Don't Grab that Branch!

If you're still with me, you'll remember I talked about my worst paddling felony; grabbing the gunwales.

But now I realize that that sin is nothing compared to grabbing branches.

halline (53K)
Hal lines down a rocky stretch of the Machias River.

Not so long ago, on the Machias River, I was lining my canoe down a rocky stretch below Third Lake. I was holding a long line attached to the stern in my left hand, and another equally long line from the bow in my right.

The trick was to keep the boat close to shore and upright as I walked it along the rocky shore, making sure the bow and stern were lined up with the current, yet staying clear of rocks as as I guided it down the rapid.

Bartholomew River
Laurie guides his boat with his will, la Hiawatha.

The rocks were wet with rain, and slick with gold-green gobs of frogs' eggs and brown tendrils of rock snot. I haven't seen rock snot yet in New Brunswick as of 2013, but they say it's coming up the coast.

Rock snot (didymo)
Update: Rock snot (didymo) covers the bed of the Patapedia River, northern New Brunswick.

Anyway, I came to one large shoreside rock, and I needed to crouch and crawl around a low jutting tree branch to make progress. The moment I reached up with one hand onto the branch to steady myself, the stern of the canoe slewed a few degrees out into the current, and I was hauled into the river and dragged downstream. I managed to grab the stern of my canoe and struggle to shore not too far down the rip, but it could have been worse. At least I didn't lose anything.

On the Bartholomew, however, there was really no reason for me to grab the overhanging branch as I came around the turn. There was enough room for me to duck, and a vigorous push on my paddle would have swung my boat around it sweetly.

quitchpool (30K)
Rock garden cruising a long time ago.

But my carelessness cost me a swim, not a complete loss of control of my boat though, as I managed to keep it from swamping and man-handled it to shore just downstream. Still, I lost my black Joe Montana hat I had picked up in Montana way back when, as well as a stout snubbing pole I had used for many years. My pole can grace some grotty beaver den now for all I care, but man I miss that hat.

Biff still scolds me for grabbing that tree branch at the mouth of Oxford Brook on the Upsalquitch River way back on our first canoe trip together. We were barely moving, actually going upstream on the Brook, lily-padding, but who would have thought that pool was so deep? We both went in, so quick that there was no way to avoid it. The scene of the crime lingers still vivid in my mind's eye, alders, Biff's look of surprise, sunshine and all. Yes, and I still feel wet just thinking about it.

I could relate more branch-grabbing stories, but they all start to sound the same. And they all end up with me in the water.

I won't mention all the times the current swept me into alders and swamped my boat. They don't count, I didn't have a choice then. All those other times, I grabbed branches out of ignorance and it-won't-happen-to-me-ness. And I swear it will never happen again.

Packing made easy... or so I thought


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