by John Schroader
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances. ~ 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18
Oh – to be a philosopher. To look beneath the obvious for the subtle lessons that life will teach us. To reap joys in what others perceive as a field of sorrows. That is the life I aspire to live. The years have been great help in my journey: bifocals, hair disappearing from the head only to re-appear other places on the body, memory lapses, and other things that I cannot presently bring to mind. A person must become a bit of a philosopher or else he may just go mad. It is in this light that I approach the matter of swimming rapids. Swimming rapids is not something I prefer to do, but the blunt truth is -that I do – quite often, as a matter of fact. Although I try to stay in my boat as much as I humanly can, I seem to have a propensity for swimming rapids, easy or hard. So------ the philosophical side of me sees this as an opportunity for some soul searching and growth. I look on the bright side – neophyte paddlers can identify with me; I get an up close and personal view of the bottom of rapids; there is no struggle to keep my ego in check. I’ve learned there are many benefits to being a swimmer. But one recent swim brought a particular blessing to me so, if you will humor me, I will share with you this swimming story and the blessing that it brought.
We stood on the bank of a rain-swollen creek on Walden’s Ridge. The rains had fallen all night and this typically class IV creek was coming off the mountain like a runaway freight train. The ‘we’ in this story is my dog, Sambo, and I. There was no one else around to share the heady thrill of watching this beautiful mountain stream become a raging beast of furious whitewater. The question we were discussing (with me doing the actual talking and Sambo listening and communicating with knowing eyes) was whether I should attempt a run in such turbulent water. Conventional wisdom says not to paddle alone, especially in flood stage class V water. I know as well as most the virtues of having competent friends around when the going gets tough. But I also am aware that, on water like this, a paddler is pretty much on his own no matter who is around. The likelihood of a pal being able to stop and render assistance in such furious water was practically nil. So---- the question was whether to hop on or wait ‘till another day. My ‘logical’ mind told me that my chances were maybe 50/50 of running this stretch without serious problem. But my ‘intuitive’ mind, my more feminine side (for those of us who are secure enough in our masculinity to listen to this urging ) told me that I would lose nothing that I could not afford. That tipped the scales for my ‘good old boy’ mind to say, “let’s go for it”.
Well, as you may have suspected, I ended up in the drink pretty soon and had a swim that is a story in its own right. But that is not the tale I am here to tell. As I drug myself onto the creek bank I looked back at the rapid that had just eaten my lunch and saw a terrible sight. My dog, Sambo had jumped into the creek to save me. He was recirculating in a hole that would strike fear into the heart of Tao Berman. When he finally flushed out he went over another ledge and into yet another hole. This one pushed him deep and he popped up 20 feet downstream. With tears in my eyes, I watched him abandon a safe route back to the far bank and plunge again into the heart of this maelstrom in his effort to make it to the place where he saw me go down. I helplessly watched as my faithful dog was swept hundreds of yards downstream in current that would make Pillow Rock rapid look like a riffle. I scrambled as fast as I could downstream but the rough terrain made progress painfully slow. I clawed and climbed furiously, hoping against all odds that somehow Sambo was not drowned. After what seemed like ages I heard bushes shaking and stones tumbling down the cliffs and looked up to see my faithful friend, Sambo running and yipping for his master. He jumped into my arms and we had a wet dog Hallelujah breakdown. I even let him lick me in the face.
After ample time of celebration and thanksgiving, I set about to figure out how to get us back to the warmth and comfort of my van (on the other side of the creek). We hiked about a half-mile down stream to a place where the gradient leveled out a bit. I commanded Sambo to sit and wait while I swam across to retrieve my boat, which was miraculously lodged in some trees just upstream. Somehow I would ferry Sambo across the creek. When I finally reached the left bank a hundred yards downstream, Sambo was still sitting and waiting, just as I had commanded. I gave a whistle - and to my great amazement, he jumped right into the creek that had nearly cost him his life. He struggled across, slamming into rocks and losing about 300 yards in the process, but finally made it to the left bank. Again a big reunion.
As we drove home that day, Sambo was never more than two feet from me, taking every opportunity to rest his head in my lap. Although I’ve never been much on having big dogs in the house, Sambo now has his own special spot in front of the fireplace. And a special spot in my heart. He is a faithful friend.
So that’s my story of trials endured and lessons learned. I do not care to ever have another swim like that one, but that one event strengthened an already deep bond between this man and his faithful friend, Sambo.