Thursday, April 15, 2004

Back to Florida, and the much alluded to canoe story:

When I was eight, we went canoeing. In one was me, my father, and my stepmother. In the other was two of my aunts, an uncle, and my younger cousin Amanda. Bama and Timmy, my aunt and uncle, are big outdoors-y type people. I am not. Oh, I'm trying to be a little better about it now, since I live in Seattle. You can't not be active here. Glamour girls in Gucci look at me in shock and gasp "you've never been camping!?" at me here. So I'm trying to change my ways. But this canoe trip 13 years ago remains my one and only canoeing experience.

At eight I had not yet read Heart of Darkness and so had not yet developed a frame of reference for the musty Conradian trip down the river, but I remember it almost like we had brought a copy of the story along with us. In my memory, natives were at any moment going to launch arrows at us from the shadows. I'm always surprised when I think of this trip that there was no madman at the end.

But enough with the digressions and the melodrama. We were canoeing. I was eight years old and not expected to do a thing aside from sit in the middle of the boat and fiddle with our camera. About a third of the way down the river Timmy shouted to us, pointing at the riverbank. We looked, and there on the side, sunbathing, were two alligators that were about five or six feet long. (Alligators grow about a foot a year.) Even though gators are a pretty common sight in the swamp, they still send a shiver up my spine. They're pretty harmless except for when they're not, but when they're riled they can be lightning quick and twice as dangerous. Anything like that deserves a little shiver.

So ok, we were canoeing in a river with the alligators. This is no big deal; this is to be expected. I was uninterested and returned to studying my shoes, which had blue bows on them. I found them fascinating, and I lost track of our course down the river, which is likely why I'm still not sure exactly how I ended up under the canoe. Outside sources (my other family members) said that my parents had both leaned the same way going under a low tree branch and that had tipped the canoe. All that I know is that one moment it was bright daylight and the next I was trapped underneath a tipped over boat.

They couldn't find me on the surface of the water and it took them a few minutes to think of looking under the boat. I would have liked to panic but I was so shocked that it hadn't occurred to me. All of a sudden the canoe lifted and the sunlight was back. That's when I actually put the pieces together and figured out that I was underneath all that time. We paddled over to the shore and hoisted ourselves back in. My uncle and father dove to retrieve as many possessions as they could, but the camera, my stepmother's watch, and my shoes were nowhere to be found. During the confusion another couple paddled by and the man asked, winking at me, if he could keep whatever he found downstream. It was then that I got really upset.

But I'm not sure how to describe my emotions when we made it further down the river and passed a couple more alligators on the riverbank, one of which had a shoe with a little blue bow resting on its nose. I let it keep the shoe.

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