Monday, January 13, 2014

THE RIVER, Part Four

The metal edge of the upside-down canoe tightened its grip on my leg, pulling me down deeper into the water.

I tried to free myself, but couldn't. The only way I could free myself, I knew in a slow-motion instant, was to injure myself.

And knew that whatever injury I sustained would be nothing compared to what would occur if I did not act. And act NOW.

I pulled myself free, feeling the canoe tear the tissue along my thigh in one blinding flash of pain.

The canoe shot under the tree and came up the other side, sending up a great wave of water on our side that tossed us over the tree like rag dolls—sharp branches ripping my shirt and scraping my chest—and landed us on the sandy shore of the island.

I was dazed. My thigh was numb and stung at the same time. I sat up and looked at it, and to my horror saw a huge blood-streaked bruise several inches in diameter—the damage so deep that to this day, 15 years later, I can touch that area as I write this and feel a lump of dead tissue.

Meanwhile, Jim had gone back into the water and was struggling with the canoe, trying to pull it free of the whirlpool. I went to help him—wincing as the water touched my bruise—and we wrestled the canoe free and carried it to shore. Then we went back into the water and began working fast, grabbing things on the perimeter of the whirlpool and tossing them onto shore and hurrying back for more.

We worked our way towards the things bobbing around in the center of the whirlpool—but the swirl was so strong we could not keep our footing. We had to grab hold of low hanging branches and climb out over the whirlpool and reach down to grab our things—paddles, backpacks, bottles of water, this and that—out of the vortex.

We managed to save everything except for our lunch meat, ice, soda pops, and other things that fell out of the ice chest, and one of Jim’s shoes, which the whirlpool flung around the island into the open river. We watched it float away, too tired to catch it.

Jim took his remaining shoe and threw it into the water. “Those were my river shoes,” he said. “I always wore them when I came out here. Well, they belong to the river now.”

I sat down and looked at my bruise. It was really starting to hurt. It burned and throbbed. Jim saw it for the first time. “Oh my god!” he exclaimed.

Fortunately, I had thought to bring a first-aid kit. I took out the cold pack, but couldn’t snap it open. Jim opened it, and I placed it on the bruise. It started giving me some relief.

I remembered my wallet, and reaching into the back pocket of my shorts was relieved to find it still there. But the dollar bills inside were soaked. I spread them out on the ground, anchored them with rocks to keep them from blowing away, and let them dry in the sun.

Then I took inventory of the items in my backpack. Some water had leaked in, but not much. I looked through the lens of my camera; it was blurry with water. Only time would tell if it was damaged.

I checked our stash. Everything was dry. I had had the foresight to pack everything—joints, lighter, mushrooms—inside a quadruple layer of plastic bags inside the backpack. I lit a joint.

Jim was surprised when I handed it to him. “You saved the dope!” he exclaimed.

“Yes,” I said, “I know my priorities.” We smoked, staring at the whirlpool, and were quiet a long time. Then Jim said, “That was stupid.”

“Yes it was,” I said, “but we're alive.”


“Yeah, we shouldn't have rowed into that situation blind.”

“Don't tell George about this.”

“I won't.”

“He'll call us amateurs. 'Rank amateurs,' that's what he'll say.”

“What should we do now? Do you want to camp here? Seems as good a place as any, and I'm in no hurry to get back on the river.”

Jim thought a minute. “No,” he said, “the sleeping bags are wet, we don't have any ice, and you're injured.”

“I'm okay, I think.”

He looked at my bruise. “I don't know. That's the worst bruise I've ever seen. It might get infected. You could get blood poisoning. No, let's push on. I’ve had it with this damn river. I want to sleep in my own bed tonight.”

We loaded the canoe and rowed away from the island. This time I put on my life jacket, but Jim continued using his for a seat cushion.

Jim said, “I’ll row. You rest.”

“I can row.”

Jim shook his head. “No, we’ve got a long way to go. You take it easy. Stay hydrated. I'll row.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, I did all the rowing when Eddie Ray had his heat stroke. I can do it now.”

(To be continued …)