Lesson # 2 – Nothing dries hanging on a clothesline on a riverbank. Nancy still had a drenched wardrobe as she and Tarzan broke camp on the second morning. They were astonished to realize the creek across from their gravel bar was actually Jack’s Fork River! The anticipated surge of rolling whitewater was nothing more than a serene trickle, like a river lullabye.
The canoe glided through the magnificent canvas of a magical misty Ozark morning void of signs of humanity. Creatures in water, on land and in the air came to life in musical movements crescendoing at sunrise. They reverently enjoyed the majestic scene as the sun brought the canvas into sharp focus.
Canoeing unfamiliar waters becomes an exercise in snap judgments. Gravel deposits can shift-shape from an innocent island to one with an undetectable treacherous channel. Others morph into peninsulas with deep coves. The two maneuvered with ease over menacing root wads or against the current to retrace ripples to return to the main channel, all the while chatting about the marvels and pitfalls of riverways and life.
Needn’t be said the two knew each other well, otherwise this feat in enduring the company of the other 24/7 for possibly five days never would have transpired. They stretched their boundaries, pushing sensitive buttons and turning ensuing reactions into improv comedic situations worthy of Saturday Night Live skits. Also needn’t be said that Tarzan was a pro at button-pushing and Nancy gifted at over reacting. Neither skill made time fly by.
Mother Nature decided to add a measure of suspense to the paddling production. At lunch break they spied some rolling clouds hinting at the possibility of a summer squall. Worth watching, it was decided. Later at a campground stop Tarzan made amends for some of the button-pushing by pulling money out of a surprise stash to buy ice cream at the camp store. And he checked the forecast. If there were concerns he didn’t share them.
Much of the afternoon their eyes scanned the sky more often than the river, watching for warnings in swirling darkening clouds rather than in churning waters. The sticky heat was intense, the sporadic winds hotter still, sometimes offering challenging resistance to progress.
Again the focus turned to finding a suitable campsite, this time with slightly different qualifications. Maybe not too many trees, for sure on a higher elevation than the last, and at a location they could reach in time to balance securing the equipment, setting up and eating before dark or the storm, whichever arrived first, yet without wasting precious paddling time through the isolated river forest.
The circling steamy winds teased with spells of cool gentle breezes that scurried away at increasingly louder rumbles and smatterings of huge raindrops. The sun couldn’t decide to hide or spotlight the activity on an unnerving stage. Just before 5 pm Tarzan eyed a gravel bar ahead that would have to provide the shelter they were going to need. It seemed the August thunderstorm would arrive ahead of the night. Missouri summer storms can be severe; damaging winds, monsoon rains, tree-splitting lightening could make their appearance soon, so meticulous preparations began the moment they aimed the canoe straight for the gravel.
Next week-Water, Water Everywhere