From Stories from the Creekbank by Curt Iles
Keep on Paddling
Our canoe drifted into the swift cold waters of the White River. All of a sudden we’d left the calm waters of the narrow Buffalo River and now were paddling furiously upstream in a raging, much-wider river.
Frank Bogard and I were at the end of a three-day August river float on Arkansas’ beautiful Buffalo River. On the secluded last thirty miles of this designated National River, we’d seen no humans and enjoyed the company of eagles, deer, and beautiful views. It had been a serene and peaceful trip out in God’s great creation.
However, there is nothing serene or peaceful where we were now. To get to our pull-out point, where our truck was parked, we had to paddle upstream for one-half mile at the point where the smaller Buffalo River enters the White River. Our parking location on the White River was south of Bull Shoals Lake. We’d been told to make our upstream paddle in the morning to escape the times when water, released from the dam during the creation of electricity, makes the White River a large and dangerous stream.
Well, we’d arrived early in the morning, but there was no doubt they were releasing water upstream. The larger river was high and raging. Right ahead of where we entered the White, a large island extended into the channel. All around it foaming water flowed where the river narrowed into a raging torrent. Trees were flooded on the opposite bank. Just past our entry point and slightly downstream, the loud noise of water hitting a large-rocks area caught both of our attention as we paddled diligently.
As we came into the White River’s strong influence, I was amazed at how cold the water felt. The bottom of the canoe became cold to my sandaled feet. And the cold water, released hours earlier from deep in the depths of Bull Shoals Lake, had what I’d describe as a cold smell to it. I zipped my life jacket tighter wondering how long a man would last in these ice-cold waters.
And then Frank and I did the only thing we could do: we begin paddling as if our life depended on it. For a while I wondered if we would be able to escape the grip of the White River pulling us backwards and downstream. But as we got our bow straight, paddled in unison, and hugged the left bank, we begin to make progress.
One-half mile doesn’t sound like much, but paddling a canoe upstream against the current of a mighty river made it a long distance. We both paddled furiously. Soon sweat popped out on my forehead in spite of the surrounding cold air and water. There was hardly time for conversation between Frank and I—all of our energies were on one thing—getting upstream away from the raging stream and rocks behind us.
The entire time, I could hear the water crashing into the rocks downstream at our backs. It felt if we stopped paddling for even one stroke, it would be enough to lose momentum and be pulled back into the rocks. My arms ached and burned, but I knew I must keep paddling. My whole mind and body were consumed with only one thought: Just keep on paddling.
I also remembered that at some point we must paddle across the river to our docking point on the opposite shore. Glancing to the left bank, it was evident we were now making good headway as the shoreline eased by.
We now entered a straight and wider stretch of the White. Now we knew we were going to make it. Seeing the landing, ahead and across the river, we began angling across the wide river. This area of the river, though wider, didn’t have the same pull of current as it earlier did. Soon we were across and at the landing.
What an experience our entire trip was! I’ll never forget the rapids on the Buffalo, and the doe and her twin fawns crossing the river as we stood fishing in knee-deep water. I’ll cherish the bald eagle we saw fly over and the sound of the whip-poor-wills calling at Elephant Head Bluff as we camped out. But long after I’ve forgotten these images, I believe I’ll still recall the cold, clear water of the White River and our paddling with all of our soul and might to get upstream.
Here is why I believe I’ll remember our paddling on the White River: Already numerous times since that trip, I’ve come up against obstacles and difficulties. Each time I’ve heard a voice deep in my heart imploring me to keep on paddling, don’t quit, you can’t quit, just keep on paddling, and you’ll get there. You’re too close to the end to give up. Keep on paddling.
And to you my reader, especially those who may be in the midst of a tough, upstream paddle against the raging troubles of life, I can only give you eight words of advice from my heart to yours: Don’t ever give up. Just keep on paddling.