Summers are spent on the river…well, until this year.

By middle May, Yellow Ladies Slippers signify a shift in our playground environment – trees now harbor leaves blocking the breeze, and the air heavy with a humidity percentage elevated somewhere immediately below swimming. The forest floor is no longer the only thing showing a boom of life. The forest becomes alive with airborne swarms of bloodsucking varmints. For me, it becomes an eviction notice. Our playground moves from forested ravines to sandbar-laden rivers. These winding rivers act as wind tunnels to knock down the worst mosquito barrage, water offers cool refreshment, and harbors every color of life as entertainment.

This past summer it rained, and it rained some more. This blowout encouraged exploration of a myriad of new activities surrounding my new home, given a recent move to Champaign, Illinois. I felt like a tourist in familiar places.

The rocketry club blasts off twice a month with rockets of all shapes and sizes. Many vanish within the stratosphere and reappear with a tailing parachute. Some were made from cool whip containers, some painted like minions, several with colorful names. ‘Uranus Probe’ in particular, had interesting landing gear.

Minion Rocket
Minion Rocket

We did enjoy some water, it was just in traditional ways. I hadn’t really ‘fished’ per say since I had my outboard cut off the transom many moons ago. Sarah had always wanted to catch, clean, and cook her own fish. I couldn’t remember the last time I did such a thing, We ran down a few loose ends and out we went on the lake. We had such a great time, Al and Jen came down from Bloomington to join on a subsequent trip out. My father even went with us a time or two.

I wanted to explore more in depth, a chunk of public property within the Vermilion complex. Sarah wanted to navigate terrain with a topographical map. So, I gave Sarah a PDF created through Caltopo and she printed it huge. We spent an entire afternoon exploring up and down, up and down. It turned out being a couples 101 class in communication over deciphering such a treasure map together. Somehow we only managed to navigate a whopping 1.2 map miles. We found Liparis orchids, a whole slurry of edibles, a gorgeous potential pack-in campsite, and discovered a patch of American Ginseng. This species flowers over the course of several months. Because of this, it can have nearly ripe fruit alongside open flowers on the same floret. What a cool 1.2 miles! We had not even reached where I had intended exploring yet. Part two is soon to come.

We also visited Bob Hrabik in Missouri. Sarah received the grand tour of the Hrabik lodge from Linda, while Bob and I sifted through MO fish images before making a file transfer towards completion. Linda even fired up the Old’s convertible and took Sarah on a cruise. While living down there, I hadn’t even seen it fully untarped! We made a mandatory stop at Apple Creek Metals Works, enjoyed a morning within the granite shut-ins of Millstream Gardens and spent the blistering afternoon snorkeled liquid air, submerged in a St Francios River tributary. We were fortunate to have a pod of Ozarkian Longear Sunfish still sitting on beds. We watched them spar and turn the glow of their chromatophores off and on. We even saw circling gyrations of courtship from one lucky pair. This was Sarah’s first river snorkel. A pod of bedding Longear was such a treat.

There were weddings, and festivals, and bicycling, and demo derbies….

By August, the rain had stopped. The landscape began to drain, and summer sandbars finally made their appearance. To our surprise, we weren’t the only ones waiting for the floods to recede. We found the Nocomis excavation team somehow still building mounds, Cyprinella shiners dancing in all their glory below riffles, and sunfish of all sorts on beds. We snorkeled, fished, photographed, cleaned, and cooked what we caught right there. Albeit late, we still had weekends warm enough to enjoy several evenings out.

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