That’s why Tom bought the wide green flat-bottom boat from a friend and spent days prepping, cleaning and readying it for the river. When Tom suggested that they float the Clackamas River in his new boat and she assumed that he was knowledgeable of the river’s fast channels and perfectly capable of keeping them safe. They’d have a wonderful warm day together, just the two of them, she thought.
“We can put in the river 15 miles up and float down to Carver” Tom exclaimed.
The startling truth was that her assumptions were the beginning of a dreadfully frightening day on the river. Her first clue was at the point where the river made a huge wide swing to the left, and their boat drifted out of the main channel onto a large rocky bed of shallow, slow moving water. “Hey, what are you doing?” she asked? She didn’t think too much of it however, as he guided the boat back into the main channel of the river.
“Isn’t this wonderful” Tom shouted to her. She leaned back in the seat and put her feet up so that she could more directly absorb the suns glory. There wasn’t a thing for her to do since he was guiding the boat’s direction with the only set of oars.
She agreed, “Yes, this is wonderful”. The river was wide and running fast, but she remained cautious with her safety vest tightly strapped around her. The current pulled them along and Tom released his grip and floated with the force of the great body of blue. She closed her eyes and remembered the times they had floated the Deschutes River. She loved the thrill of the rapids and the sun in her face. They had a guide on the Deschutes, but this time they were on their own. She had never floated this river, and she knew how dangerous some places were, but she relaxed completely, confident in her man, while the magic of the sun danced across her face like a sparkling jewel necklace.
The sound of the river and the cry of an osprey filled the air, and she opened her eyes to find the great bird, or perhaps find it's nest along the banks. She glanced along the river's shore, then at the steep wall on the river’s right, and the channel narrowing as the water splashed and crashed around the bend .
She glanced again into the river ahead, full of rapids, bubbling over sharp river rocks and was startled to see another fishing boat sitting in the middle of the current. There were four men in the boat with fishing lines launched in the water, obviously setting in a deep hole smack in the middle of the channel. The river guide screamed. “Get your lines in right now, boys. We are moving quickly.” The guide was obviously experienced enough to realize they may be slammed by the on-coming boat. Tom was helpless and unable to maneuver around them, but the power motor of the guide boat screamed as it kicked into gear and safely jetted the fishermen out of harm's way.
She gasped as she realized how closely they came to colliding with the fisherman. Scarcely did she have time to dwell on their near miss as the river took another spin around into a white rock wall on the left. The river narrowed considerably and the water ran deep and angry from being confined between the massive rock walls. There was no time to relax because right in the middle of the next bend held another boat full of fishermen, anchored in a deep promising fishing hole!
Immediately Tom went into action, pulling, straining and struggling with the oars, without any effect. The boat raced in the current with horrific force towards the anchored fishermen. Terror painted lines of fear across their faces as the boats collided – Tom's boat slamming against the anchored boat - once, twice, three times, until the river’s force finally let lose of it's grip, brushing their boat past and back into the raging water.
Tom was visibly shaken as he intentionally banked the boat and pulled onto a rocky beach. Together they drug the boat out of the water, looking at each other without speaking, unable to escape the screaming and cursing voices floating down the rivers belly from the boat they had just slammed. She wanted to go back. She wanted to escape what seemed to be a prescription for disaster. The startling truth was there was no escape.
It wasn’t enough that they had twice narrowly escaped potential disaster , but the river still held one more surprise. Perhaps Tom didn’t watch closely or perhaps he just didn’t recognize the eddy until he was locked in the endless spinning, with the bow banging into the rock wall, over and over. There was nothing she could do, so riddled with fear, she reasoned that Tom might benefit from positive encouragement. “Go! Go! Harder. Row harder. You're doing great." She shouted as if her verbal assistance might have an impact.
Tom threw his body weight into the rowing, and she continued to shout cheers of praise. Mustering up every ounce of power he possibly could, Tom brought the boat back up the powerful river, out of the eddy, while on-looking fishermen shouted from the river’s shore. “Row back up the river. Get into the left channel on the river’s side.”
Finally it was over. Both exhausted, they pulled the boat out of the water, loaded it onto the trailer and started home. The truck wound ‘round the curves of the black asphalt, almost finding it’s own way back home. The startling truth was that Tom wasn’t knowledgeable of the river, and he didn’t have the upper body strength to direct or guide the boat through the raging current. He’d been a dreamer to think it didn’t require experience and planning.
As the two lovers rode home in absolute silence, she realized how frightened she had been and suddenly her fear turned to anger - radiating like Mt. St. Helens, ready to erupt in a blast of steam and ash. Perhaps she'd never forgive him for putting them at such a risk. No, she thought, it was better to keep the anger inside. Hopefully there would come a time when she would tell the story again, and laugh about the horrifying day they floated the Clackamas. Like now.
Published 2009 Oasis Journal, Imago Press