On the River with the Eagles

Personal Writings

Marble Falls     I can remember coming home from Boy Scout camping trips as a boy and falling asleep immediately at six o’clock at night and not waking up for twelve hours or so.  Coming back recently from canoeing with my son, Chaco, it felt the same.  I switched off the light at 8pm, which is ridiculous, right?  Woke up at 10pm, brushed my teeth, took my pill, and didn’t wake up again until 430 am.  It’s not just the physical exertion, mind you, it’s the work plus the adrenalin that it takes to face the water, no matter how thrilling and beautiful.

Chaco and I had been working out of Arkansas for most of the week.  My truck was in the shop for about the same amount of time.  A notice from the Arkansas Canoe Club hit my in-box for something called an “Eagles and Icicles” trip on the Kings River in the Ozarks around Eureka Springs and points unknown, at least to us.  We liked the eagles’ part, but the icicles might be a problem, we thought, but what the heck, how bad could it be, and we’d earned a chance to hit the water and take his canoe out again even if winter was still upon us.

We got an early start to the day, fortified ourselves with eggs and bacon, fastened the canoe onto the top and bed of my truck, packed much of what they insisted in the dry bags, and were off a bit after 8am to make the 10 am start time.  It was almost 90 minutes of back county roads, hills, and curves, before we hit the dirt road to the put-in spot on the Kings, a nice piece of water flowing from south to north through the bluffs.  There was quite a crew there in a dozen different crafts from rafts to kayaks to canoes and even three intrepid souls ready for the water and the rapids on paddleboards.  Adding up children and one dog, there were probably twenty of us in all.  The paddlers ranged from folks in jeans like us to people in slick wetsuits, helmets, and all manner of gear fastened with carabiners to their boats.  We were welcomed as Arkansas-outliers with a Louisiana plate.

Nine of us in our vehicles followed the leader to the takeout spot and were shuttled back efficiently in a local outfitter’s passenger van.  It was all well organized, but of course was also an exercise in herding cats armed with paddles, so we were pushing an hour later than the put-in time that was advertised once that was all done.  We listened to the safety protocols, and learned the canoe hand and paddle signals on the river.  No matter, we pushed off and were in the water, trying to place ourselves in the middle of the boats.  The water was green.  The bluffs were majestic. The rain forecast had disappeared.  The cold weather was upper 40s heading to mid-50s with overcast skies.  Nice!

Of course, there was adventure.  Most of our time has been on the bayous and rivers along the Gulf Coast states, rather than fast, rippling water.  We didn’t want to lead, but stay in the middle, so we could gauge the rapids correctly and learn the Kings better.  To our surprise, and somewhat our shock, too often we were near the lead or even in the lead.  Part of the story is that Chaco’s canoe is relatively fast on the water.  More of the story though may be that most saw this trip as more of a float and less of a paddle.  Most of our real paddling was in the rapids, and some of that was just using the paddle as a rudder to keep the course until we dug hard to keep away from the banks.  The water was fast enough, and these were rapids, but this was no Rocky Mountains, Colorado rivers, death-defying run through boulders kind of thing.  All of it was pretty mild in the scale of rough water, but it required paying attention and some skill, especially for us, so we had to stay on alert and the ready.

But, oh mercy, the water was beautiful and every curve of the river opened up one gorgeous bit of wild, untamed scenery after another.  The eagles were every bit as advertised.  Some were in full fluff and other fledglings were as amazing.  From their perches, sometimes they simply stared at us, arrogant and powerful.  Other times they swooped and soared on ahead.  We could see their nests in tall, leafless trees high above us.  They weren’t alone.  A half-dozen Canadian geese rose ahead of us at one point, and others watched, indifferent, from the banks.  Ducks rose and flew as we approached.

By 5pm, we had pulled the boat up on the truck again, helped and been helped by our fellow paddlers, said our goodbyes and bid our leave, counting our time as a wonderful, unforgettable day and a bit of nature’s gift that we wished all could share.