Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Tale of Two Girls and a Canoe

Here is the tale of two girls -- girls of a certain age; one girl a skilled canoer, the other a canoe virgin -- on the river, this past Saturday morning.

After pondering where we might begin this first canoe lesson, we set out for the canoe launch at the Outer Podunk North Park. (Outer Podunk may be a humble, financially down-and-out small town, but they do have a remarkable city park that twists and turns along a local river the entire length of the town, with amenities ranging from a campground to tennis and basketball courts to hiking trails to a skateboard park. And, of course, a canoe launch.) I had been told that, as occupant of the front seat, my job was principally to look out for obstacles; that I could luxuriate in my newbie-ness by not doing a whole lot else.

Well, good Lutheran that I am, I chafe under this type of restriction. We are bred to be helpful. So I kept pleading with Fellow Traveler, "Please tell me what to do." "Tell me what to do." "Can I paddle now?" "What side of the canoe should I be paddling from?" "Just tell me what to do." "I want you to hold your paddle in your lap and tell me what's ahead of you," FT told me at one point.

Nonetheless, I got a rudimentary idea of how to help steer the canoe left and right. I enjoyed the scenery surrounding the river. We periodically encountered a pair of ducks that seemed to be following us. At one point we passed a school of trout -- at least a dozen nice-sized ones -- that to me was incredibly exciting.

And then things got interesting.

The wind picked up. The river flow increased. We met up with more large rocks and snags in the water. FT and I couldn't keep in synch, and it was hard for me to remember that she really couldn't see past me. We hit some rocks along the river's edge. We ran into overhanging brush. I was becoming increasingly frustrated with myself. What am I even doing here? I thought. I can't even swim. I am utterly incompetent to be on the water. I got short with FT when I heard what sounded like an exasperated groan behind me. "LOOK -- I HAVE NEVER DONE THIS BEFORE," I snapped. "YOU NEED TO TELL ME WHAT TO DO."

All of a sudden I heard a yelp from the back of the canoe: "The camera!" Our camera case had popped out of FT's life vest and was now headed down the river, sinking as it tumbled along.

I uttered a word that is probably illegal for canoers in Michigan to speak aloud in the presence of women and children.

This wasn't going well.

But the relative good news was, we were now at the South Park beach, about a mile from our launch point, and had a chance to rest and regroup in the relative civilization of the weekend park crowd. The purple camera case had come to rest in some sand and was visible to us. FT decided that, on the return trip up the river, we could try to push the camera onto the river's-edge rocks with a paddle and retrieve it by hand.

We set out again...and immediately ran aground on a sandbar. We backed up; ran aground; backed up; ran aground. Again, I felt as if I were impeding our progress by not knowing what to do. But finally we moved forward, with difficulty. The camera case was out of reach.

"Here's the plan," FT advised. "We're going back onto the beach. I am going to wade into the river and get the camera."

I looked at her in disbelief. It was a nippy morning, and the camera was lodged in a deeper spot in the river. "Let's just forget the camera," I pleaded. "It's just a camera."

FT waded into the water, up to her waist. She tried to reach into the water; the camera case was too deep. "I'm going in," she called out to me as I stood on the beach. Soon she was underwater.

She was able to grab the camera...but the sand was grabbing the camera, and her...she was only able to get back to shore with difficulty, stumbing on an underwater rock and bruising her calf in the process. And she was freezing cold.

"Here's an idea," I said. "You wait here; I'll walk back to the Jeep and drive it back here and we'll forget about canoeing back." FT, now sitting on a park bench shivering, nodded weakly. I turned around and race-walked double-time all the way back to North Park and the Jeep.

Armed with coffee and a blanket, I headed back to South Park. FT was talking to a young woman with a dog. It turned out that the woman had apparently initially thought FT was a disoriented street person, sitting there dripping wet in the 60-ish temperatures. Once she heard the story, she stayed with FT until I got there, and helped us get the canoe back onto the Jeep.

We sped back home. FT took a very hot shower and wrapped up in some quilts, while I made coffee and hot soup. FT told me that if she ever again announces that she is going to do something as chowderheaded as diving for a camera in a freezing-cold river, I am to tell her, using every expletive in the dictionary, that that is not acceptable. We also Saturday-afternoon-quarterbacked my own maiden voyage. FT said that I actually did very well for someone who had never been canoeing before; that my big problem was trying too hard; not enjoying what is supposed to be an enjoyable, laid-back recreational activity; becoming too panicky and too impatient with myself.

"That's why I'd make a terrible Buddhist," I noted.

" you think you'll remember your first canoe trip?" asked FT.

But wait...there's more.

By afternoon FT had thawed out sufficiently to get ready for some Amishing and dinner out with a friend of ours in a neighboring county. As we were tipping the canoe off the Jeep, it suddenly gained momentum and I lost my grip on my end; Cody had wandered underneath the boat, and it seemed the canoe was going to hit him full force. "CODY!" I screamed, diving for my end of the canoe. Cody scuttled out from underneath just in time, but the edge of the canoe whacked me right in the temple, sucking the breath out of me and making stars swirl before my eyes for a second. I am now sporting a painful shiner on the side of my head. Who knew canoeing was a contact sport?

Despite all was a good day. It really was. I am undeterred in my goal of learning how to do this. And we'll probably go out again before the snow flies. On our pond.

1 comment:

RevHRod said...

Such a good story. I could see the whole thing in my head. I look forward to hearing about your next water adventure.