Our first year on the Sangamon

One evening a few years back, our teenage daughter informed Carol and me how she was having trouble fitting in with the popular crowd in Junior High. So she wanted us to move from our little house in Philo to a new town.
Naturally, we informed her that teenage girls were teenage girls no matter where you live and that our family was “absolutely NOT moving to a new town” just because she felt like she wasn’t fitting in. In life, you need to learn to stay and face your problems.
So (just as naturally), she continued to diligently comb the local Real Estate Guide looking for a new home for us in a new town.

“Here’s one: five bedrooms and seven baths in Mahomet for $1.2 mill” Seven baths?? A million bucks?? “Here’s a cheaper one: 27 acres in the country with guest house (thoughtfully, for her Nana), $800,000.” Cheaper? 27 acres?? No. No. No!
“Here’s another that the ad says is ’nestled in the heart of mother nature’ for $195 grand” Hmmm. So we took a drive (score for local realtor Vicki Cook).
And it turned out to be a quaint little wooden cabin on three hilly, heavily forested acres on the Sangamon River. We made an offer the next day. Shrewdly, our offer was several thousand less than the asking price, but the owner of this wooded lot, whose name was (I am NOT making this up) “Forrest”, didn’t budge. Living here, I could get that. I tried to negotiate, but I ended up giving him his asking price. I think Forrest (and Vicki?) knew that the Sangamon River had me from hello.
As it happened, a year or so earlier Hurricane Katrina had blown a millionaire up from New Orleans to live right beside us in little Philo (I am NOT making this up). So I knocked on his door and asked if he wanted to buy my house. He asked how much and I thought of the highest amount I could reasonably ask for, and he said “well, I’ll give you 5 grand less since you won’t have realtor’s commissions” (sorry, Vicki). And we were off to the Sangamon River.
We spent that summer in a labor of love fixing up our beautiful new property. We mowed the low area where Crooked Creek joins the Sangamon River in our backyard. We removed debris that had carelessly been tossed in the river over the years: a washer, part of a television, a few tires, an old barrel, steel cable, lots of concrete and bricks, yes, and even a kitchen sink.
I owned a canoe, and within a month had bought my first kayak to explore our new wild and wonderful river. I began exploring the great unknown upstream, machete strapped to the front of my kayak. Downstream only a few hundred yards was a massive and impassable ten foot tall log jam. I wondered how I might clear it out a bit (locals recommended dynamite).
But eventually, I ventured around the jam and explored downstream to Lake of the Woods and beyond. In the Sangamon we had definitely found a treasure, a peaceful refuge from the world around, shrouded in green trees, and always cool on hot summer days.
As winter settled in, the river continued to rise, and the temperature dropped to 15 degrees for a week. The log jam had slowed the current and the river froze thick and solid. So we cleared off the snow and broke out the ice skates, a unique thrill for a guy that grew up in Florida.
The next spring, the massive ‘icebergs’ flowing down the melting river churned and wedged our downstream logjam completely out of existence, opening the river on its own. It seems the serene Sangamon can manage impressive feats of force and flood when it wants to. As flowers and trees blossomed and leaves turned to green and flooding continued, I paddled among the trees in the forest across the river. Every season on the Sangamon brought us a new face and new excitement. What a great place!
So when your teenage daughter informs you she’s having trouble fitting in at Junior High and that she wants your family to move to a new town, inform her that teenagers are pretty much teenagers no matter where you go. And tell her that besides, in life, you shouldn’t run away from your problems, you should stay and face them.
Appeared as Notes from the River, Mahomet Citizen, Sept. 21, 2011

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