Gladryl, the Dachshund, loved to go fishing as much as I did. If she was within ear-shot of the front porch, the moment that I picked up a fishing pole on my way to the river, her head would perk-up, and off she’d head towards the water’s edge. She’d stop occasionally, look around, and give me that look that says “Let’s go! You comin’?” She’d wade out into the first few inches of the shallows, then head off into the underbrush at the slightest hint of distraction. It became our routine.
Steve and I had a different routine, which wasn’t supposed to include the dog. If we were wanting to do some semi-serious fishing, we’d drag the canoe down to the river and float/fish the half mile downstream to the old, washed-out submarine bridge. It was a great way to spend an afternoon with minimal effort. Minimal, up until it was time to jump ship before the bridge. Then we’d have to walk back up to the cabin, get my old Chevy Biscayne, and drive back down to retrieve the canoe. The trunk of the car was as big as an empty coffin and would hold 1/3 of the canoe’s length. Being slightly older, and being the owner of this miracle of automotive craftsmanship, I’d man the controls of our land-boat, maintaining a speed of “slow trot”, as Steve trailed behind the car, holding the tail end of the canoe. All this fishing sure could work-up a hankering for a cold beer, if we had any left after fishing for the entire day.
On a little local-trivia, educational side note, longtime residents of the Shenandoah Valley refer to traveling in a southern direction as “going up”, and traveling north as “going down”, opposite of most U.S. citizens. The Shenandoah River flows northward, so a raft full of supplies, back in the 1800’s, that was heading to a destination north was actually going Downstream, and vice versa. We travel up to Harrisonburg (south) and down to Winchester (north). We walked up to the cabin (south) after fishing down to the bridge (north). There’ll be a test later.
So, one afternoon Steve and I launched the canoe just below the rapids out front of the cabin. We weren’t a hundred yards down river when we heard a loud splash near the bank to our left. Gladryl had belly-flopped into the water and was doing the doggie paddle in our direction. She swam to the canoe in the middle of the river and ended up parallel to the craft, a strong indication that she wanted to come aboard. Never wearing a collar, I grabbed her by the scruff of the neck and under her belly. And into the canoe she went. After a quick shake of the water from her short fur, she stood tall with her tongue hanging and a big smile of accomplishment.
On down the river, we three went.
I’ve always enjoyed witnessing the power and enormity of Mother Nature. Late summer thunderstorms on the Shenandoah River are particularly intriguing. The mountains that form the Valley act like bumpers on a pinball machine to the dark storm clouds as they blow-in, and the trees start to sway, and the temperature drops. You’ll sometimes see rain pelting the river’s surface 300 yards upstream, only to change course after a gap in the mountain’s ridge diverts the storm in a different direction. And other times, the roles are reversed, as you’re the one getting dumped on, as sunshine reflects on the waters upstream.
So, the three of us are slowly floating through a deep stretch of river when the lightning starts crackling downstream. All signs indicated that this storm was coming directly at us. Being the geniuses that we were, we knew that aluminum canoes and 1,000,000,000 joules of energy didn’t mix well. And our glass gallon bottle of Ernest and Julio Burgundy wasn’t going to protect us, though it did make the situation more bearable.
We made the semi-intelligent emergency decision of heading to the nearest bank and tying-up to a tree limb. A limb near the bottom of a tree that might act like a lightning rod collecting 1,000,000,000,000 joules of energy, instead of disembarking and heading to an open field. I’m pretty sure that it was either Ernest or Julio who advised us to stay in the canoe. Still swaying with the currents, we remained somewhat dry as the clouds began to unload.
After twenty minutes huddled under the trees of the bank, Gladryl began to growl, then suddenly exited the canoe with a splash, and crawled her way up onto the muddy bank, on her way to some underbrush, not ten feet from the canoe. An obvious battle broke out with yelps and growls and barks. Then she began to howl in pain, as the home team’s chance at victory had apparently turned dire.
On the rope end of the canoe, nearest to the bank, Steve starts screaming “What in the hell do I do?!”
I’m yelling “Go Get Her! Go Get Her!”
Steve frantically left the canoe and headed off into the brush. Sitting in the tail end of the canoe, I saw nothing, but heard the spine-chilling mixture of Steve screaming curse words, Gladryl yelping in pain, underbrush crackling, and tree branches breaking. And then a scary silence.
Steve and Gladryl emerged from the underbrush, one running through his repertoire of curse words and the other one looking strangely embarrassed. Seems that when Steve had arrived on the scene, an angry muskrat had a death-bite on Gladryl’s neck and wasn’t planning to let go. Steve then transformed into a caveman and clubbed the animal to death with a tree limb. Ernest and Julio gave Steve’s heroics four thumbs up. After the lightning had passed, we went back to fishing.
Later that summer, a similar scenario developed. Two guys and a dog, fishing in a canoe, doing something stupid. Up until the point when we reached the submarine bridge, it had been an identical afternoon. Except for the part with the lightning and clubbing a wild animal to death.
In the 1980 movie classic, “The Blue Lagoon”, the two marooned teenagers finally gave in to their curiosity of what lies on the other side of the island and made a near-fatal journey while seeking the answer.
There we stood, on the dry end of the partially submerged submarine bridge, staring off at the distant bend in the river, waters in which we had never fished. Obviously, I was Christopher Atkins. Steve was a shorter, less-attractive but more muscular Brooke Shields. (Hey, I’m writing the story). We made the youthful decision to “travel to the other side of the island”.
After the fourth “that looks like some good fishing down around that next bend”, we had passed the point of no return. Ernest and Julio didn’t make the trip that day, but a 12-pack of Mickey’s Big Mouths did. It was all Mickey’s fault. It’s five miles from Edinburg to Woodstock driving the state road in a car. The river’s not straight and the canoe doesn’t float along at 55 MPH. It took a while to reach the next public boat landing.
There are no memories of trophy fish from that day. But something amazing did happen. No less than five times during our journey, little Gladryl became impatient sitting in the canoe and suddenly jumped out, swimming over to the nearest bank. She’d disappear into the woods and fields for extended periods of time, so long that we’d temporally forget about our fishing buddy. Just when we’d start to worry, she’d be spotted running through a group of cows or watching us from the far bank. And just to ease our worries, she’d swim back out to the canoe again for a breather.
So, twelve beers and eight hours in the sun later, we finally arrived at the Narrow Passage boat landing. Cell phones hadn’t been invented yet, so we hid the canoe in the bushes and hiked a mile up the road to a restaurant to use their phone. We only knew of one person who drove a big Dodge pick-up truck…our good friend Nicky.
“Nick, dude, guess where we are?!!!”
“I give up. Where?”
“We’re at Narrow Passage, Man! And Gladryl’s with us. And the canoe. We got a little carried away today”
“What the hell are you calling me for?
“We need a ride, you Idiot!”
“Idiot?!!! I’m lying here on my freaking sofa, watching TV like a normal person!”
It was hard to get Nicky excited, but we had pushed him to his limit and off the edge of his sofa. He came to our rescue like good friends always do and everyone safely made it home. Gladryl slept in the next morning.
Next week-Part Three —“Mushy things and really nice people”
The new book’s available on Amazon.com. “This Book’s Not Perfect, But Neither Are We”