September 2020

I went swimming in the lake the other day, though not a traditional, voluntary kind of swim. It all started innocently enough, late in the afternoon on a beautiful day. I decided to take the old Grumman aluminum canoe out to fish a nearby cove for brook trout. The cove is tucked between Ted’s and Greg’s camps–it fronts a piece of land they both share and is the site of a freshwater spring that supplies several camps with drinking water. It is secluded and close by–a perfect place to try my luck. I took my three- weight rod along with dry flies in a plastic bag that also held my iphone. I threw a life vest and seat cushion into the canoe and pushed off from the dock. Geige, Patti’s daughter, was paddle boarding with a friend on a distant part of the lake and Patti was resting back at the cabin. The cove was peaceful and quiet, fish wise. After a few casts I changed flies.

The water began to roughen, and the canoe started drifting away from shore. I put down my fly rod and grabbed the paddle, trying to reverse course. Suddenly and without warning the canoe tipped to the right and just like that I slid into the water with a splash that no one heard but me. What a dunk. The water temperature was cool but bearable. My hat stayed on as did my moccasins. When I bobbed up however, the canoe was gone. Treading around I saw the aluminum hunk about 15 to 20 yards off, taken by a gust of wind while I was submerged. I had dropped the paddle when I capsized and could see it drifting away. I called out to Ted who had gone out for a swim earlier. If he was back on shore he may have heard or seen me capsize. No response, so I started swimming toward the canoe with a combination of aggressive doggie paddle and breaststroke, but the current kept me more or less stationary. Both the shore and the canoe felt miles away. I called out for Ted again but still no answer.

I continued paddling in earnest, my hat still on and my mocs heavy with water. The canoe had now moved between me and the shore. I was blocked from the view of anyone who might have seen me out here. I felt a rising panic, but wasn’t out of breath, so continued. The wind settled down and there was a merciful moment of calm during which I was able to progress, finally getting within reach of the canoe. Grasping the gun wales I was flooded with relief and renewed vigor. I considered my options. The life jacket was in the middle of the canoe and reachable if I hoisted myself halfway up the side. I held on with my left hand and reached furiously into the canoe for the life vest. It was only inches away from my fingertips, but I could not lift myself out of the water enough to touch it without capsizing. My thoughts began to race. Could I swim to shore? I could not pull myself into the canoe without tipping it. At the very least I risked losing my fishing rods and iphone. How long before someone noticed I’ve gone AWOL? Seemed no one saw me fall in. I was on the seaward side of the canoe so at a distance it would look like an empty canoe. Wouldn’t that be a red flag if someone noticed it? I yelled out to Ted again a few times but still no response. Kicking hard I tried to move the canoe toward shore. All I accomplished was to tire myself out. I was now between one unoccupied camp to my left and an Air BnB rented by several families to my right who I saw on the dock when I passed by earlier. It was only minutes since I had fallen into the water, but it seemed like hours.

My hands ached from gripping the metal edge. I was stuck in the worst of positions with no control over the drift of the canoe and with no choice but to travel with it and we were moving further into the lake. I tried to stay calm and ready myself for a swim to shore. I kicked off my mocs but made sure my hat was firmly on. It had my name on it in case I didn’t make it. I had no other identification.
At least there was a few hours of light left in the day. Suddenly I heard the engine from a large boat. I couldn’t see it from my position below the hull. “Hold on there,” someone shouted. Then another boat engine to my left. It was Ted powering toward me in his vintage fishing boat. A wave washed over me from the wake created by the two vessels. The vacationers in the Air BnB had seen me splashing around and rushed their trailer and motorboat into the water. Ted was swimming offshore and had heard me calling. He swam back and jumped into his boat. Ted, a former lifeguard, reached down from the stern and pulled me out of the water with one hand, throwing me into his boat. The neighbors collected my paddle. Somehow, they also found my moccasins. I was embarrassed from all the trouble I caused. I know it could have been worse. With a life vest on my back instead of on the floor of the canoe I could have swum to shore and retrieved the canoe later. I have been on sailboats and canoes almost all my life but at the age of 80 I’m still learning lessons from Mother Nature. It was a stressful end to a day that was supposed to finish with a fish on the line instead of a wet behind.

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