It's been called the windiest river in the world, the beautiful Kickapoo. I don't know if that's true but there is no doubt that old river does a lot of turnin'. It winds back and forth, east and west as it gently flows south through these lush Kickapoo mountains.
The river is a mirror for its beautiful surroundings. It truly reflects the peacefulness and natural beauty of the Kickapoo Valley.
The Kickapoo passes under many bridges that connect country roads throughout the valley. There was a time, not too long ago, when the bridges were built up to 10 feet high, with iron girders and braces holding them together and a bed of thick oak planks.
Over time, many of these old bridges took on the color of dark rusty brown as nature tried to reclaim them. They became a work of art and somehow seemed to fit right in with the natural landscape.
It's fun to drive across one, slowing down a little to get a glimpse of the river below. From such a bridge I may spot a pair of mallards or wood ducks swimming in the slow current. A great blue heron may be standing along the banks and a beaver or muskrat may paddle from shore to shore.
There are only a few of these classic old bridges remaining in the Kickapoo Valley. My favorite bridge is a place where the river road winds back in the opposite direction. I get a nice view of the bridge before I get to it or after I pass over it. I also get an extra peek at the river the same way.
Here, the banks of the Kickapoo are covered with lush tall grass and tall green trees. The gray skeletons of dead elm trees are scattered through the foliage, making good open perches for birds. I often see an egret, heron or hawk standing on them. You may also see kingfishers, woodpeckers, crows, vultures, blackbirds, swallows and other surprises. Since I'm always on the lookout for birds, I try to remember where these old dead elm trees are while I'm driving.
Last time I crossed the bridge, a kingfisher sat on the top, watching the water for minnows. He gave me his chattering laugh as he flew off up stream. A small group of painted turtles basked in the warm sun on a half-submerged log, while dragonflies danced across the water.
Exiting the bridge, I caught a glimpse of dark red. I slowed to nearly a stop as I gazed at a brilliant male scarlet tanager. He was perched on a dead elm tree branch, only 6 feet off the ground. He let me get a good look at him and I was very thankful.
The old bridges of the Kickapoo River bring back memories of the times I spent as a young man. The rivers that I explored then were the Little and Big Sugar Rivers in southern Wisconsin. Like the Kickapoo, these rivers wind through the pastures and fields of this beautiful Wisconsin farmland.
There once were many of these old style bridges spanning these rivers, too, but today most of them have been replaced with cement. I do not doubt that the old bridges pose a safety problem and need to be replaced. I just wish the new bridges had the same graceful characters of the old ones.
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