Dead Man’s Swamp

It all started out with too much alcohol the night before. Decisions were made. Dangerous decisions. Somehow, we all agreed that after 20 years, it was time to return to “Dead Man’s Swamp”.

Campfire plans

The next morning, hangovers prevented a good discussion or planning. We loaded up our boats, our food, and the kids made a sign – “Dead Man’s Swamp” which my older brother, Lee, would put up to warn others.

Then we set off, hours too late in the day, hope too fresh in our chests.

Arran Lake was pristine blue and sparked a rapid play of childhood memories in my mind. My parents had purchased a run-down resort on the lake in 1980, and it had changed our family forever. One change was the freedom we experienced in being able to traverse the lake and land at will, often finding ourselves embroiled in unexpected adventure. Now, here I was, lined up on the lake with my own teenage children and ready to challenge the river, which had turned us back many times before.

The first beaver dam had us lined up in a bottleneck of good cheer, waiting for each other to go over. But, hours of paddling later, we found ourselves pulling our canoes and kayak through the undergrowth with groans, some walking ahead of their kayaks in chest-deep water and ancient, sulfur-smelling mud reminiscent of “The African Queen”. Unlike the classic black & white movie, the occasional expletive could be heard.

Clever children wrapped their legs in lily pads to ward off the mosquitos as the sun descended. Large splooshes warned of those who were tipping their kayaks. The swamp thickened, water running under the bog roots. We searched for a trickling path, some standing in their kayaks, but only brush met our hand-shaded eyes.

On and on, paddling forgotten, we dragged and pulled and climbed over floating bog plants, their roots thick enough to restrict our passage, but not able to hold our weight.

Twelve beaver dams in, twilight struck, along with the suspicion we had lost the river’s path.

We gave up on finding the river and began looking for land. Glorious land… Whispered prayers crossed my lips as those ahead found solid ground. Dragging up our kayaks, we left everything, food, paddles, wet clothing behind and started walking through the swamp.

Leaning over disclosed the whine of hundreds, thousands of mosquitos in the marsh plants. Flip flops caught on roots and cutting grass sliced at our calves. The ground became more wet forcing us to backtrack and choose another direction, hoping to find our way out before nightfall.

The adults flagging, the children continued on ahead with the dog. Finally, a child’s voice carried back to us. “A house! I see a house!” More whispered prayers. Turning on the flashlight, I lit the way into a field. The temperature dropped, the wet clothes on our bodies beginning to chill, but it’s okay. We’re out. We’ll call for our ride. We’ll never do this again.

But isn’t that what we said 20 years ago? Never again? The youngest member of our band calls out, “We survived Dead Man’s Swamp!” and I know he’ll be back in 20 years, looking for adventure and I’ll say, “Yes”, once more, for nothing brings a family together more than a shared challenge.

Standing on the bog roots with my nephew, waiting to pull the next kayak through.

Nothing makes us more thankful for our shelter and climate-controlled homes than being at nature’s mercy, even if for a short time, even if temporary.

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