Friday, March 27, 2009

Rivers and Streams.

Perhaps we don't all appreciate the rivers as much as we should. When I was coming up I didn't have a lot of connections to them. Sure, I was near enough to the Delaware to realize its importance, but in an immediate sense the only river I was aware of was the one that flowed down the street at the bottom of my hill. It happened so rarely that I was always mesmerized when a flood cascaded waters down the surrounding hills and on to Sumner Avenue. I felt sometimes that I might be compelled to grab an inner-tube and float right down to the Little Lehigh. There was something about the idea of being borne along in the stream that fascinated me. I wasn't scared, but I did have a healthy respect.

When I got a bit older my Dad planned a white water trip for the family. I don't remember where we went, but I think it was in the Poconos and I believe the river-guide company was called Scotty's Tours. Somehow industry had discovered a way to harness that river and create some fairly exciting rapids. We opted for tubes instead of rafts, and that seemed like the proper decision in retrospect. I remember that at one point there was a white wolf traversing the riverbank and keeping an eye on me. He seemed to follow me for miles, but being just a kid I'm sure I lacked the kind of accurate perspective that could delimit the actual physical space covered. Then upon exiting the water, I got assaulted by a stinging insect. It didn't ruin my day or the memory of it.

It was a long time before I had a similarly intense experience on a river, and when it happened it was on the Lower Yough. I was about to get married and my friends wanted to do something unconventional for me. At first there was some animated discussion about whether we should take a structured trip or simply go down by ourselves. Fortunately we rallied to the former. Our six-man boat went down immediately before Dimple Rock, and we were swept underneath. My helmet scraped along its bottom, leaving scuff marks on the yellow plastic. I was the first to emerge, and thus was unable to grab the tow line that was thrown parallel to the spot I surfaced. I took a deep breath and went down the next 100 yards on my back.

Eventually I reached the gateway to the next set of rapids, where a little man in a kayak told me to swim to the bank ("as if" I "had a pair"). It was a bit jarring to be shocked out of my reverie with those words. But I responded well enough that he asked me to grab our raft as it made its way to me. I muscled it to the side and lit a necessary cigarette. My mates were shuckin' and jivin' on dry land as I smoked. When they reached my spot I thought we'd be able to decompress a bit, but an unexpected occurrence arose. It turns out that the raft behind us had also capsized, and one of its inhabitants was unconscious in the water. Kayak-guy was in a panic and needed our help. We jumped in and piloted our hapless vessel directly to the middle of the deluge and plucked our target right out of the water.

We went from zero to hero in the space of about ten minutes. Safely back among the weeds, we were thanked profusely for our timely efficiency and performance. Likely we saved that particular flotilla a bucketload of liability dollars. They invited us to their clubhouse- a micro brewpub ostensibly owned by the operators of our earlier tour. I would make return visits to that drinking hole over the years, but I stayed out of the Lower Yough for awhile. We got banged up on the rock chutes instead. While I'm not anxious to have a repeat performance of that last adventure, I'm certain to seek out rivers throughout my life. There are many more tales I could tell, but they are downstream and for now I'll leave you here in the tall weeds.

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