After Rod became a participant in Zion Church, he also showed strong support for Zion’s youth fellowship and frequently lended his adult help to the youth causes and events. This included sharing his vacation time in the renewed service and recreation trips to Shannondale. Knowing that Rod was new to canoeing and not comfortable in water, we tried to persuade him of the safety and enjoyment potential of the activity, assuming his careful attention to a few basic canoeing instructions. These included wearing his flotation device, learning how to read the waterway in front of the canoe, practicing some basic paddle strokes, and, of course, leaning toward an obstacle downstream when the paddlers inevitably lose control of the canoe and the current pushes them against it. His nervousness was obvious as the time approached for canoeing. Others novices were likely just as nervous, but unwilling to show it. We paired new canoeists with more experienced ones, and hoped that they would have time to learn “the ropes” before they ran into any challenge that the Current River might offer.
I chose Cedar Grove as the place to put into the river. From Cedar Grove the flow was moderate and there would be few places where portaging would be necessary due to shallow water. The river was relatively narrow there. My impression was that snags, rootwads, boulders, and other obstacles were rare in that part of the river, so Rod and other nervous beginners should have time to gain some skills before they faced more challenges downstream. We did everything but promise that they would have no problems. Even if they overturned their canoes, the river would be shallow enough in most places for them to stand up in the river and set the canoe right again, and we would be there to help. Rod accepted our encouragement and suppressed his fears.
The day for canoeing came, and the morning was cool and a little foggy, but the sun promised to burn the fog away quickly and open us to a clearer late morning and afternoon. We got an early start, and the Shannondale bus left us on the Cedar Grove beach. There was no turning back. We distributed the gear, lined up on the shore in the order that we would depart, reviewed a few basics, praised God for the beauty surrounding us and the opportunities ahead of us, and sent off one canoe at a time. Rod’s canoe was not first but among the early ones. I was probably in the last canoe, to be in a position to help the stragglers and less successful ones. The river turned to the right immediately after the put-in, so no one left on the shore could see what the canoes ahead of us were facing after the turn. Trees and brush obscured the way forward.
Right after the turn there was a snag difficult to avoid, even by an experienced canoeist, and, as it happened, the snag collected debris over a hole that was deeper than any of us was tall. Rod’s initiation into canoeing came during the first hundred yards as his canoe overturned into a pile of debris. Most of the canoes managed to avoid the obstacle, but Rod’s and another canoe overturned and they needed our help to collect themselves and their gear and get started again. Rod did not accuse us of malicious intent, but he well could have. It was evidence of his good nature that he did not complain (at least aloud), he did not give up (with nowhere to go but downstream), and he did keep going (although I could sense his relief with every break we took).
Rod continued to accompany us on trips, and he even succeeded in canoeing the next year and the year after that. Along the way in years to come, he decided to devote himself to other useful business while the rest of us canoed. He had taken his life in his hands enough times without finding a way to “enjoy” it.