The Maiden Voyage

Last October, my husband and his boss found a discarded canoe. It was evidently from a camp because it had the old markings on it. My husband got excited about canoeing somewhere close and I suggested Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge. Jim had never heard of this haven of life inside Oklahoma City limits. We thought it sounded great, so we got very nice life jackets, a license for the canoe, and waited. But it never got warm enough to canoe after October, 2017.

I think that Jim thought that my role as his wife was to be willing to try to have fun in this canoe. I thought that my job as his wife was to lose weight and get strong enough to be his female counterpart on this physical adventure. In other words, to do my physical part. I had most of autumn, all of winter, and some of spring to accomplish what I thought was my job. But I did not.

A few weeks ago, Jim began to say that soon the waters of the river (North Canadian) and lake (Overholser) would probably be warm enough to go canoeing (just in case we had a flip-over). I began to panic. I had not done my perceived job and I am fairly afraid of water. That is, I barely know how to swim, I do not like or trust the motion of a boat, I have no confidence in any of my big-muscle abilities, and I do not like the feel of wet clothes on me. I had some great ideas for packing the necessities for canoeing, but did not share any of them with Jim because I was hoping he would forget.

You see, Jim is a person who 1) does one thing at a time, 2) does it completely, and 3) moves on to the next thing. I am an extreme multi-tasker; that is, I cannot seem to do only one thing at a time ever. So I thought that if I simply didn’t bring up the trip, Jim (doing the one thing) would forget until the weather was way too hot (90 degrees at dawn) for us to go until autumn. By then, I would have time to do my job of losing weight and getting stronger.

But Jim did not forget. We breezed into our three-day weekend accomplishing all our chores. We were trying to clear our schedules of obligations and housework in order to “enjoy” Monday on the river. We were both off work that day, even though he didn’t get paid, and the river should be crowded enough for help to be around in case we struggled. None of us: Jim, myself, or our dog, had gone canoeing with each other.

Saturday night, we bought a life vest for our Shih Tzu mix, Samuel. Swimming is not allowed because the lake is a reservoir, but we all had life jackets in case we fell in, and I was sure that we would. I spent all Sunday panicked over this trip. I didn’t even want to go to church because I was so stressed out, but I went anyway. Then I had nightmares on Sunday night and woke up every hour in a sweat. Still, I was determined to grit this out even though I believed I might never see my precious kitties again. I wondered if my mother-in-law or step-son would just sell them all, give them away to strangers, let them go or what. About 3:00 am, I suddenly received a tremendous infusion of grace from the Holy Spirit. I believed that I might be alright and live through this.

The Monday morning air was sweet, soft, sleepy, and cool. I drank as little diet soft drink as possible to prevent a no-caffeine headache because there is no bathroom on the river. I had lost a little weight, so my life jacket was not as oppressively tight as it had been and I could zip it without help. Jim had lost about thirty pounds, so he had to adjust his straps. Samuel was very still in his life vest, like an animal gets when they don’t want a predator to spot them. I think he was also hoping “Daddy” would forget whatever he was planning.

We drove the canoe to the lake very early and there were only about three cars there. After we got the canoe into the gravely water, I immediately had to go to the bathroom, even though I had just gone. We left the canoe and drove to the portable toilet which was in no-go condition, so we had to drive back to the canoe. Jim had attached a tie-down to the front of the canoe for extra help in case we had to tow it. I was gently talked into getting on the front seat, then I held on frantically to the tie-down. Okay, the tie-down is attached to the canoe and nothing else exactly five inches in front of me. Jim said later that I held onto the tie-down as if it was the cord on a crazed bull about to leap out of a chute. I screamed “No!” when Jim suggested I take my oar. I was eventually convinced to hold the oar in one hand with the tie-down still in the other. Jim and Sam got in, together shaking the canoe to a severity of five on the Richter scale. I was screaming and my eyes saw black for a moment. I thought I would hyperventilate and/or have a stroke. Then we pushed off from the rocky, man-made shore.

It has been explained to me, but it still doesn’t make sense why this river is called “North Canadian.” We are approximately 1,100 miles south of Canada. Someone’s idea of a joke, no doubt. This happens a lot in Oklahoma.

Braving the wake created by some thoughtless paddle boarders (no motors are allowed in this part of the river), we headed out. In some places, the water was very shallow and you could see the river bottom if you dared to look. Jim said sometimes it was much deeper and he couldn’t feel the bottom even with his oar all the way in—I did not test this. We headed north under the old US 66 (Mother Road) bridge, then under the new US 66 bridge, and then turned to the right.

I have never said the word “Hell!” so much in such a short time period. I also said other words. I have also never screamed, “Quit wiggling!” so much in my life. Sam, who weighs 18 pounds, might as well have been a German shepherd scratching fleas. The canoe rocked violently (subject to personal interpretation of the word “violently”) every time he readjusted to catch the ever-changing shade.

We ended up in a tiny lake which only had the one in- or outlet. We were surrounded by cattails and water grasses growing all along the sides. These I knew were chock-full of cottonmouth snakes smiling evil, white grins and calling, with their little lispy tongues,

“Come cloth-er, cloth-er, innothent victimth.”

We went back out of the inlet and then a little further north, finally deciding to turn around, go back, and making what would have been a left turn at the beginning.

Here the scenery was lovely! There was virtually no wind (for this state) and the river was incredibly slow-moving. Now we were no longer flowing through a marshy area, as I thought we would be the whole time. We were floating very peacefully between two quiet, very overgrown muddy banks. The river was only about fifty yards wide most of the time, sometimes less. Hundreds of catalpa blossoms floated gently on the little ripples. These are my favorite trees. Occasionally, a fish would jump up and make a little splash. There were very happy fishes here! The river did not have a musty or rotted smell. There was a strong smell of earth, a faint smell of blossoms, and an overabundance of oxygen which was almost heady.

Several times, I felt Sam brush against my rear. My knee-jerk reaction to this was that he may be trying to panic me into self-destruction. However, logically, this seemed unlikely since Sam adores me. Then I realized that he was trying to comfort me with his closeness. I reached behind to my right and felt his tiny head of scruffy fur. This was a Godsend as I was immediately no longer panicked and felt emotionally moored.

Tired of hearing myself scream and much calmer now, I focused on paddling and Jim’s soft voice. (Jim is the Bunny Whisperer.) I let my shoulders ease back into place. We were surrounded by life which was not competing with our lives and very few humans were around at all. When we saw someone, we would smile and wave pleasantly. It is fortunately a truthful stereotype that Oklahomans are friendly. We could not hear the loud traffic on US 66, only the birds and very quiet lapping of the river (and sometimes a fish). We saw a mother duck with her tiny babies walking along the small bank. The babies were moseying along carelessly until they saw us, then they hopped-swam to quickly catch their mother.

I had entirely quit screaming now or making any frightened comment, even when Jim went through the ticklish procedure of removing his phone from his pocket and the air-tight bag to take a pic. We were seeing things we could not have seen any other way because the banks were too overgrown to walk here from the land. We spoke every once in a while, but we were usually quiet. Jim encouraged me to stop paddling and rest several times.

I knew that I had my left foot firmly pointed into the front of the canoe (in terror) and my right leg cramped under me. Both were attempting to keep me from feeling any except the least motion. I was petrified of readjusting my legs, afraid of getting a cramp. Jim and Sam went ashore for a while to exercise, etc., and invited me, but I was afraid I would fall into the river if I tried to disembark so I waited to begin floating again. We considered turning around about the time we came to a big dam thing. It was just a bunch of branches and sand, but we thought we might be too tired (read “Jim thought I might be too tired”) to go around it twice. We turned around to head back. By now, even the turnarounds were not panicking me.

I smiled to myself when I thought how Jesus’s disciples (some of them tough fishermen) would laugh if they could see me so afraid of this very calm little river.  “Jim, if the Disciples had heard me scream, they would have laughed their rears off!”

On the way back, many more people were floating towards us. Most of them were alone, several with dogs, and some teasing and laughing with friends in other vessels. We made it back through the correct bridge arch, the one without a visible sandbar, and headed towards the boat ramp. We had to dodge the fishing lines from the shore and wait for other boats to launch. There were many people beside the river now.

Jim brought the canoe alongside the ramp and got out, then he reached for me. My left ankle and knee firmly refused to even attempt to bear their share of my weight. I absolutely could not get out in any conventional way! Jim said later that he panicked for the first time all day because he couldn’t think how to get me out without hurting me. I told him to take care of Sam. By the time he came back to me, I had come up with the brilliant idea of tilting the canoe and rolling out. Unbelievably, there was no one watching me, as I, looking like the world’s largest exercise ball with four dwarfish limbs, rolled onto the gravel of the ramp. I could not move from my hands for a while and they were bruised with the little rocks. With extreme effort and not a little pain, I managed to get up on my knees and plunge headlong into the ramp. I raised myself up, using my head as a bracer, trudged forward and didn’t look back. All I could think about was Jim’s pick-up, safety, and home even though it had been a perfectly lovely two hours.

Sometimes husbands forget, but sometimes they remember. It’s probably always best to be ready to be Jim’s partner, trusting God to make it all work, which He did again today as He always does.  Thank God!

When I got home, I felt inspired to do better physically. Even if I am not fully prepared for the next adventure, then I can at least try to be better prepared. The times I have been inspired, I have felt touched by God and believed that anything is possible. Then Logic rears her ugly head and I begin to rationalize, “Can I really do this? How is it possible?” So I go eat two or twenty cookies and they break the spell of Heaven’s call to be better and do better. But I’m changing my m.o.; I didn’t have any cookies after being inspired and still haven’t.

On the way home, I remarked to my husband: “You know, if you use a substance for pleasure, the first time is always best, and then each subsequent use becomes less and less satisfying. But Peace always gets better every time you experience it.”