Volume I, No. 2, Winter 1973




FLOATING BITTERSWEET

by Jim Baldwin

Photos by Robert McKenzie

A johnboat is for fishing. A river is for floating. So, a johnboat and a float trip naturally go hand in hand. After working many hours on our johnboat, we were eager to go on a float trip.

On an unusually cool, crisp August morning, four members of our staff, accompanied by Mrs. Massey and her brother-ln-law, Emmitt Massey, dressed in everything from cut-off jeans to long-sleeved sweatshirts to overalls, loaded up our gear, our johnboat (named BITTERSWEET, also) and two canoes, and headed for the river.

Fishing, since it is the purpose of a float trip, should be the main activity. But, when out of four staff members, one is the photographer, two don't really care much for fishing, and the one who does bring a pole is a girl, you can rest assured that more playing than fishing will be going on. Emmitt, the only serious fisherman, made a remarkable (considering the noise and interruption of the two canoes) catch of a small perch and bass. Suzanne made the record catch of a leaf and a stick.


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Floating a river can present difficulties. Fallen trees, low branches, submerged rocks or logs, weeds, forks in the river, fast water, shallow water, each presents a different challenge to the floater. Depending on the way they are handled, these challenges can range From momentary diversions to dire dilemmas. These difficulties posed no problems to Steve and Robert, who are good canoeists, or to Mrs. Massey and Emmitt who are old hands at paddling a johnboat. However, the same cannot be said for Suzanne and me.

Suzanne had never paddled a canoe before. I had many times, but from the back only once, two days previously. When you're the back paddler, you do things quite a bit differently than when you're in the front. We had problems at first, going back and forth across the river, but soon we were doing a fairly adequate job.

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When floating, you notice and enjoy things you take for granted in the pandemonium of everyday life. You feel the way the sun warms you without being too hot. You sense the feeling of isolation, of being in another world. You see and hear animal life, the birds singing, the turtles, large and small, basking in the sun, the coiled snake, sunning too, the insect life all around. You can follow a blue heron down the river, or watch the water insects glide across the water. Taken alone, these things might not mean much, but combined with the other sensations of a float trip, they become memorable experiences.

The element of surprise is there too. You may be lazily floating through a long, quiet eddy. You round a curve, and there is a short, fast riffle. Around every curve, there is something new to be taken in, to be absorbed. And there are so many curves, so many new sights.

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Part of the fun of a float trip is being able to stop anytime you want. If you want to eat, you stop and eat. If you want to swim, you swim. If you want to go spelunking, you do that, too. Mrs. Massey thought she knew where there was a cave along the stretch of water we floated. We stopped, she checked, and it was there. All of us except Emmitt wanted to see it, so we got out, leaving him with the boats, contentedly fishing. We had to climb a steep, thickly foliaged hill up to a bluff, and trek next to the bluff down to the cave (with me watching for poison ivy all the way).

The floor at the mouth of the cave was muddy. Cattle frequent the cave for its cool, insect free climate. Put the two together, and we were stepping very gingerly. The farther back we walked, the colder and darker it got. The flash on Robert's camera kept going off due to the decrease in temperature.

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There is a spring that comes out in this cave and flows into the river. Not wanting to get any colder than we already were, we went farther back along an extremely narrow ledge. We had to proceed cautiously or risk Falling in the icy water.

At the end of the ledge, we came to a two-story room which was as far as we could go and remain standing. On the way back, Steve and Robert decided they didn't want to bother with the ledge, so they waded through the water. You could tell the water was cold by all the strange noises they made, and the speed with which they got out.

The warm air outside was a relief to our chilled bodies as we headed for the waiting boats. Hungry and wet, we paddled to our takeout spot, from which, after a leisurely lunch, we departed for home, tired but happy.

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Copyright 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.


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