Spinning On The Brule River
“People travel to wonder
at the height of the mountains,
at the huge waves of the seas,
at the long course of the rivers,
at the vast compass of the ocean,
at the circular motion of the stars,
and yet they pass by themselves
without wondering. ”
― Aurelius Augustinus
My dad was a great outdoorsman. Being raised in the great open country of South Dakota, he couldn’t stand being in a city for long. He’d have to go camping, fishing, or canoeing. One of them or all three. Of course, being a family man he’d take Suzy and I with him. Billy was still too young for the adventures, poor kid, so was Scotty.
I remember our trip into Wisconsin. We set up camp and it started to rain. We were all cozy and snug in our tent, having already eaten and had our fire. I love to watch my dad build a fire. And I loved to sleep in a sleeping bag. Suzy and I could snuggle and sleep in the same grown-up bag and stay very warm.
It was fun to camp with dad. He would tell us stories, not ghost stories. My dad hated what he called spook stories. He told us stories of his growing up with our Uncle Dick his little brother and his mom, Grandma Dorothy. His little brother was a big kid and a scrappy fighter. So he held his own if my dad and he ever fought. My dad always told these stories smiling and laughing so you knew it was all in fun and no one ever got hurt, except the time Dick got mad at my dad and threw a tin can at him in the back alley and cut his head open. We would squeal when he told us that because he told it with such good humor. He said he wasn’t mad at his brother. But the next night at dinner he thew a fork at him and it stuck in his fat cheek — wobbling up and down. Then we’d laugh uproariously because Dad was laughing until a tear came down his cheeks.
This may have been a tall tale, I don’t know. It’s hard to imagine two brothers who loved each other like my dad and Uncle Dick could ever carry on like that, but boys are different, so I don’t know. We sure laughed!
The next day we were going to take our canoe downstream to fish. We got up nice and early, had our breakfast and started on our way. Suzy and I were of course wearing life jackets. The water was a little high. We were in Wisconsin and I don’t remember if we knew how much rain they’d had that Spring or not. We were about half way there and our canoe hung up on a rock. We were caught pretty good. Dad was in the center, I was in the back and Suzy was in the bow. We started spinning on the rock. It was kind of like a ride in an amusement park, but a little scarier, because it was real. Dad said, “Poncho, Cisco, Hang on tight. I’m going to have to get out of the canoe for a minute and lift us off of this rock. Libby, you watch your little sister.” He used our pet names so we knew it was an adventure.
It sounded okay to me. I noticed Suzy’s eyes were a bit wide, so I waved at her. As I have said before, I have never felt fear in the presence of my dad and I didn’t that day. He gently eased himself out of the canoe. The water was deep. I was surprised by that. It was almost to his chest.
Then Dad asked us to lean our weight to middle of the canoe. Which we did, schrunching forward until we could touch our feet and hold on tight. He grabbed it in the middle and at the bow and worked with the water and pushed, pulled and lifted. We were off the rock! We were no longer spinning on the Brule River. We were moving, because my dad had the boat and he was taking us to shore.
When we got to shore we laid in the sun. My dad dried off a bit and took of his wet shirt. We just laid there and enjoyed the beauty of that early summer day. I always felt close to God on these excursions with dad. The beauty and power of His creation all around us.
We decided to fish right there and then bring the canoe back up to the car and head home a bit early. We were all in the mood to lay our eyes on Mom and Billy and by that time, little Scotty. They were happy to see us, too and to hear all about our adventure.
I thought that day my dad could to anything. As I got older my opinion didn’t change much. If it’s humanly possible, or even requires some help from God, Dad can do it. Because he tries. He loves his children and he looks out for them. He leads from the heart. He’s the same kind of grandfather as he is a father and we are all so fortunate to have him. Love you, Dad!