“The June rise used to be always luck for me; because as soon as that rise begins, here comes cord-wood floating down, and pieces of log rafts – sometimes a dozen logs together; so all you have to do is catch them and sell them to the wood yards and sawmill.”
–Quote from Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
I am reading Adventures of Huckleberry Finn right now (mostly because everyone that considers themselves a fair-bit learned says it’s a proper read) and I came across the above paragraph about wood floating down the river. It struck me for two reasons. First off, I see the river every day and can’t help but be drawn to it for the logs that float past my shop. The second, and most appropriate reason, is that it mentions the “June rise”.
I didn’t know the “June rise” was a thing, even though I knew the river was highest in the spring. Personally, I think of June as the summer, but early June is still spring, and this year the rise was in spring and interestingly enough, in June. As a matter of fact, it was June 1st officially, but started with a vengeance on May 31st.
That night we were at the Ameristar Casino, on the Missouri River, in downtown St. Charles for my dad’s retirement party, planning on an upscale night out with the family. We were going to attend the retirement party, go swimming, watch TV in the bathtub (they have TV’s in the bathrooms), probably go swimming again the next morning and go out to breakfast, and just generally live it up as much as possible with our 7-year-old daughter. I say, “We were going to,” because things didn’t go as planned.
After the party, we went to the pool and were told that we would have to get out because a storm with lightning was headed our way. It wasn’t a big deal because we knew that we could swim the next morning, so we headed up to the room to find something else to do. We ended up watching out from the 22nd floor, with a great view, to see the approaching storm and lightning. It looked rather ominous, so we turned on the news to see that a tornado was headed in our general direction, and so, ended our night of fun.
We sheltered in the basement, hearing second-hand damage reports as we waited for it to pass. We weren’t in the basement long, but the hotel lost power, so we spent the rest of the evening in the lobby until the power came back on. When we finally got up to our room, we, of course, looked out the window and could see vast areas of darkness where there should be light, punctuated by areas of bright flashing lights. The tornado had come very close to the hotel and the lights were from emergency response teams. It looked like the tornado might have went close to our house as well, but there was nothing to do that night. All of the power was out and traffic was all locked up because the highway was closed, so we just hung out in our room, watched the news, watched the rain, and went to bed.
When the sun came up, there was some evident damage from high winds, but the most obvious outcome from the storm was the rising river. It was already a little high before this latest storm, and the all-night rain pushed it to flood levels. The water from the river was starting to fill the lower parking lot, making the hotel an island.
As I looked out from the 22nd floor, I could easily see a large segment of the Missouri River, and guess what I saw. Logs, logs and more logs. Huge ones floating right on by, and in good numbers. In just one minute, easily three to four giant trees would go by, along with all the smaller pieces. The “June rise” was on.
As much as I wanted to get all of those logs, it was obviously too dangerous. The water was high and swift, and as far as I could tell, only an idiot would get on the river in those conditions. It didn’t matter right then anyway, because I had to focus on the ramifications of the tornado.
A few days later, as I was looking at some downed trees from the tornado, one of the guys in the conversation mentioned how fast the river can drop in just a day, “like someone pulled the drain plug,” he said. Near the river, he had a house that was flooded the day before and was now on dry land. He also mentioned that he had a lot of trees just float onto his land, as well as some that were knocked over by the tornado.
This got me thinking more about the logs on the river, and that it would be a good time to look for logs or driftwood. But, I didn’t do much about it. I had a never-ending supply of logs right around my shop from the tornado and didn’t need to go looking for trees in the river. Plus, the river was still high, even though it had dropped a lot.
As much as I tried to avoid them, I couldn’t. Within just a couple of days, I was headed across the Missouri River on the Blanchette Bridge back into St. Charles, when I noticed the mother lode. Off to the right, near a parking lot for downtown St. Charles and Frontier Park was the biggest log jam I have ever seen. It was as big as a football field full of logs and driftwood, all piled in tight and screaming my name. It was huge, and I expected that I could pick logs from this pile for a long time. All I had to do was wait for the ground to dry a bit, and I could move in (with the proper clearance, of course). I knew that the logs would be there awhile because every person working for St. Charles was cleaning up the tornado debris and none of them were going to worry about this pile of logs, no matter how big it was, on the banks of the river. Heck, another good rain would take it down river anyway. So, I waited – but not long.
Only two days later, I was headed across the bridge in the same direction and looked down at the giant log jam to see only dirt. A football field-sized piece of real estate that used to be covered in logs, was now just dirt. It was incredible that they could have cleaned up that many logs that fast, but somehow they did. I thought I had plenty of time, but I still missed them, just like the great walnut log I let go downstream at the end of winter.
I told myself it was for the best, and that I didn’t need to chase river logs, but I was sure that the “June rise” had left something for me. It is a big river, and I knew that there were treasures to be found. I held out as long as I could, but then finally, I took the official “plunge”.
It happened a couple of weeks ago and knowing that summer was coming to an end, I went out and picked up five river logs, figuring that I better do it now before the water gets cold. I didn’t find any walnuts this time, but I did find one, in particular, that makes me want to go back. It is a silver maple, like the others that I picked up, but it must have spent more time in the water because the sapwood was very dark, almost black. At the same time, the heartwood looked almost new, making the boards with both sapwood and heartwood have amazing contrast. I was especially excited at how the dark sapwood looks like marble or some other stone. I always say, the less it looks like wood, the better it is.
Here are some photos of my prized log. Click on any of the photos for a closer look and to view the slide show.
The entire log was solid, including the sapwood and produced six slabs up to 22″ wide and 2-3/8″ thick, and in case you were wondering, all of them smell like the bottom of a river. Other than that, milling this log was a completely enjoyable experience. And, even though I can find plenty of logs on land, this one log will have me going back to the river again, especially around June.