When I was young, canoeing Minnehaha Creek was a favorite summer pastime. My dad used to tuck four kids (me, my brother, and two cousins) into one boat and pilot us through south Minneapolis’ watery wilds. In the spring, when the creek was especially high, we would have to choose between portaging the canoe across busy streets or squeezing through the culverts underneath them, kids ducking below the gunwales while Dad lay back on the stern and shimmied us along using the overhanging pipes.
By the time I was in college, my family no longer had the boat, but we still had the life jackets. So one 90-degree day, seeking relief from the heat, my friends and I decided to clip on the orange vests, jump into the creek, and let the current carry us.
At first soak, we were delighted with the benefits of floating: We could ride feet first, in a seated position, or roll onto our stomachs and swim. Floating brought us up close and personal with waterfowl and rapids. We dodged snags, logs, and trash; we skirted some foul-smelling foam swirling in an eddy. A roiling branch chased us like a writhing sea serpent, our shrieks echoing through the next culvert.
As the streets passed by alphabetically, we peeked into backyards abutting the creek, and surprised a guy cutting his lawn. We linked legs around waists to form a train, amusing some children bouncing on a trampoline.
“What are you guys doing?” they giggled.
“We’re a human boat!” we hollered back.
Experiencing nature in such an accessible, social form was a way to breathe life into the paved existence of city living, instead of running away from it. It was equal parts urban and outdoor adventure.
Cold, wet, bruised, and exhilarated, we emerged from the banks near Mount Olivet church. When I was younger, we would have lounged in the grass while Dad jogged home and got the car. But this time, in a stroke of pre-planned ingenuity, we pulled a few dollar bills out of a Ziploc bag and hopped the #4 bus, standing in the aisle so as not to soak the seats.
The other bus riders gave our vest-clad trio the once-over, from dripping hair to sopping sneakers. And then, fulfilling the unspoken code of the city, they ignored us, just as they would any other commuter.