When we can’t turn around and go back, when we have no choice but to go forward into a place where we do not want to be, when we find ourselves in that place and do not want to be there….
One stretch of the Current River has always been problematic for me and for those with me, either because of the weather that day in storm or miserable heat or some other unexpected development. Below Round Spring to Jerktail Landing is that stretch. Few signs of civilization are evident, and that in itself isn’t a problem as long as the trip is going well. The most redeeming feature of the ten miles is the Courthouse Cave with its beautiful large flow stone near the entrance, but that is only a short paddle below Round Spring. Long relatively straight vistas of the river follow with series of shoals that prove that you are in fact descending steeply into an area where the mountains seem to grow taller by the minute and deeper into wilderness. Beyond Jerktail is an equally long stretch to Two Rivers Landing.
My partner on one trip was Tom, a big, good-natured youth with a gentle heart. We had started out the day at the tail of ten canoes, but by the time we reached this stretch we were in the lead of many tired canoers, trying to set a pace that would get us to Jerktail Landing before dark. He had worn flip-flops, against my advice, and had lost one of them when we were collecting the gear from one of the overturned canoes of people in another group along the way, so his tender feet were suffering every time we had to find our way through the shoals and his weight meant that we had to step out of the canoe frequently onto the rocky river bottom.
We had set our take-out for Jerktail Landing, although this was the first time for the new Shannondale Director Jeff Fulk to go to Jerktail. The ten mile bus ride (towing the canoe trailer behind) down the narrow , winding, rutted gravel ridge road down to Jerktail Landing was no fun for him and his two young sons with him. After paddling all day we were all-in when we arrived at the large peninsula rockbar that was Jerktail, and the canoe behind us was just within sight. Our ten canoes were probably stretched out along the river about half a mile. Jerktail itself is more barren and desert-like and larger than any other rockbar on the river, and we had to paddle several hundred yards around the rockbar to reach the Landing. Right away when we reached the Landing, Tom and I were relieved to see the Shannondale bus, but we noticed that no one was standing around it. In fact the Landing appeared to be deserted until we saw some people at a distance standing and pointing toward the river shore.
Then we saw what they were pointing at—the largest diamondback rattlesnake I have ever seen , basking in the sun at the edge of the river in the middle of the landing area. It looked to me like it was big enough to be a python but it was unmistakably a diamondback rattlesnake, something I never expected to see nor hope ever to see again in the Ozarks. We did not approach the Landing but found a calm spot near the opposite bank to wait for the other canoes, wondering what we would do if the rattlesnake did not move.
We waited for a while until the snake decided to move, and it gradually made its way along the shore until well clear of the landing area before Tom and I and all of the rest of the canoes ventured to make our way toward the landing, and before Jeff and his sons left the security of the bus. It had only been a few minutes but, as time goes, it had seemed like hours.
Some years later Jeff told me that he had never made arrangements with another group for taking out canoes at Jerktail Landing. Nor did I ask for it.