Pulling Together Under Dark Clouds

It was 10 or 11 o’clock one morning when the weather decided to turn on us, and created a black cloud of thunderstorms that would follow us for the next couple days. A couple times we stopped when the lightning was so close that it made us nearly blind. 

The first time, it was around lunchtime, so we set up our fly and made some macaroni and cheese. We all huddled close to the fire, each of us trying to get closer, but not too close, because the rubber on our shoes would melt and burn our wet and soggy feet.

As soon as we got on the water again, our day was brightened. Not by the sun or the weather, but by the sight of a bull moose hanging out on the bank, chewing his lunch while enjoying the shower. So we weren’t the only crazy ones!

I can still remember him so clearly; the medium-sized antlers that were still in velvet and the nose. He was half horse and half elk. As he blundered into the vacuum of the woods, otherwise known as the bush, I remember seeing his tracks left in the mud; a record of his being there. And us, we just left the wake that trailed behind our canoes being propelled by our strong, definite paddle-strokes and the green paint left on the rocks we rubbed against.

Shortly after we passed the moose, we were awakened to the reality of another thunderstorm and had to stop for the second time. This time, there was no place on the bank to get out, so we just hung onto some overhanging bushes. The storm was so close that we could actually hear the thunder echo off the large, branchless poplar trees, which frequented that part of the river.

But the important point was that it was four o’clock p.m. and we had only gone half the distance to the nearest campsite; the unfortunate weather hindering our progress. At around six o’clock, it started getting dark and our paddle-strokes were not so definite anymore; they questioned what lay ahead as did we.

When we lined, our footing was unsure and some of us fell into the cold water will all our warm clothes on. But as we kept paddling, our body heat warmed us up.

At eight o’clock, we started encountering the meanders that would bring us to our campsite.

We all started thinking, ”Hey, this isn’t so bad: in fact, it’s kind of fun!”

Cliff jumping on the Palisade River. John Vick is airborne. Nick Choremi and Michael Hunt are on deck.   Photo: Dave Chapin

At nine o’clock we pulled into the campsite, which wasn’t much to speak of, but it sure looked like heaven to me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t slip into my nice, warm, dry sleeping bag yet. There was work to do: dinner to be 

made, wood to be cut down, sawed and split, and tents to be set up. We all pitched in and were finished in 45 minutes.

In fact, we all pitched in that entire day and the entire trip. And that’s what this summer was all about. Teamwork. That’s what I want to preserve.

                        Reed Ryan, 1998

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