By Mark Gnewuch
Editor’s note: Mark Gnewuch from Milwaukee is the brother-in-law of Stephen Fritze, the kayaker who has been missing in the Minnesota River since June 15. He is here with family as the search continues.
We went down to the river today. Whether I was looking at the Cottonwood or Minnesota was beyond me until I spotted the sign before the bridge on the side of the road. I caught the kind of glimpse of the river one usually gets from a car passing on a bridge.
I parked the car beyond the bridge near the muddy shoulder. His sister got out from the passenger side, his brother from the backseat. We followed a puddled path down towards the river’s edge which on the day of its crest was apparently close. The only way this was evident to me was from the quarter-soaked trees and the half-drowning graffiti on the side of the bridge.
Looking towards the edge, one can see small paths, which from the two cigarette butts and squashed beer can suggest previous trots to the edge. The water was dirty, pooled, and bouncing with mosquitos. Staring at the pool apparently formed since the last time his sister and brother visited over the course of a muddled couple of days his sister holds back every instinct to scream his name. It’s so gentle down there. Staring through the trees, trying to catch a glimpse of the motorboat speeding upstream, his brother, kneeling in the woods, leans in for the sound of his voice.
It’s so calm down there. Maybe if we could get a better look. We walk to the bridge. Cars slow to 45 as we stroll to its middle. Silence above, anything but below. The crest and the newly formed edge have fooled this city dweller. Whether I was looking up river or down, I couldn’t tell you. I have not read that back story. But from the looks of it, the river could care less. It knew where it was headed, and it had to get there fast.
We lean in silence. In the distance that flowed toward us, I caught sight of an object that formed whatever I wanted it to. In this case it took his image. You stare, but the distance closes fast faster than the pool would want you to believe and one realizes that it belongs to the brunt of a tree two, three, four, five times that of any man. Nevertheless, you get fooled two, three, four, five times because you know that you need to be.
I looked back at the river’s edge where the water recently pooled. I compare it to the river. The difference between the two is the same as that between us and the motorists on the bridge. His sister says she can hear boats or something in the water upstream or down, again the river doesn’t seem to mind. And it hits you what kind of beast this thing is especially comparing it to the back story that I know: The one where the beast is a tame and dirty afterthought. This however, this is the roaring kind, from the unforgiving variety, and the story’s central character. But as we returned to the car and left the beast, I’m not quite certain that it was the roar of the dragon that hits us. It was the whisper from somewhere deep inside it.
As the search and rescue turns undramatically to search and recover, it is the faint hum of the boats, the pebble-drop sounds of distant splashing of unknown tools, and the echoing of coordinated yells that strike with such force. No longer are the ones who search doing this for the lost. The ones who search are doing it for the ones who lost for us. We are the ones who sit in the pool as the world flows swiftly past seemingly unknowingly. For a time we have flowed over the banks to this unknown place of unknowns. But it is for those who motor against the current and stay even when others leave all for us that we are so very, very thankful. From his sister, his brothers, his mom, his dad, his wife, his daughters, and those who flow in between, we are eternally grateful for your patient, relentless search.