This is a copyrighted original work of fiction. All rights reserved.
All characters featured herein are at least eighteen years of age, even if not expressly stated. Any resemblance between actual persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Song lyrics contained herein remain the original artist's property.
Many thanks to editor Tom Graham of Girls_cum_first.
I slipped my canoe into the creek water, stepped in while steadying the craft, pushed off and eased myself into the seat. I was in Heaven again. The weather was warm already. I was looking forward to a perfect day.
Since I was a boy, I've taken this annual solo trip. Just one day, a scant few hours really. No other event during the year, not Christmas, nor holidays, not birthdays, nothing compares to my few hours drifting down this creek. All my family matters, work, my worries and fears, everything disappears. It's just me, nature, the creek and the brown trout within.
The creek itself is not spectacular, the section I travel is in the upper reaches. Even the fishing isn't particularly good. The eight miles or so that I glide down runs through farm country, then eventually drains into the Great Lakes basin. My aunt and uncle's farm used to back onto it.
My aunt died years ago and the farm was sold. But I still return. This was my thirtieth year as an adult making this trip. I must have done the same number of trips, or near enough as a youngster.
I know this section of the creek. I know every twist, every eddy, every riffle in the water, every tree, every stone, every bush. I know where the fish are, and aren't. I know the bird's nests, I know where muskrats live, where the possum lives, the mink too. As I've been making this trip for the last three decades on either the first or second Saturday in June, I know when and where the bugs hatch.
The logistics of the trip are very simple. Having packed everything the night before, I leave at six a.m. for the two hour drive to my cousin Dan's house. My uncle Roy lives with Dan and his family in a modest little house since they sold the farm about twenty years ago. Dan is a mechanic in Carlisle, the local town.
Every year I stop in and say hi to whoever is home, whether it's Dan's wife or one of their kids then Dan, old uncle Roy and I head into Carlisle to stop at Clara's Country Kitchen where we have breakfast together and catch up before we drop me, the canoe and my gear off at my starting point. They then drive my car and trailer along with Dan's pick-up to the other end and lock the spare set of keys inside the car. Before leaving Clara's I order a toasted ham and cheese to take-out for my lunch. That and a six pack of Coors Lite and I'm good for the day. It would be unusual for me to have more than two beers during the trip, but I stash the whole six pack in the canoe anyway.
As it was unusually warm and sunny that day I knew fishing would be poor. I didn't care. Most years I just release the little trout anyway. I'm always equipped with two rods, one an eight foot fly rod with a caddis fly on the end, the other an ultra-light spinning rod with a small Mepps. I always pack a few spare flies and lures. Most of the gear that I stow consists of a back-pack with spare clothing, rain gear, a small tarp. I had this routine down pat.
For a short section of creek, it has a surprising number of looks to it even though it runs through agricultural land for the most part. The creek meanders for the first few miles with a gravelly bottom and a few pools. There the fishing is good. Next there is a very shallow wider section where the bottom is a combination of shale, a few gravelly stones and clay. It is in this section, especially in drier years, that I have to actually get out of the canoe and walk it along. After that section there is another half mile of gentle twists to the creek with trees, mainly native mixed hardwoods. This section is narrower but deeper. A channel runs along the center. A tree, long fallen over, crosses the creek causing another step out of the canoe in that section.
Then the creek makes a slow turn into Morgan's Canal. At least that's what my uncle would call it. It's a dead straight section about three hundred yards long, fairly narrow with very slow moving water and a muddy, clay bottom. A deeper channel runs along the center, perhaps three foot deep. The section is picturesque in that it is bordered on both sides with old willow trees and other mixed hardwoods and shrubs. The surrounding land is very low through this section. Although the fishing is not particularly good here, it's my favorite section. Morgan's Canal is not a canal at all. It's what was left by the early pioneer, Morgan, who drained a swamp exposing probably twenty or thirty acres of land. It had to have been quite the undertaking back then.
After Morgan's Canal the creek sweeps to the left and there is a small parkette which is accessible from the nearby concession road. It's just a picnic area, but there are two small ponds and coniferous trees giving the parkette a cozy protected feel. If I ever see anyone else on the creek, it's there at the parkette. Usually it will be a couple of kids with a fishing rod and bobber hoping to catch a sunfish.
Beyond the parkette was my aunt and uncle's farm. In that section and those beyond, the creek resembles the first section in that the bottom is gravelly and the fishing is good. The creek slowly meanders through the farm fields and is bordered by the odd tree clump and shrubs all along. The last section has a few good fishing pools and two more locations where I have to get out and walk the canoe through shallow riffles.
The entire eight mile section is shaped more or less as a big S with the parkette roughly half way. The entire trip takes me about six hours to drift along.
There is no need to paddle. I simply steer the ten foot canoe where it needs to head. I sit in the bow seat, seated in effect backwards and rest the paddle across the gunwales in front of me and pick up a fishing rod and cast.
Aside from the sounds of nature, one can sometimes hear a car pass along the concession road off in the distance, but that's it. I'm in my element. With every turn in the creek it's as if a mental layer is peeled back from me. By the time I get to Morgan's Canal I am zoned out. I am chilled. I am at peace with myself and with God.
It all started with my cousin Dan really. I was about seven or eight when my aunt and uncle bought the farm. My aunt Edna was my dad's older sister. Both my parents have passed away now, as has aunt Edna. We would visit the farm each summer for about two weeks, and being an only child I had to make my own entertainment. Dan, my cousin, is a good ten years older than me, and quite understandably he really didn't want anything to do with his little kid cousin. I'd play with the chickens, watch the few cows for a while, stay the hell away from the mean bull, wander through the corn fields, then ultimately land up at the creek catching frogs and crayfish, and chasing turtles. 'Terrapins' my uncle would call them.
I guess I was about ten when Dan, given the task of entertaining his little cousin, suggested that he drive me and his old canoe up the creek together with a fishing pole and have me drift slowly back to the farm. The entertainment problem was solved for Dan. A whole new universe was opened up for me.
I stopped going to the farm when I was fifteen or sixteen or so, having the excuse of a summer job keeping me in the city. At, I think, twenty one or so I reconnected and started going up just for the canoe ride. At first I would go with a friend, then later with my wife and then later once with my son, but none of them cared for the experience. Eventually they all left me to do the trip myself. I guess it was about twenty years ago that the farm was sold and my canoe trip was extended beyond the farm to where the concession road crossed it, effectively doubling the route and making it a whole day affair, as it still stands.
It was on that thirtieth trip, on that glorious, warm, June day while mayflies danced around me that something extraordinary happened.
I rounded the bend towards Morgan's Canal drifting sideways, casting to a little overhang created by a tree root on the right bank. I took in my first glance down the long straight, breathing in with delight.
Immediately I saw something different. Way down at the other end, some three hundred yards away, on the little bit of bank that juts out into the creek, there was something or someone and something squarish. Like a box or a sign or something. It wasn't moving. I didn't care, I just kept on drifting and casting into the center channel.
After about fifteen minutes, it appeared to me that it was someone sitting with a sign or something in front of them.
Another fifteen minutes or so later it appeared to be a either a blonde woman or a blond child and I guessed, a painting easel in front. Five minutes and a few casts later I determined that it was indeed a woman, or girl. I was still a hundred yards away.
When I got to about a hundred and fifty feet I could make out that it was a woman, thin, about my age. She was sitting on a small fold up stool with an easel and painting, probably two foot by two foot. She was painting with brushes. Both she and the easel were set up on the little jutting out bit of the right bank, on a small flat spot that has a U-shaped juniper bush kind of holding it together. I know the bush well. I knew all the bushes well.
A few minutes later as I very calculatingly drifted directly towards her, I smiled at her, she smiled at me. Neither of us said a word. She stopped painting and just watched me as I intruded into her space. I cast again clearly showing her that I did not mind her intruding into my space. The silence between us became uncomfortable, almost painful.
"I'll buy it," I said.
She laughed out loud, "You've not seen it."
"I don't have to," I said, "anyone as pretty as you could only produce a beautiful painting."
She laughed again, "Oh that's priceless. Prince Charming just drifted up to me and I didn't even have to kiss the frog."
This time I laughed.
"Seriously I'll buy it," I said to her.
"But you don't even know what I'm painting," she answered.
"Of course I do, you're painting something I love, this creek," I stated confidently.
" Okay...okay," she said, "does Prince Charming come here often, then?"
"Not often," I answered, "do you mind if I land my canoe here?" I thought I should ask in case she felt threatened encountering a stranger -- me - in the wild.
"How else are you going to see your painting? And how much are you willing to pay for this painting, may I ask?" she inquired with mock tone to her voice and a grin on her face.
"A hundred bucks," I answered bravely while leaning back in the canoe thereby gently easing the stern onto the bank.
"Sold," she quickly countered, but then added, "but it's not finished."
"Well...I guess I'll have take delivery when it's finished. Do you mind if I get out to see the painting?"
"Please do," she said smiling, waving her arm inviting me forward.
As I got out I said "I'm Tom Davies," and reached out my hand for her to shake. She was my age, although still sitting on the fold up little chair I could tell she was slim, good looking but with a slightly chiseled, weather worn face. Her blonde hair was a little grey at the temples and here and there, but it was straight, hanging down onto her back, old hippie style.
"Ann Wosniak, pleased to meet you," she took my hand and shook it confidently.
I stepped around to see the painting. It was really, really good! I was impressed.
"I love it!" I said, I think with a bit of startled tone in my voice.
"Do you really like it?" she asked, a little concerned.
"Yeah, I really do. You're a fantastic artist." After a moment I continued, "See, your Prince Charming could tell all of this from his log."
She laughed again, "Well Prince Charming, Tom, I'm so glad your log drifted by."
"May I buy you lunch?" I asked, trying to keep a straight face.
"What here?" she purposefully turned her head looking side to side, "I'm not actually seeing a restaurant or a waiter," she said breaking into a giggle.
"Not to worry!" I immediately replied in my most mock-majestic voice while straightening my back and reaching one arm out to the creek, "I'll have it catered......from the finest establishment is the area...Clara's Country Kitchen!"
She broke out laughing again, "How can I possibly refuse an offer like that?"
I stepped down to the canoe and pulled out the small blue tarp and my little backpack. I dropped the pack and with my right arm, with a flourish I swung the tarp into the air unfolding it as it settled to the ground right next to her and the easel. "A table for M'Lady."
She laughed again and clapped her hands together.
I then pulled out the foil wrapped sandwich and the six pack of Coors Lite from my backpack, "Ta-dah! A toasted ham and cheese sandwich from Clara's...and drinks!"
She clapped her hands in front of her again and laughed, "You really are my Prince Charming!"
It was a very light hearted moment. There was nothing malicious or threatening going on, I was immediately at ease with Ann and I could feel she was at ease with me. I guess that my demeanor had a lot to do with the fact that my mental layers had been pulled back by the canoe trip so far. All my cares had been stripped back, all my hang-ups, my worries. Basically the prick that I'd morphed into in my real life was gone. This was fun. This was the real me.
Over lunch we talked about her artwork, she said that she preferred to do portraitures, especially nudes, but that subject matter was hard to come by, hence she did the occasional landscape. Art for her was just a hobby. It was only in the last few years that she'd been able to get back into it she claimed, after raising a family and such. I told her that I'm married with grown up kids too. We finally settled that my painting purchase is a done deal and that whenever it's ready I'll come by and pick it up and pay for it. I told her that I wished that the painting was from the other end of the stretch looking towards this end because that's the view I'm most familiar with. Downstream with the current.
"Do you come here often?" I asked.
"To this spot...not often," she replied, "but I live nearby".
"Could you do a second painting for me?
She said she could do a painting, in the same style from the other end looking this way. I told her that the hundred dollars that I'd offered for her painting was probably too little. And she replied saying that she had never sold a painting or drawing before and she hadn't really considered the commercial implications of it. She was simply thrilled that someone bought her painting, especially as it was sight unseen. I said to her that I would pay five hundred dollars for the pair of paintings.
She blushed at the offer, paused for a moment then said, "I'll do it, but I want to know why."
Knowing that the offer could be misconstrued as me coming on to her, I answered in as careful and measured tone and phrase as I could manage, "Because this stretch of creek is special to me. I come here to find myself, to center my soul. Don't ask me why but this little bit of waterway is where I belong. It's me. And I wished I could be here every day, all day, but I can't. Your paintings, up on my wall aren't going to beam me back here physically, but they may beam a part of me here mentally, even if just for a moment. A precious moment. It'll be worth every penny I pay."
She simply stared at me. Maybe I read a bit of disbelief in her face. Maybe some shock too. I think that my little speech ground into me the actual importance of the paintings that we were discussing. It dawned on me, I didn't just want, I needed those paintings. I had to have her paint them.
She gazed at me, or maybe beyond me. I think she thought I was crazy.
"You're serious about this aren't you?" she inquired.
"Yes I am," I replied.
She composed herself and said, "It seems Prince Charming is not only gracious, and a wonderful provider," passing her hand over the spent lunch wrapper and empty beer cans, "but loaded to boot. Is he really just a fool and his money?"
"I can assure M'Lady Ann that Prince Charming is neither a fool, nor loaded. He simply knows what is important in life and what is dear to his heart."
She gazed at me.
"May I ask a favor?" I broke the pregnant pause.
"Certainly, what is it?"
"That I may name the paintings, seeing as I am the soon-to-be benefactor?"
"Ok," she said with what appeared to be some trepidation, still unsure of the moment.
"Morgan's Canal West and Morgan's Canal East" I said.
She quizzically stared at me with that request, her jaw dropped a little but didn't say a word. I thought maybe I was being rude in making the request, or referring myself as her benefactor. Or maybe she really thought I was crazy.
After a long moment or two she said in a careful, measured tone, "Only a local would know this stretch to be called Morgan's Canal. It's not on any map, there are no placards with that name on it. I don't even think the local history pamphlets list that name. That name is local, local. I've not heard that name in twenty five years. Who the hell are you?"
Clearly she was local, local.
I thought back to my childhood. There was a girl that I was desperately in love with. My parents and my aunt and uncle would have some of the families from surrounding farms around for 'highballs'. The girl would come by with her parents. I only ever laid eyes on her five or six times. We would play tag and stuff. We would draw. I remembered catching a bullfrog and while holding in my hand like an ice cream cone chasing her into the water as she screamed for dear life. To my adolescent eye she was more than just pretty, she was beautiful. She was tall and blonde, about a year older than me. When I was about twelve we played show me. It was my first quasi-sexual experience. In fact all my sexual fantasies, my ideal girl, were an imitation of her. For Heaven's sake I landed up marrying a tall and blonde girl. She was my first kiss. By the time I had reached puberty, it was her image that I would fantasize and masturbate to.
"You're Annie Belzor," I said.
She looked away with shock in her face, then turned, stared intently at me for a moment. A smile slowly came across her face and she calmly stated, "You're Tommy from the Ogden farm."
"Yes I am." My eyes swelled up with tears. As did hers.
Sitting on the blue tarp we reached out to each other and hugged. We laughed with tears rolling down our cheeks.
"Oh dear, I can't believe it's you," she cried.
"I've missed you all my life," I replied with tears of joy. "I've always been in love with you. I tried to find you b.b.but I couldn't."
"Where did you go?" she sobbed.
I broke the hug a little but still held her arm with my left hand while wiping the tears from my face with my right, "I don't know, I guess I just grew up. I went to the farm years after and asked my uncle where Annie lived and he said that you lived at the yellow farmhouse up there," pointing my head across the creek, "I drove by many times hoping to see you, but I never did."
"Why didn't you call on me?" she asked with tears still in her eyes, shedding my arm from hers.
"I was too shy, or scared I guess," I answered.
"They told me you lived in the city."
"I did. I still do."
"You were my first kiss," she said wiping tears off of her face.
"Oh, I remember," I answered, "and I remember a lot more than that."
"I still have the drawing," she said with a smile broadening on her face.