Hello Dear Readers!
I am off to parts unknown (Morocco and the Sahara Desert) and for the most part will not have internet availability. So this chapter will have to suffice until I come back. However it is definitely one of the most adventurous escapades I encountered while weaving my way through the flora and fauna of the Northwoods. I will have many, many chapters to continue this saga with when I return. In the meantime, we've had quite a spate of good news on the health front. I (diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015) had had issues that replicated cancer symptoms, but tests showed it had NOT returned. Terry, during his recent stay in the hospital, discovered a node on his lung, and just yesterday we learned that it also was NOT cancer. So we remain thankful for your prayers and good wishes. They are most certainly working. He is still scheduled to have his gallbladder removed in mid-May, but he is doing great and back on-the-job. So now without further ado, I present DELIVERANCE!
The Paint River
The Paint River flowing by the cabin was originally named the Miskua River by the Ojibway Indians. Miskua means “red” and refers to the rusty brown color the water picks up from low lying areas. But whatever the name, the river captures the very essence of a beautiful woman. Because. She is all curves.
There are two branches of the Paint, the North and the South. Our camp is on the North Branch. For more than 45 miles, the Paint meanders through Iron and Gogebic counties in the Upper Peninsula. Eventually spilling into the Brule, the Michigamme, and the Menominee rivers before she reaches Lake Michigan.
Rimming the Paint are conifers, tag alder, and in slow water pools…water lilies. The bottom of the river is mostly sand and silt with areas of fist-sized rocks.
There are few places on the river near the cabin where the water goes much higher than your waist. For long stretches you can splash down the river and still keep your shirt dry.
On most days I would head downstream in the canoe. Toward Uncle Ben’s camp. Ben had dammed up the river right in front of his house (before DNR regulations), so he had a sweet spot for fishing. But coming home was an effort because either you had to attempt paddling upstream or get out of the canoe and drag it back.
Upstream meant going by old Lady Bingham’s cabin and risk running into the Junkin’s. But her property was on small rise of land which rose steeply from the riverbank. So looking out from the cabin afforded a view of the woods beyond the Paint. A person would have to pointedly look down into the river to catch sight of someone.
So my trip upstream seemed to be a fairly safe proposition. I didn’t want to bother with a canoe. I laced up an old pair of tennis shoes and waded into the water.
“Where ya going,” said my brother who had popped up on the riverbank.
I kept picking my water through the water toward the small rapids.
“Just up the river,” I called back. “You can come.”
He pondered this suggestion and since his dance card was apparently empty, he decided to come.
“Okay,” he called over the water. “I’m gonna get my shoes too.”
I motioned for him to hurry and found a large flat rock to stand on. From this viewpoint I was centered right in the middle of the river and watched it curl downstream and out of sight. Turning around I felt the sun on my face as I stared upstream. Even as a child, I innately understood how special this was. This stretch of woods and water completely untouched by human hand.
A splashing interrupted my reverie. I turned back to see my brother stomping his way through the water toward my resting rock.
“Did you tell mom we would be back soon?” I asked.
“Yeah, she said not to go too far,” he replied.
I nodded absently. Distances were truly a matter of personal opinion. My “too far” and mother’s were probably radically different. I never pursued the subject.
We stepped off the rock and waded upstream. The water quickly became ankle deep and relatively easy to navigate.
Here the bottom is mostly sandy with an occasional outbreak of small rocks. Minnows flashed sliver through the clear water. Crouching down on our haunches, we stood very still watching them congregate around our toes.
Occasionally I would bend over to pick up a colored stone that caught my eye. These small treasures were always emptied out into a small box at the end of the day.
Above ravens cawed flying from tree top to tree top. I stopped at a pile of rocks to point out the crayfish.
“Look here,” I said motioning my brother over. “Check them out, they look like tiny lobsters.”
Naturally he stuck his hand down to the rocks scattering the tiny creatures.
“Nice going,” I scolded. “You scared them away.”
“They’ll come back,” he answered having lost interest.
In fact the whole afternoon was wearing on him. He was bored and ready to walk back.
“Let’s go,” he said. “Let’s go see what dad is doing.”
“I just want to go past that next bend in the river. I haven’t been that far before,” I said.
“I don’t want to. Let’s just go.”
“Go then,” I told my brother. “It’s not that far, you know how to get back.”
He gave me a mulish look. “Aren’t you coming?” he asked.
“Yeah, but I just want to go a little bit farther!” I exclaimed. “You don’t need me just to go home!”
He shook his head obstinately. “Mom said not to be gone too long. I gonna tell her you wouldn’t come back with me.”
“Look!” I exploded. “I am coming very soon! Just go! Seriously you don’t need a road map. Just walk back down the river!”
With a sullen face, he left me plopping down the middle of the stream.
I have always felt the pull of what’s beyond the next bend, the next curve in the trail…the distant fork in the river. To this day, I urge my family to the top of the mountain, another mile down the bike path, and just a few more steps through the woods. They find it mystifying.
So on this day, I had to look. I just had to push back the boundary a little farther.
Plus, it was a perfect afternoon. The water rolled between my feet and the sun warmed my face. I poked along the river looking for more treasures.
Around the next bend the river widened quite a bit. And became deeper. I spotted a red bobber floating in the slower moving water along the shore. And then another one. And another. I waded in to get a better look getting my shorts wet.
Looking down through the clear water, I saw the bobbers were attached with a string to white containers hovering along the riverbed. I pulled on a string and raised up the contraption. It was a plastic liter bottle that had been added onto with various spouts. This was obviously a homemade job. Inside I saw small fish, about two or three inches long, frantically swimming in crazy circles. At the bottom of the bottle were tiny crayfish sitting stoically.
Seeing the creatures imprisoned broke my heart. They were so helpless. This wasn’t right. I looked up and down the river for a clue as to why the bottles were here. But this was a remote section of the river. The tag alders hugged the banks hard. The woods behind impenetrable. Whoever had set these bottles couldn’t have come from anyplace nearby.
The courageous acts of my (new) namesake d’Artagnan stirred inside of me. He was brave, loyal, and clever. He would never waver when it came to doing The Right Thing. It was decided. I would rescue these fish and set them free. In my mind, they were no different than the animals that roamed the woods. They deserved to live and I was the one to give them back their lives.
I set about pulling up the plastic bottles and breaking them open. The fish darted off without a backward glance. It gave me so much pleasure to see them free that I was oblivious to my surroundings. (I didn’t know it then but the fish were chubs and sold as bait fish.)
“HEY!” roared a man’s husky voice. “Whaddya think your doing! You git away from thar!”
I jumped and spun around. Guilt washing over my face. A canoe was creeping around the bend. In the bow of the boat stood a pocked faced man paddling with a metal snow shovel. I was stunned to see him STANDING in a canoe. Even I knew not to do that. He wore muddy fishing waders and a raggedy checked shirt. Behind him in the stern sat another man. He was clenching a beer can in one hand and using a boat oar in the other to steer the canoe. He was also wearing waders, a filthy shirt, and an ugly sneer.
They were furious. At me.
“Those are ar traps!” the man in front snarled. “You git your hands offa them.”
“Frankie, I think she done let all our fish go,” sputtered the man in back.
“You gonna pay girl,” shouted the man called Frankie.
I had no where to run. But that didn’t matter. I was rooted to the spot with fear.
Frankie dug his snow shovel in and propelled the canoe forward.
They pulled alongside where I stood. The water was just above my knees.
“Hey ain’t you one of them preacher kids?” asked Frankie. “Gil, I think this here is one of the preacher’s brats.”
The men were now close enough for me to see inside their canoe. It was littered with more traps. There was also a beat-up cooler, jackets, and empty cans of beer. Even from a few feet away, I could smell them. They stunk of booze, dirty bodies, and bad teeth. Frankie was missing two in front and I could see Gil wasn’t faring much better.
“Well this is gonna cost us girl!” growled Frankie. He, amazingly, was still standing in the canoe. “You gonna have to pay us for all them lost fish.”
“I didn’t know they were yours,” I said in a small voice. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry! Didja hear that Gil? The brat says she’s sorry! Oh yeah, you’re gonna be sorry!” Frankie sneered.
I looked up into the filthy face of Frankie. His eyes gleamed with malicious fury. I stumbled back a step in the water. I had just realized who these men were. The Junkin’s. Jesse’s boys. Both of them meaner than a skunk with a rash. I kept backing up in the water, stumbling over rocks.
“Where ya going?” asked Gil. “You ain’t gonna git too far,” he laughed.
I stopped moving trembling in the warm sun.
The canoe nosed right up alongside me. Frankie was holding the canoe in one spot by digging the snow shovel into the riverbed. With one hand firmly on the snow shovel, he leaned over trying to grab my shoulder with his free hand. Instinctively I ducked down and stepped back. But my right foot struck a large rock sending me off balance. Teetering I pitched backward and clutched the first think I could grab. The snow shovel. Still planted in the river.
“Hey let go girl,” yelled Frankie. But it was too late. I pulled on that shovel with all my strength causing the canoe to rock. Frankie lost his footing and crashed back onto the right side of the gunwale. The canoe tipped precariously. Finally listing to one side and gulping in the river water. In seconds the boat was filled with water. Gil and Frankie rolled out of the canoe angrily trying to right it. The air filled with curses. I didn’t hesitate. I turned and stomped through the river toward the shallow water.
“Hey git back here!” yelled Frankie. Gil turned in the river and took one menacing step toward me. But the heavy water gaiters slowed him down. He only took a few strides and gave up.
“You damn kid!” roared Gil. His ugly mouth twisted in a lopsided “o”.
His anger was diverted when Frankie shouted.
“Gil, grab them traps quick!” he shouted to his brother. “We losing stuff!”
Indeed the contents of the canoe were merrily making their way downstream. I saw one of their jackets get caught up on a submerged branch and then the cooler come to a stop on a rock.
With only sneakers on I had the distinct advantage. I took one last look at the men scrambling in the water retrieving whatever they could. And then I flew down that riverbed never looking back.
Carolyn's note: The Cabin Chronicles is an ongoing feature on my life growing up in the Northwoods of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. On a regular basis, I will be posting new chapters on stories that will surprise you, stun you, and hopefully make you laugh and cry! To read past chapters, go to the heading entitled Blog on the top bar of tswails.com and click on the Cabin Chronicles. Hope you enjoy!)
A view of the Paint River upstream from our cabin.
A view of the Paint River going downstream of the cabin.
Terry and Eden standing on the cabin's riverbank.