain’t called Wisconsin Rapids for nothin’. The rapids below the paper mill’s dam in town were packed with boulders and non-navigable. But the areas above the dams were dandy for water skiing or canoeing. Bike seven miles Up River to a friend’s cottage and rush to plunge off the end of the dock to slough off the summer sweat. The Wisconsin River works hard as it roars along from its headwaters on the border of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula clear down the entire length of Wisconsin to the river’s marriage with the Mississippi. This is no wimpy river. This is a big-shouldered River!
I spent four years in Oshkosh attending college, and was introduced to another River, the Fox. The Wisconsin Fox River meanders around a whole chunk of the south and east part of the state, coming within hollering distance of the Wisconsin River at Portage where enterprising voyageurs and Native Americans could haul goods and canoes across a…portage, what else? The best way from Lake Michigan at Green Bay all the way over to the Mississippi. From there, you could go anywhere, as long as your paddle arms didn’t give out. The River! was a great highway too for giant log rafts as they made their way down to become lumber or paper. The Fox is another brawny working River!
By the time I packed up and took off for Waukesha, I was primed for another River! After all, it was the Fox River. But it wasn’t The Fox River. This one piddles along, heading south into Illinois, growing as it goes. But the part in Waukesha doesn’t measure up to my other two Rivers! It’s simply a river, and that’s generous. In most spots, I can toss a pebble across and have it land well beyond the far bank. Not possible at my other two Rivers! Not that Waukesha’s Fox doesn’t have its charms. A very nice paved path for bikers and pedestrians circumnavigates a widened portion in town. Lots of places to sit and mull over the meaning of life as the water bumbles along, sometimes talking a bit louder where the channel narrows. This river takes time to acknowledge anyone on its banks. My other two Rivers! barely take notice of companions, being far too busy and self-centered.
What began as a bit of arrogance and disdain for the little Fox River has, over the years, turned into appreciation of it charms. Come to think of it, my rivers and I have run in tandem for a long time. I’ve gone from “I’m coming through, fair warning!” to “Slow down and enjoy the scenery, lady.” Quite fitting. I’ve gone from a River! to a river. No exclamation point needed. It feels good.