Black River Trip, August 28, 2010 - You missed a good one
- I shared this trip with Friends of Sampson County Waterways, I sometimes share our trip reports with them, so I'll share my trip report with you to make the suffering even.
How do you get a big turnout for a canoe trip? You announce that a reporter from the paper will be there and you promise a picnic at the end of the trip. Food and fame, notoriety and noshing, celebrity and sustenance, hamming for ham, eating for entertainment, gluttony and glamor. Will the newspaper article show a bunch of eaters with a paddling problem or a bunch of paddlers with an eating problem? Tune in next Saturday to find out.
On a late summer's Saturday, with the hint of September in the air heralding a reprieve from the long grinding swelter, a large crowd of people gathered on the shore of Great Coharie Creek to paddle downstream in the late afternoon to Clear Run Bridge. While the sun was hot on the shore, the water had been cooled by recent rains and the river provided some natural air conditioning down in the paddlers realm. Starting our trip at around 2:30, the sun was already slanting through the trees and the river took on a softer, mellow feeling of changing seasons and slowing of time.
There were canoes, kayaks, a sit-on-top and even an electric powered john boat. I never did get a clear count of people but I believe there were between 25 and 30 paddlers of every age and skill level. There were canoes with 3 people, mixed crews, families, familiars and friends. I brought two guests and others came as guests of FSCW, using the boats delivered by Cebron The Bringer Of Boats. Cerberus is the three-headed dog that guards the gates of Hades, Cebron has unofficially (because none of the rest of us will do it) become the gentle master of the boats, the fleet of Sampson County, who is occasionally heard to mutter about forming a small pirate fleet, the kingpin of the Sampson Somalies, BlueBeard of the Black River.
We loaded all parties onto the river, nobody fell prey to the treacherous black mud coating the bank at our put-in, and followed the lovely waters down to the head of the Black. As the river widened, folks were able to paddle as much as four abreast, talking and enjoying the social opportunities as well as the beauty of the day and the river. Many of us had occasion to talk with the reporter, Greg Phillips, as he paddled and tried to take notes at the same time.
The river was above six feet and this made the sandbars small, and as a result, the first swim break was too crowded for everybody to stop at the same time, so different groups chose their own spots to stop, stretch, refresh and swim as we made our way happily downstream. The previous efforts of the FSCW Beaver Boys, that intrepid bunch that likes to paddle with chainsaws, made sure that we had a good pathway cleared through the several large trees trying to choke the river and no one encountered any major difficulty to my knowledge, although I did see one canoe, party of 3, that drifted sideways into a treetop when they lost the 3 way battle for passage through a cleared spot. Nice guys finish last, let that be a lesson to you, canoe crew. We had a beautiful current that made paddling fairly easy while making good time downstream and as the sun dropped low in the afternoon sky, we all came home to the take-out, so thoughtfully allowed to us by the very gracious McLamb family who owns it, at Clear Run Bridge.
Friends helped friends land and dismount, drag boats up the bank, pack and load, as we waited for our heroine of the day, Ginger, who played the part of Queen of Sandwiches, or the Good Sand-Witch of the East. Cebron and I were some of the shuttle drivers and before we left to get our vehicles at the put-in, I heard Cebron command Ginger, very clearly, to not uncover the subs before he got back. I got the message, loud and clear, that Cebron wanted to make sure that there was some food left for him and I supported his position, because I was hungry too and didn't want to return too late. Maybe this proves that we are a bunch of eaters with a paddling problem.
We gathered round some tables provided by Josh McLamb in the woods near the take out, on the shady bank of the Black, and feasted on Subway Subs, Krispy Kreme donuts, chips, a raft of hotdogs and some corn on the cob, cooked by Danny and Joe, sitting on chairs or coolers or just squatting like Indians. Cookies, fresh hot lemon cake, cold drinks, I've had fine restaurant food that wasn't as good as this.
As the sun dipped low, many people changed clothes and wandered across the bridge to the old Clear Run General Store, a fine old example of a country store lovingly maintained by the McLamb family for the benefit and enjoyment of the community. Folks meet there regularly on Saturday nights to play bluegrass or listen and many of our paddling group joined in the magic, including the reporter and photographer.
I cannot adequately describe that which is Clear Run Store Bluegrass Time, emotions are too intense and too complex to yield themselves to simple limited words. The building itself is long, about 60 feet I would guess, with a covered porch, painted clapboards, large windows to let in the hope of a breeze, wood plank floors that squeak as you cross them, the ceiling of narrow tongue and groove boards, this was an affluent and well built store in it's time. The shelves line the walls still, and are filled with antique tools, tins and wares that were sold in bygone days, jars filled with mysterious contents, the old counters with glass fronts are still there and a box of cardboard fans greet you on the left as you come through a door that has seen many generations, many years, many seasons, many times. This large room was lit by only three ceiling fans with single bulb schoolhouse globes, the hundred watt bulbs fighting back the shadows to a bare truce. Looking in from the porch, I saw a rough museum but when I passed through that portal, I knew I was in a time machine instead, because I began to see and sense things as they changed. The store was filled with benches, old chairs, folding metal chairs, plastic chairs and some rough stools could be found in the back. A cleared space towards the back was reserved for anyone who wanted to play their music and join the others. Here there were no microphones, no amplification, no enhancements, no virtuosos, no grand performers or superstars, no raised stage or spotlights. The day waned and the shadows did battle with Edison's miracle. The music played, soft, gentle, instruments taking turn to lead, no instrument overpowering the rest, song voices the same, neither drowning or being drowned by fiddle, mandolin, guitar, softly played banjo, bass fiddle.
All around, people sat, shoulder to shoulder, quietly, some fanning with the cardboard fans from the past, some quietly visiting with neighbors and friends, and I saw the time machine do its wonder. We had left our private homes, our air conditioning, our electricity, our televisions and computers, our solitude and self imposed exile of modern living, the malls, the traffic, the garishly lit stores and the blare of modern humanity. I saw it in the faces of those around me, a softening, the connecting of humanity, the rebirth of village and community, for just a short time. I saw peace on the faces of many, the cares and problems of the world outside had been left behind on the edge of the asphalt, the minds and souls of many present calmed to rest as the gentle music and the miracle of oneness suffused those in this room. The cares were forgotten for a moment, the worries put aside, the spirit was allowed to rest, as one sleeps to repair the body.
In this room, in this place, at this time, we were part of a simpler, kinder, gentler past, we became more civilized, closer to the good that all man can be, better perhaps than what we have become now. You can go to this place if you like. It's there, open to all, due to the kindness of people like the McLamb family who provides this little corner of the past and due to the gentleness of those who join together to continue the music of everyday folk. You can sit down and fan yourself into an easy bliss, or sit back against the wall and slowly watch the serenity infuse itself into the room like a gentle fog on a summer night with a full moon. You can sip on a soft drink or a bottle of water, you can tap your foot or even sing along if you know the words, or you can quietly talk and nod and laugh with a friend, but you cannot leave feeling worse, or unchanged. You cannot leave without feeling sad that there are so few of these places left, that we have let this slip away, that our children will not know what it can be like. This is the stuff of memories and pleasant dreams.
To have a river to float, and a place like this to float to, and friends to share it with, this is what is good about the universe, to be cherished like family, to be loved as a memory and as a hope of the chance to feel it again. If you were there, you will know what I cannot adequately say. To the rest of you, I'm sorry you missed it, I hope you'll be able experience it some day.