There are rocks, and then there are sneaky rocks.
The sneaky rocks are just below the surface waiting to bump your kayak and make you jump. I was so focused on the rocks I didn't even notice I went from the Namekagon to the St. Croix the first time. Since then, I have gone back and made a point of ignoring the sneaky rocks and looking at what is going on around me at the confluence of these two rivers.
Falling rain washes over the northern Wisconsin landscape pulling pieces of the land into the Namekagon River, through runoff. These waters flow into the St. Croix River, then into the Mississippi, through the heartland of America, and out into the warm ocean currents of the Gulf of Mexico.
Runoff carries excess nutrients into our waters from urban and agricultural lands, and wastewater treatment facilities. It carries contaminants like mercury, and excess amounts of sediment from erosion. These pieces of the land decrease the water quality here, and in waters downstream.
Water quality in the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway is considered exceptional. Many sample sites north of St. Croix Falls, Wis. exceed what the EPA calls a "reference site," with little-to-no degradation. It is comforting to know the water beneath my kayak at the confluence is so pristine. Being born and raised on the southern part of the St. Croix, I know the water doesn't stay this way on its trip downstream.
Sometimes it's hard to grasp how much influence we have over our water by the way we treat our lands. Runoff can be sneaky and subtle. The pieces of the land impacting water quality aren't as obvious as the rock scraping the bottom of my kayak.
At each confluence pieces of the land are passed onto the next river and the next community. From the Namekagon, to the St. Croix, to the Mississippi, and then the ocean - we cannot just focus on the rocks immediately below us, because we miss the quality of the big picture around us.