I drove down to Ottawa, IL to begin painting the confluence of the Fox and Illinois Rivers. I crossed the Illinois River in Ottawa, parked in Allen Park and hiked up to the top of the ridge on the east side of the bridge. From there you can look out over the Illinois River to see the Fox River come down and enter the Illinois from the northeast. The sun was just rising and a lustrous low, pale, and cold November light reflected from the surface of the Illinois River; the Fox entered in a darker shade of blue.
The difference between the Fox and Illinois rivers is immediately apparent when a towboat pushing an immense barge quietly churns up or down on the Illinois. The Illinois is a no nonsense business-first river. It is likely that neither European settlers or their descendants ever fathomed the Illinois River as anything other than a public utility. Locks and dams have added muscle to the river and the big barges continue to attest to the reach of human power and will. Whatever similar industrial plans white settlers may have laid for the Fox River, those plans, by now, have wearied considerably. The Fox River is something like a river gone quietly into retirement; a river finding new life after work.
For me the confluence was an emotional scene. I watched the Fox, pride of the bigger towns, Elgin, St. Charles, Geneva, Batavia, Aurora, Oswego, Yorkville come gingerly down and empty itself into the heavier waters of the Illinois. I knew I was looking at the end of the Fox River. In that moment I was glad for the noiseless concentration of painting, a proper hush in which to behold this ironic departure performed as an entrance.