Picnic Boat

This blog recently auto-renewed itself. Had I been thinking ahead I might have returned the blog to a free state. Now I feel as though I need to make use of my inadvertent purchase. Like a new year’s resolution I move forward with naive determination. I’ve found myself ruminating on youthful experiences lately. The following is one of those. As I nag my children to get outside, to be adventurous, to put down their devices I’m drawn to my own childhood. Those were days of the Sega and Nintendo but we couldn’t download games from the cloud. We collected enough pop-bottles to cash in at the store for the deposit money. We walked clear across town to the video store and rented games that we played for as long as the rental allowed. I am left with a sense of nostalgia and longing for the 90s. Will my children tell stories like these?

The dust from the gravel road was thick and curled like the wake of a boat from the back of my buddy’s Dodge Neon. My memory puts me at about 15 but maybe I was older. Certainly, no younger? Scott was the friend with a car. He was a little older than the rest of us so we looked up to him. His car didn’t hurt either. He had a pretty steady job working for the local grocery store and he spent his money on the thing we all wanted, a new car. It was the mid-ninteis. The internet wasn’t much of anything then. We spent our time chasing girls and endless hours cruising the streets of our small town. We’d shake out the piggy bank for 5 dollars in gas and a bag of burgers from McDonalds.

On this sunny summer day we conspired to go camping. We loaded Scott’s Neon with food, tents, fishing polls and friends. The memory of it is foggy but, outside of Scott, Jeff was certainly there. I can’t place our fourth friend: Josh, Dayna, Jesse? There was at least 4 of us. We had no particular destination in mind when we made our plans. We headed out on the Batnuni road in search of a lake we’d never been to before. The backroad map book conveniently marked forestry campsites. These were sites developed by the forest industry; I suspect to support logging operations at some point. We settled on a little lake not far from the main logging road. If memory serves, the name of the lake was Boat Lake.

If the lake supported boats of any kind they would have been canoes. It was a small lake. An equally small creek found its way there too past the campsite. That evening we stayed up late around a campfire, completely alone. These forestry sites were remote enough that company was rare. They were rough places with an outhouse or two, a few picnic tables, and space for vehicles of all types. We’d have crawled into our tent well after midnight. That didn’t stop us, however, from getting up with the dawn.

I took my fly rod down to the lake where that little creek ran in to it. The creek brought with it sand from the land it travelled and created a little sandbar that allowed an enterprising fisherman to walk out into the lake. I caught a hand-full of lake trout in the first few hours of the morning. We roasted those trout over the morning campfire like hotdogs on fresh cut willow branches.

After breakfast I went back to the lake to try again. They must have been good because I recall a heavy desire to catch a few more. As morning passed into early afternoon the fish simply were not biting. They were jumping out in the lake way beyond the reach of my line. What I needed was a boat. I left the lake and presented the problem to my friends. We soon had a solution.

At the edge of the lake, atop a short bank above the water, was an old picnic table. The seats had long since broken and the table top was warped and unusable. Some enterprising individual  with a chain saw had likely constructed it years ago. The table’s supports were large logs that looked perfectly designed to be pontoons. Its usefulness as a table spent, we made plans to convert it into a raft. With some help from my buddies we managed to extricate the relic from the earth that had grown up all around it and push it over the bank into the lake.

I stripped down to just my shorts and climbed aboard. I used a rock to hammer nails worked from the table’s boards flat and then to construct a fairly level raft, while bits of it floated away. I am sure it could support no more weight than my own; else, there would certainly have been more than one of us aboard when I launched out into the lake? I was shirtless, a 90s Tom Sawyer, eager to score some big fish out on a placid lake. In my possession was my fly-rod and, oddly, a towel. I wore nothing but shorts. The memory of it includes the sensation of the cool water of the lake over my bare feet.

The lake was calm when I paddled out into the midst of it. The fish seemed to sense my coming and I had no better luck than I had at shore. The sun was rising and the temperature with it. I wasted a little time diving off my raft and enjoying the cool of the lake. I can’t recall if there was any prior warning. There likely were signs that went unheeded. The wind, in my memory at least, rolled in suddenly. With the wind came the waves breaking white over my makeshift water craft. I was suddenly nervous. The wind was blowing me out across the lake. I paddled with a wide wood plank that once served as a seat. Broken as it was it made a better seat than a paddle. I was moving out further into the lake and I felt as thought I had already passed my safe swimming distance, besides I could not leave my fishing rod to be swept away.

I jumped into the lake and tried to push the raft against the wind. It was futile. The raft was more likely to run me over than move against that wind. In the end I gave up. I crawled up on the raft and watched the shore from whence I came retreat into the distance. I am sure I prayed then, to do so is in my nature. I can’t recall that prayer and I don’t know that there was any miraculous intervention. Spoiler, I’m still here. Don’t be too alarmed, you’ll recall this was a small lake. All I could do was wait for the raft to blow across the lake where I could disembark and walk back through the woods to my friends. I laid down on my back and pulled the towel over my face and torso to protect me from the sun. I’d had enough sun already and I could feel the slight itch of a coming burn. I lapsed into sleep.

I awoke as the raft bumped up against the far shore. It would only be a few kilometres of walking but I stared into the empty forest before me. There were no roads, no known paths, no civilization, but there were clearly thorns and rocky ways ahead. I looked at my naked feet. I tore my towel in half and then two strips from the halves. I made a couple crude moccasins and then wasted no time in setting out for safety.

I don’t recall how long it took me to make that trek. It wasn’t an insignificant period of time. When I rolled into camp I discovered that an older couple in an RV had arrived some time during my absence. My friends had already endeared themselves to the couple. The couple had invited them into the RV and they were enjoying hearty bowls of borscht. They were pleased to see me. They’d watched helplessly as I drifted away. What could they do?   

My friends seemed relieved to see me, and why shouldn’t they be, there was plenty of borscht to go around. I don’t recall the names of the folks that fed us that afternoon, but I was famished and grateful. We made our way home not long after that. The further away from the lake we got the worse my sunburn became. It was an angry red that required many days before I could move without forethought. Forethought, a skill I was clearly in need of.

I’ve reflected on this story over the years. There are any number of lessons I’ve drawn from it. I wonder if my children will have such stories?

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