The Rock River Raft Rift

Caution: An even longer one than the previous one:

It began with a canoe trip down the river. It was sanctioned, and heavily promoted by the tourist industry of both the state, as well as the region, but it was a little out of hand at the moment. This particular ride was filled by people unfamiliar with the area, possibly out-of-state, but surely out of the area. This accounts for some of the difficulties that occurred during the river ride.

Thick and bulky safety vests were strapped onto each person before they climbed into the canoes. This was a regulation of the state, and would be strictly adhered to in this particular area unless the canoeist was already deceased. Some straps were tightened down, making it less bulky, while others let their vests hang loosely, but strapped sufficiently to abide by the law. Fortunately the small boy was paid particular attention to and his vest was tightly attached, after they finally found a small one with much difficulty since children didn’t generally take this trip.

The boats took to the water, tipped a little while the riders got their ‘sea legs’, and began sliding down the river.

Unknown to them, they were the second flotilla of canoes travelling down the river. The first had left an hour ago, but left from further upstream, so it was uncertain how far ahead they were from the sightseers. These were not sightseers, nor were they canoeists, but it is possible they were naturalists of a sort, since they were going downstream to protest the treatment of the forest nearby their homes.

They were protesting the persistent use of the woods by nudists, yes, those horrendous, obnoxious, and generally unflattering law breakers. They had been hiding in the woods, running freely and openly, boycotting the very laws that were guaranteed by the Constitution and local edicts. Although no one could understand it, they were also displaying sexual demonstrations on the sand bars, in the river itself, and even in the woods. While they claimed it was a freeing feeling that was the ultimate pleasure, the presence of poison plants, cold water, and heavy mosquito populations had to make everyone who wasn’t directly involved wonder about it.

Laws, rules, and heavy-handed suggestions did not affect their persistence. The military branch of the state, the DNR, had blocked entrances, sections of the woods, and had eventually cleared away all of the underbrush so that their naked bodies would be visible and photographable in order to enable arresting and prosecuting them. One has to wonder if filming such naked activity was illegal in the first place, even in the effort of crime prevention. I certainly didn’t want such a job, knowing that nudists didn’t tend to all be men and women in their twenties and equipped with sleek bodies you normally find in magazines promoting the societies.

The first set of boats set themselves up in the middle of the river. Anchors were dropped, noise makers were uncovered and shaken at the rebellious nudists, and plastic covered batteries were unwrapped and put into the high-powered bull horns. The protest against the nudist’s protest began.

It was a warm day, noted by both sides, explaining the presence of both of them in larger numbers than normal. There were two boats floating in the river and they had crossed their anchor lines to keep from being washed downstream. The sand did not hold an anchor well, and the cross-tying gave them a better footing while they stood in the boats. The only thing giving them any chance at all was that these were flat-bottomed canoes, allowing them to stand up, holding up posters and yelling through their bull-horns. These were especially irritating since voices could be heard over the noise of the water easily, and the shores were not far enough away to make them necessary.

The Nudists stood in a line along the shore, shouting their own protest and shaking their fists, among other things, some of intentional, some of it basic physiology. They were a little ways from their most popular site, having been lured by the naval protesters to the deeper water of a turn in the river where their voices could shout over the blatant horns.

Along came the second wave of boaters. So far the trip had been fairly calm and easy. The canoes were easily handled by those more experienced, and they continued to the nudist’s site. They didn’t understand how so much noise could be coming at them from down the river. They guessed that maybe there was a larger town or even a city around the bend that hadn’t been mentioned in the brochures. Fortunately the bull horns had been silenced by batteries knocked loose as they neared.

“Hey, Look out!” the leader of the first canoe yelled ahead to the boats stopped right in mid-stream. The yellow ropes crossed and entering the water told him that they were not going to be able to move quickly, even if they had any inclination to do so. He immediately swung his canoe to the left, directly towards the nudists that were just appearing to him as he swung around the river’s bend.

His paddle joined the others in mid-air, unable to drop into the water while the people holding them were staring at the masses of flesh jumping up and down on the shoreline. It was not a pretty sight, as there were veteran nudists, having the body attributes that told of their age and eating habits.

The canoe struck the ropes holding the anchors, climbed them with the pressure of the flowing water, then suddenly slid between the ropes, turning downstream once again, but this time with the tail of the boat going first, and going down into the water at the same time. It filled quickly and sunk with all hands aboard.

Fortunately the life vests held the people up in the water, but also made it nearly impossible to maintain their positions as the pressure of the water sought to wash them downstream. They passed next to the standing people in the canoes, and frantically grabbed onto the edges of the floating boats with both hands.

People flew in all directions as the two stationary boats tipped, swung back, and then catapulted the occupants far from their standing point. One boat filled with water as a rider hooked a leg over the gunnel and hung upside down in the water, holding the boat over while it quickly filled with river water.

Two people held him upright and head out of the water, but it was only momentary. Two survivors from the moving canoe hit them at the same time and dislodged them. The four supposed rescuers floated downstream, just as the safety vests were built to do. None of them were able to counter the water flow and disappeared around the next corner. Everyone else from the stationary boats had landed on the far side of a boat, and getting around the vessel was nearly impossible without pushing it into the water, submerging it like the other.  The vests kept them high enough over the river bed that they couldn’t stand up either. To not sink the boat they eventually let go and floated downstream, or made it the to the shore.

“He’s going to drown!” was yelled from the shoreline while seeing the upside down protester disappear from sight completely as his boat sank next to him. At first it was hoped that the sinking of the boat would free him, but seconds passed and he didn’t reappear.

A woman from the shore, clearly a powerful swimmer, hit the water and was next to the submerged man in a few seconds. another naked swimmer arrived shortly afterward, in time to see the sunken man resurfacing in the arms of the naked woman. “in the arms” was a bit of a visual misnomer.

The rescuer was, to say the least, well-endowed when it came to her breasts. As she held the man up between her chests, it looked like the man had sprouted a couple of extra heads. They were easily equal in size to his skull and were hugging his ears on either side while she kept his head above the water. He didn’t mind as he gasped for air, and tried to shake his head as the second moving canoe rounded the bend.

Their reaction was quite different from that of the first boat . Without trying to avoid the calamity in the middle of the river, their paddles froze in a downward position. This made them do a hard left hand turn (to port if you will), that continued until they pointed upstream briefly, and kept turning until they were leaning upstream on their paddles.  They continued circling until they were leaning downstream and their combined weight rolled the boat over as they were still leaning into the paddles.

The boy, a young teenager, caught one of the anchor lines and held on while his floatation device held him above water. The combination of the vest and his handhold on the rope caused his feet to ride up into the air and stick out like small, sunken tree trunks. Between his feet he was intently watching the shoreline. Plenty of the sun-worshipers were still frozen in place at the disaster continued.

“Get a stick, something to pry his foot out of the boat.” The second swimmer demanded from someone still on shore. Nearly all of them turned and ran into the woods. This both disappointed and disgusted the young viewer as his vision was changed to views of posteriors that he had never wanted to see in the first place. He couldn’t turn away without losing his grip on the rope, and continued to watch the sight that was quickly becoming overwhelming. He even considered letting go of the rope and floating downstream, but his sense of survival denied this while he hung on.

“We can’t find anything!” was yelled several times by the returning shore runners. It wasn’t unexpected since the efforts of the state DNR had cleared up the brush as fanatically as a cleanly as a squad of professional hotel maids. They had also destroyed and carried away any resemblance of any campfire they found also, even heavily charred logs carried in by the nudists long ago, before the latest of the DNR’s application of the law. So far this had been happening  for nearly twenty years, and the woods could almost be call pristine; no fallen tree branches and no underbrush for about a mile in either direction.

“I can’t get his leg clear under the water.” The second rescuer informed them as he reemerged a second time from being underwater for nearly a minute. He stood panting heavily, looking for relief from someone holding a stick in his hand, but it wasn’t to be.

Suddenly there was a very loud and repetitive noise coming at them at treetop level. The huge engines of the helicopter whirled the blades overhead and created a powerful downwind as it nearly flew past, then reared up. This sent a gust of wind that nearly knocked down the shore people, then it steadied itself right over the sunken canoes, still at treetop level.

Now nothing could be heard and the helicopter could see nothing directly under its flat bottom, stopping all the rescue attempts. The only conversations occurring were those between the DNR on either side of the river, up on the bluffs, and the helicopter  that was also using the radio and headsets. Snipers watched the groups of people, shore occupants as well as the bunch in the water. How none of them accidentally touched their triggers while they used their rifle scopes for close-up views was either a mystery, good training, or familiarity from other incidents like this while protecting  the innocence of the river travelers.

The boy was being submerged by the downwind of the helicopter, and soon lost his grip on the rope. In fear of his life he grabbed the first thing he could reach. The naked flesh was slippery due to the water, and he lost that grip also. He continued towards the rescuer and the victim. A single red strap floated on top of the water from the victim’s rescue vest. He grabbed it tightly in a single fist.

It stretched out until he was a few feet downstream of the near drowning, and he also was extended outward by the strap and the water flow. His bare feet kicked to keep him from pulling so hard on the strap and losing it due to fatigue.

The lady holding up the man with three heads was getting tired and she shuffled her feet as she stood in the fairly rapid water. A rock was also right beneath one of the feet, making her stand in one place all the more difficult. “I need a knife.” She tried to tell anyone, but the wash of the helicopter rotor was much too loud. The only one to hear it was the floating boy, dangling downstream like a kite in the water.

He immediately began digging in his pocket, risking his grip on the strap, but thrusting his hand into his pants as quickly as possible. He deftly turned the folding knife in his free hand, facing the open side of it towards his mouth. He thought of his mother condemning him for doing the very same thing only two days ago, but did it anyway in this emergency.

Putting the edge of the knife blade between his teeth, he pulled the body of the knife away and tried to  open it. It took several attempts before he had the right blade in his mouth, could grip it hard enough without chipping a tooth, and finally turned the body of the knife so that the blade was extracted.

As it snapped he was already moving it towards his other hand. Carefully but quickly he switched the knife with the rope he was holding, and managed to hold onto both, saving him from floating downstream, and from helping to save the drowning man. He shook the hand that held the rope to get the cramp out of it.

“Take the knife” the rescuer was telling the second rescuer standing by, having caught his breath after a third trip underwater. “The rope is wrapped around my leg.” She told him as he reached for the knife from the boy. He quickly used both hands to grip the rope then, leaving the knife in the hand of the rescuer. “Cut it loose and you’ll be able to pull it off of the boat where it has him tied to it also.”

It seemed easy the way she described it, and after a brief submersion, the leg of the victim that had been floating just under the water, went out of sight. He stood up suddenly and turned to view his rescuer as she stood mere inches from his face. His jaw dropped as quickly as his eyes had when they viewed the woman’s attributes.

He suddenly realized what his head had been cradling within, and his face turned the color of the safety vest. For a second he withdrew his hand, not wanting to touch anything inappropriately, but extended it once more in a show of strength, but slightly more to the side.

“I had to cut your pants leg to get it out of the knots in the rope.” The second rescuer from the shore informed him. “They were all tied up in it.” He added. The protester from the boat shook the hand of the woman as best he could while reaching with his arm fully extended, then shook the hand of the naked man standing next to him.

“Hey!” a smaller voice came from downstream. The rescued victim reached over and pulled the boy into his arms, relieving his sore arms and clenched fingers. He hugged the boy, holding him up from the water, then gave him to the other man.

By this time the useless helicopter drifted off and was counting the survivors that had washed downstream, some of which had landed on shore and were now standing alongside the nudists, oblivious to their nakedness as they watched the rescue. They cheered as the boy was put into the arms of the naked rescuer.

But it was nothing compared to the cheer that went out as the rescued man gave the naked woman the biggest hug possible without falling into the water. The shoreline people cheered and clapped heartily, and even the clapping of some of the DNR rangers echoed as well from above on the bluffs.

There was no loss of life, the canoes were lifted and re-floated by the entire menagerie of people, and each group eventually went the way they had begun. Nothing was visible to show that the incident had ever occurred there. Eventually brush grew back, and the area was properly signed and marked to facilitate the nudists as well as the residents.

The question had been raised how I had ever learned of it. It was well known by the DNR, who erected the signs and testified in the local village for the isolating the area of the forest rather than condemning it. The naked visitors and residents alike established a more appealing presence in their forest, one that promoted publicity with the healthier aspects of nudity. And I still carry my folding knife in the pocket of my Warden’s uniform.

Barbara Blackcinder


About Barbara Blackcinder

I am a poet/writer with a need for words. There are so many out there that I haven't used yet. They define all reality and mine when you read those from me.
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