Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The day we almost ‘bought it’

I’d never been in a canoe until just after I was married, but I fell in love with the sport nearly as soon as I discovered it. Our first canoeing excursions were on the quiet Chain O’ Lakes near Waupaca, Wisconsin – a place with no motorboats, no current – just still, calm waters, sometimes deep, other times so shallow you had to get out, pick up your canoe and carry it.

As often happens in life, a short time later canoeing took a back seat to everything else – working, caring for kids and laundry and yards and homes and all those other things that tug at our lives when we’re just, well, “living,” I guess.

Decades after those first canoe trips, my husband and I were on a mini-vacation to Missouri. We spent a couple days in Branson, and then meandered our way back across the bottom – the hilly, curvy bottom – of that state, eventually working our way back up to the little town of Eminence on the Current River, where we planned to canoe.

We arrived shortly after a period of heavy rains, so the river was “high and fast,” we were warned. Yes, it was a lot different than the canoeing we’d done in Wisconsin in our much younger years, but we felt pretty good about how well we worked together paddling the canoe.

Gee, maybe we still had it after all those years, after all.

“We should do this more often,” we thought.

Our confidence regained, sometime later we journeyed down to Eminence again, maybe the same year, maybe the next. The exact time doesn’t matter as much as the adventure itself. This time we took our then teenaged daughter with us. Years spent canoeing at summer camp – first as a camper, later as a counselor – made her well-qualified as a companion on our river jaunt.

This time, the water was lower and slower. We went along quite well, until we came to a log jam. As we tried to skirt it, the current grabbed our canoe, flipped it, and before we knew what happened, the power of the water sucked the canoe upside down. It rested on the river bottom, wedged against a brush pile.

The water was over our heads and none of us had the strength or stamina to dive down and turn the canoe upright. We knew we were in deep doo-doo. We’d been on the river more than two hours and only seen a couple other canoes, but we knew we couldn’t get out of this jam without some help.

We waited for what seemed like forever, though it was probably only an hour. Then, we heard a noise, not coming downstream as we had, but up. It was a Missouri native in a john boat with a small motor. We explained our dilemma and asked if he could let the outfitters know of our plight. He did better than that. This kind soul offered to dive down, un-wedge the boat and turn it upright. He even dove down a second and a third time to retrieve our belongings.

What was the likelihood that that man would have the day off work, be out fishing with his kids and come upon us, stranded there on the river?

We still marvel at that and we still breathe a sigh of relief – or is it a prayer of thanksgiving or both? – that we didn’t go down with the “ship” the day we almost bought it on the Current River.

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012

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