A fellow NH blogger has been writing about the Ashuelot River, and how he spent his boyhood along its banks. You can see his series here, here, and here. And of course, he got me to thinking about the Tradewater River where I spent part of my childhood. It flows through Dawson Springs, KY where I lived in high school (and when I was home, during college too).
My parents live in a house situated in a bend in the river. They have a strip of land that is bounded on both ends by the river. Route 109 divides it into a big lot and a tiny (and steep) lot, and I spent a lot of time on the banks at either end. This stretch of the Tradewater is downstream from the tiny strip, and upstream from the big lot. Lake Beshear drains into the Tradewater downstream from here too (but upstream from the big lot).
We had a 17′ fiberglass canoe, so when we moved in to this place (I was in the ninth grade) we decided we needed a boat dock of some sort on the river. We had an old steel ladder from our triple bunkbed, and since it was now a double-bunk, the ladder was free for other purposes. My brother Steve and I pressed it into service for our dock. There was a tree growing out from the bank – sideways first, and then curving upward. It was easy to stand on the horizontal portion of its trunk, and we figured, “trunk+ladder=boat dock.” So we fastened the ladder to the tree. We accomplished this by driving a pair of 16-penny nails on either side of the ladder’s uprights, and then bending them around so that the two nails clasped the steel posts and held it to the tree. Four nails later, we had our boat dock. We did not use it very much though.
One March (probably in 1978), Steve and I decided to take the canoe out on the river. We headed upstream, as we always did. That way when you get tired and turn around, it’s downstream all the way home. Going downstream first is a Bad Idea, because then when you get tired and turn around, you have to work to get home again. That is still how I do rivers in a canoe.
I don’t remember much about that trip itself, but I vividly remember the take-out. We landed the canoe, and Steve got out to haul it up onto the bank. There was a flat shelf on the bank about two feet wide, and about a foot higher than the water (on that day). Then the bank rose steeply until it gained another six feet of height before flattening out again. That’s where the trail was. Once the bow was on the first shelf, I climbed out. Steve had scrambled up to the next shelf and started hauling on the rope while I pushed on the stern. The keel got up on the break in the bank and Steve gave it a good tug. The whole canoe pivoted around on its center, with the effect that the stern came flying around right at me. As I was balanced precariously on the lower shelf, when the stern made its hasty introduction to me, I lost my footing and fell splash into the river.
Now Kentucky is not a cold place (especially when compared to NH), but it is cold enough that you would not want to swim in a river in March. Yet, that’s exactly what I found myself doing, and fully clothed at that. They say that the cold water will make you take a very deep breath and then not be able to exhale – and I know that that’s true from experience. I quickly swam to the bunkbed ladder and started climbing up. As I was coming up, I noticed that those 16-penny nails were straightening themselves out! In milliseconds, I was climbing ever faster, but not getting any higher. The ladder, meanwhile, was doing the equal and opposite thing – straight to the bottom (where I presume it is still resting). I joined it shortly afterwards.
I found myself fully immersed in the drink again, never having fully regained dry ground in the first place. This time there was no ladder, and the bank was slick with mud. I somehow scrambled up. The house was only two or three hundred yards away. I left Steve at the river to secure the canoe, and I made my way through the pasture to the house post haste for a nice hot shower.
Never has a shower felt so good!