We called ourselves the ‘Wild Men’. Pat Waldron, Don Brenneman, Jerry Smith, Michael Klute and others took this trip with me at different times. The very first time we just tied logs together with rope and climbed on. The raft immediately sank but then rose until it stabilized about an inch below the surface. That was good enough for us and we were off on our first trip down the river! The River was not the same as it is today. By the 1960s it had become a repository for sewage, trash, tires, refrigerators, and even waste from local factories. We floated under the cement arches of the main Street bridge, down past the pool hall, past the cement plant, under the railroad bridge, alongside the spur line that carried fruit to Benton Harbor. We passed Kawneer’s, around the island near the mouth of Dowagiac Creek, we could see the back of Lena’s Resturaunt, high up on the River Bluff. Then the river opened up. There were a few fishing shanties, a campfire, maybe a lone fisherman standing on the shore. Our adventure became a trip back in time. We could imagine the long canoes of the French explorers, smoke from the fires at Weesaw’s village, Mound builders, a thousand years earlier. Suddenly a huge creature rose up from along the banks of the river. It was unlike anything we had ever seen, a pterodactyl, misplaced in the wrong century! With it’s crooked neck, enormous wingspan, and feet trailing behind it glided ahead of us, just inches above the water.
Our reflection back in time was extended to prehistoric times, thousands of years ago! The river has been home to our generation and many before it. But, long before the bridges that have come and gone, before the inter urban that ran along it’s banks, before the ferry, or the stage coaches that crossed it, before the Carey Mission, or Fort St. Joseph, , the Potawatomi, or even the first of the mound builders it was home, and still is, to this bird- the great blue heron.