I recently visited the headwaters of the Arkansas River near Salida, Colorado. We stopped and had a picnic lunch beside the river, and I explained to by younger daughter that the river beside us was the same river we see at her grandparents’ house. In Arkansas, when we walk up the road past the cemetery, there’s a beautiful vista where you can see the 9 miles to the Arkansas River with the farms, forest, and a town in view too. I’m not sure she didn’t think she could get in a raft there in Colorado and be at Grandma and Grandpa’s by evening! Rafts there are plentiful with all the guide companies and outfitters for water excursions. The dams between her and Mulberry, Arkansas along with the incredible distance though wouldn’t make such a trip practical. It is still remarkable to think that a drop of water there has a chance to travel all the way to Memphis before spilling into the Mississippi River. What a ride that would be!
With the recent increase in drownings, it’s important for the health of the community to remind people to be safe around water. It is an incredible force. Although there’s a funny story related to my first canoe, it also illustrates the nature of water. Here goes:
I was working a river crew on the Rio Grande in New Mexico when I found a canoe! Lucky me, right? It had washed up from somewhere when it got carried away from its owners. That should have been a sign, but I’m pretty much oblivious to these things. Since canoes aren’t registered there as “watercraft”, there’s no distinguishing numbers or information to find the owner, and since the owner had failed to write their name and contact information on the inside of the canoe, I claimed it. After cleaning it up, I decided to take it out on the river with some friends. We passed a bridge and tipped the canoe. The water wasn’t deep, so that wasn’t a concern. Really, the water wasn’t moving that quickly either, but with all the people out of the canoe, the canoe floated down river just ahead of us. That’s when I learned the power of a strainer! That’s an object that sticks up in the water that the water flows around on both sides. They are extremely dangerous. As we scattered to the sides of the canoe, the canoe hit a Russian Olive tree that was growing in the middle of the river in a pile of manmade debris; probably concrete from when the bridge was built. The force of the water pushing on the canoe sucked the canoe under with speed reserved for Superman! It was impressive…and terrifying. To think I had just been in that canoe. What if we had turned while still in the canoe and hit the strainer and tipped? We would have been sucked down too.
Here’s the thing about this: that canoe was gone. Such was the force of the water against the canoe that it wasn’t salvageable without calling my swift-water rescue friends. A canoe that was given by the river gods and quickly returned to them didn’t seem worth the effort. On her maiden voyage, I returned her from whence she came.
Looking back, I can laugh at the swift departure of that canoe. It probably became the property of someone else after the river came up and pulled the canoe lose. It was probably found along the bank with my phone number rubbed off by all the sand in the water. That’s what I tell myself anyway.
Don’t be mistaken, I still love being out on the water. I would love to take my daughters down the Buffalo River in a canoe when they’re a little older. I have fond memories of borrowing an aluminum canoe, wrapping it around a rock, and banging it back out with a piece of firewood. It can be such a wonderful experience, and you should definitely try it. In fact, flat water and life jackets are a great way to start. In fact, you can use it as a small step toward increasing your physical activity or just trying something new.
If you have tried canoeing, when is the last time you shoved off for a little water fun? Maybe now is the time to give this fun activity a first try or, for those with some experience, a refresher.