Steamy. That’s a pretty good word for this summer. It’s been the kind of hot where a mist hangs over the river in the morning and clings to the bluffs because the air is so fat with moisture there is just nowhere for it to go. One 85-degree day has rolled into the next for weeks on end, and while the heat has sent some scampering for air conditioning, the rest of us are taking full advantage of Winona’s greatest gem – the Mississippi River.
The Mississippi channels a breeze up through the river valley that transforms a steamy day into a glorious one, and for boaters and swimmers this summer has been a little slice of heaven. No, a big slice. Perfection, even.
The Mississippi along this stretch is chock-full of little islands owned by no one that have smooth beaches that anyone can just pull up on to cook some hot dogs and take a dip in the cool water. There is a whole river community of boaters, many of whom have never met before, who form quasi neighborhoods on these little islands for a day or even just an hour to soak in what is unquestionably the epitome of boating heaven.
I know that some places, elsewhere on the Mississippi that will go unnamed, have a reputation for being overrun by rowdy party boats that blast Eminem and devour the peace, but this is not that piece of river. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of people take to the river with their floating nightclub, and I may or may not have been on one of those boats recently, but here’s the thing — we have so much river that there is room for everybody to congregate with their own and leave large patches of peacefulness for those who crave it.
The fingers of backwaters that snake along beside the main channel are perfect for little ones on tubes or those crazy banana boats that usually launch me flying into the water. Jetskiers, waterskiers and wakeboarders have miles and miles of calm water, and on especially calm nights even the barefoot water skiers are out defying the laws of physics on channels that look like glass.
I love to watch them, but you will never find me being dragged by a boat unless I’ve been kidnapped and I’m being punished for something. Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s easy, right? Well, I’ve tried, most recently humiliating myself on a boat of barefooters who somehow convinced me with their cool water tricks that everyone can do it. Um yeah. After I face-planted a few times at 30 miles per hour, drank most of the Mississippi and pulled both my arms out of their sockets I decided that probably wasn’t true.
But I still love the Mississippi – how can you not? As the sinking sun turns the river into a copper ribbon and blue herons glide overhead looking for their night roost, it is impossible to not be struck by the sheer magnificence of what we have here and how lucky we are to have these hot summer days to enjoy it.