By Anne Queenan
Seventeen years ago, Dave Meixner was walking through the floodplain forests of Lake Pepin near Bay City, Wisconsin. He stumbled onto an old single story fishing shack. The owner, a second generation commercial fisherman, had spent a lifetime on these backwaters. It was time, however, to find a new owner. The following day, Meixner purchased it.
“I wasn’t really looking, yet, you’re always kind of looking for that perfect place,” he said. When asked what attracted him the most to this land filled with luscious wooded canopies, sloughs and wetlands just off the Mississippi River, he replied, “The water.”
As a native of Pepin, Wisconsin, Meixner grew up actively fishing and swimming on the river. “It was very important to me, then, and still is.”
Through the years the wildlife has engaged Meixner deeply. “I’ll see otters occasionally, and beavers always. Of course there’s a big Eagle’s nest out on the peninsula. All kinds of birds, ducks, insects, and a lot of dragonflies.”
"I only became a photographer because I am here,” said Meixner. As the artist describes daily life in the river’s ecosystem, one appreciates how it is teeming with fish, fauna and flora, all impacted by the shallow and turbid waters. There’s the species who spawn in the backwaters but need deeper waters to overwinter – crappies, large-mouth bass and bluegills. There’s the morning’s visitors: a white-tailed deer, and a snapping turtle scoping out a spot in his sanctuary to lay her eggs - and the nearby call of two pileated woodpeckers. “I have a pair trained to come to my little feeder outside of the workshop – so in the winter time, they come almost every day.” Meixner is a potter of salt glaze stoneware and his newly built studio opens its doors to his kiln standing in front of a backdrop of deep green woodlands.
The frequent spins in his flatbottom boat have resulted in prolific wildlife photography through the years, some of which is featured on Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance’s promotional material. The pelican photos are perhaps most recognizable - a nod to his partner’s thriving bakery in Maiden Rock, The Smiling Pelican Bakeshop. Looking closely at these images, one sees the pelicans sitting on a newly deposited bank of sediment at the front of the lake.
This is a sign of Lake Pepin’s current challenges and a concern that has long been shared by Meixner and Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance.
“We’re going to lose it all, if we don’t address the sediment and erosion issues on this lake, ” said Meixner.