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Bears, snakes, and all

IMG_9688It’s not very often that our family "gets away." Between work, football, swimming, football and apathy, time has a way of just passing by - almost unnoticed. Later to be lamented for what could have been.  But that all changed last weekend. With a little planning and execution, the McCarthy’s made a return trip to Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Pattie's place in Sautee Nacoochee in the mountains of northeast Georgia.  It’s heaven on earth…but with bears and snakes.

In typical Uncle Jimmy fashion, an itinerary was waiting for us upon arrival.  Multiple activities were presented for each day based on interest, weather, allotted time, and the exertion level required. And to supplement our selections, activities were available to bridge the gap between relaxation and meals. As you can see, Uncle Jimmy’s a planner. And while he took care of the nature of our getaway, Aunt Pattie took care of the nurture. Every bed turned down, every meal homemade, and every comfort provided. That’s just how they roll in Sautee Nacoochee - which is Indian for “Get your own Aunt and Uncle. These are ours.”  Just so we’re clear.

The jewel of the agenda was a 3.5 hour trip down the Chattahoochee river.  The three older boys would have kayaks, while Mary Lisa, Charles Henry and I would wrestle the canoe. Before the trip, Uncle Jimmy clearly laid out the expectations: “You’re going to get hot. You’re going to get wet. And you very well may fall into the river. But you’re going to be safe and you’re going to have fun.” He then explained how to maneuver the kayaks and canoe if and when the river turned rough. A “what to do when this happens” talk, more or less. And it was about that time, when I opted for more chips and Habanero salsa.  I walked away thinking, I’m smart, athletic, capable. Glad the kids are listening. Maybe now they won’t slow us down…rookies.

And off to the kitchen I went.

 An hour or so later…

We’ve dropped off the vehicles at the take-out point and are back at Uncle Jimmy’s river rock where we’ll put in. As he takes the family on a final run through, I’m wondering just how fast I could cover our route if I really pushed through the flat water.  And how much faster could we go if I swapped Charles Henry for Nicholas? Maybe let Mary Lisa ride with Aunt Pattie? It wouldn’t matter. It was time to go.  So, with Mary Lisa in the bow, me at the stern, and Charles Henry in the middle, we pointed the canoe downstream and shoved off.

Immediately, as in, IMMEDIATELY, I found the canoe harder to manage than expected. By design, a canoe sits lower in the river than a kayak. And this particular canoe was seemingly drawn to the rocks. And hard to miss were the slightest weight shifts by Charles Henry that nearly proved catastrophic. And heaven help us if Mary Lisa shifted to a side I was already leaning toward. I’m in a flop sweat, and we're....hmm....four minutes into the trip? And then came the words from Charles Henry that nearly took my breath away:

“Is that a waterfall?”

(Side note: It seems the brothers and I may have told Charles Henry that the Chattahoochee was famous for 6ft. surprise waterfalls. In the midst of my current struggles, however, I’d forgotten about that rouse and struggled for composure.)

“What?!”, I shouted. “No! Now keep paddling! Stop moving! Keep paddling! Paddle but don’t move!”

The merit of my instruction was obvious. There was none.  There was no waterfall either, but we did manage to find the one rock protruding from the 100 ft. wide section of river. It’s called a rockagator: a sullen rock hiding in the rapids which paddlers often fail to detect until after it’s hit - sometimes hard enough to cause a capsize or hang up.

We’ll take "capsize" for 100, please Alex.

The abrupt course change led to a sudden and irrevocable weight shift that sent Mary Lisa and me out of the boat. From the bottom of the river I could see Charles Henry’s dry blonde hair dancing above his toothy grin. He’s looking at me like, Didn’t you listen to Uncle Jimmy?  We were supposed to lean this way, not that way…and another thing…

[caption id="attachment_1484" align="alignnone" width="2448"]IMG_9526 Charles Henry and Callahan on Uncle Jimmy's river rock.[/caption]

Here's what I learned on the river that could be applied to most any situation:

  • When someone’s willing and able to share wisdom and experience with you, forgo the salsa and listen to what they have to say. Self-confidence is not a suitable substitute for experience and wisdom.  Where does this ring true for  you?
  • When your child laughs at you when you fail, laugh along with them.  (And then spank them later when Aunt Pattie’s not looking.)
  • And when your family wants you to take them on an adventure – though you don’t think you have the time or the money –  make it happen. Not only might you find the memories to be worth every bump, bruise and near drowning experience, you may discover that provision extends far beyond finances, shelter and food. You just might be preparing them to lead their own family adventures one day. What's that worth? After looking into the eyes of my children that weekend...everything.

I’ve heard many times, the caution of families becoming experience rich and relationship poor. It’s easy to see how that can happen with so many opportunities available for kids these days. But every now and again, I believe you can become both experience and relationship rich. And for us, that happened in the mountains of northeast Georgia on the banks of the Chattahoochee river.

Later that night, after a dinner of barbecue, homemade coleslaw and zucchini pie, we retired to the hammock chairs on the screened in porch. Charles Henry and I sat under a blanket checking out the constellations through the SkyView app on my phone . He looked up at me and asked, “Daddy, which way is heaven?”

“It’s right here, Charles Henry.”

Bears, snakes, and all.

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