On a Saturday afternoon in late July, my dad asked me if I would like to go canoeing on the river. I was hot and the air hovered a foot above the asphalt was oily and heavy and had a swirling look to it. We lived a few miles from the muddy Susquehanna River and had a new silver aluminum Grumman canoe. Mom dropped us off and had a timetable to meet us a few miles down the river. We set off with me in the front and dad launching us with a simple push of his foot. I was filled with anticipation, canoeing on the river was a big deal. I had learned to navigate on a lake and wanted to experience rapids and currents.
What I remember most about that afternoon was not the actual canoeing. It was a fear and security I felt simultaneously beginning when the first streak of lightning crossed the slate blue sky. It happened so fast, the thunder was so loud I could feel it in our floating metal boat. Luckily, we were a few yards from an island so Dad and I quickly paddles to shore as the powerful rain drilled down on us. I felt like the time between the lightning and the roar of thunder were one and the same—somewhere along the way, I had learned that means to get under cover immediately because the lightning would strike. My dad dragged the canoe entirely out of the water and we found a thick trunked canopy tree for cover. He tipped the vessel on its side and we crouched on our haunches underneath it for “protection”.
I watched my confident and smart dad who was like a policeman, fireman, and lifeguard all in one to me when I was young. He moved through nature with such surety from years of experience fishing, hunting, farming and simply living in the outdoors.
We were already wet, but the makeshift shelter kept us dryer than we would otherwise have been. I started to cry and remember Dad saying “Carrie Sue, I promise you we will not be struck by lightning,” as he picked up a stick and drew a tic tac toe grid in the mud. The wet, earthy smell of the earth reminded me of countless days catching crayfish at camp. The blend of slimy brown rocks, water, mud mixed with other river smells. I don’t even recall winning or losing, I do remember our tent of aluminum and earthen floor and the distraction that took me from fear to security, which is a long distance to travel, and with lots of back and forth motion from one emotion to the other and back again.
As quickly as the storm came, it left. A few tic tac toe games in and in between Dad’s reassurances that we would survive, I looked out from under our sheltering wall and saw my old friend, the sun!
The rest of the trip down the river has escaped my mind…And, as I reflect I see the irony in my false sense of safety and security…lightning splitting the sky as we huddled like gnomes under a metal canoe which was under a tree, that is the power of blind trust that lives in the young. That trust that comes with a full heart and little outside noise, not handicapped by outside voices who rob us of our innocence. The distance between fear and security traveled in a canoe, I’m so grateful for that day!