Madison Monday: Pontooning on the Ohio River, Part 2–Upriver

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The Milton-Madison bridge
This Monday, while most of the country will be enjoying a labor free day, I will be returning to labor after a nine month break. Maybe that’s karma. Every year at my college, classes start on Labor Day. “Why?” people are always asking. I have no idea. To compound the general misery of returning to classes? Because of a fierce historical hostility to labor unions? I don’t know. It’s just the way it is. So think of me as you’re lounging around.

So this Monday, I’m going back in time to last weekend, when I took another pontoon trip on the Ohio with my husband and couple of friends, this time up the river. We again had beautiful weather, lovely wine, delicious food. We cruised under the Milton-Madison bridge, and close to the coffer dams around the pilings. I’m not sure exactly what coffer dams are, but they allow the construction crews to work on the pilings below the water line of the river. The bridge, built in 1927, has good pilings, but the superstructure needs some work. So the engineering firm will be moving the old structure onto temporary pilings while they build the new superstructure on top of the old. This process will result in only 10 days of bridge closing as opposed to the original projections of something like 200 days of bridge closing. When it happens, it should also be pretty damn cool to watch.

The weird…scupture?
Upriver from Madison, we discovered this….I don’t know exactly what you’d call this. A sculpture? A graveyard for things the river has taken? A shrine to the river gods? It was a collection of odds and ends…a plastic bunny, an ironing board, a toy castle, a fish skeleton. There is a local sculptor in town who makes art out of river debris…usually driftwood. But this collection was different, and kind of eerie. It had all clearly been arranged, and we decided was meant to be interactive, so we added to the collection one of our wine bottles. Is that technically littering?

We decided to cruise up the Indian-Kentuck River, on the Indiana side of the river. This river had two bridges, the second one no longer in use but very cool-looking. The Indian-Kentuck is much narrower than the Ohio, and so this part of the trip was ever so suggestive of Apocalypse Now or The Heart of Darkness. Or maybe that was just me.

The Indian-Kentuck

We stopped on the Indian-Kentuck to eat dinner, and drifted into the shore. By the time we finished and headed back for the Ohio, it was getting dark, but not quite. The water below us in the Indian-Kentuck was shaded by the tunnel of trees on either side and was dark beneath us, and the sky was just barely visible above. We had to look out ahead of us for snags, but there was a firm sense of what was what–land, water, sky, trees. And then we turned the corner and out into the broad Ohio.

I imagine back in the day when people traveled up and down the Ohio on a regular basis they saw the river in all kinds of lights, at all times of day, in all kinds of weather. If you’re a person who goes on the river regularly, I imagine this is something you still get to see. But I had never seen the river look this way. In this particular light, the river was like a wide lake of silver. The banks on either sides were dark silhouettes, but it was impossible to tell that it was a river at all anymore. The place where the river disappeared around the next curve was lost in the seamless backdrop of black hills. And the water beneath us glowed. The sky above was still blue, and dotted by an occasional cloud. But none of that was reflected in the river. The river seemed to be glowing with its own light. It was the brightest thing going.

And on that bright pool of liquid light, we zipped home, past a barge which I could see only as we were right beside it. Back under the bridge and to the lights of Madison. It was already getting chilly, and made us look forward to a fall cruise, when the leaves begin to turn.

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