On Wednesday, June 30, I almost drowned.
At least it felt that way in the unknown minutes the Alouette River swept me and my pee away, tumbling like an ice cube in a blender, grasping, fearful, breathless, desperately trying to get a hold of the slippery rocks, taking my knocks, fingers and toes grabbing, trying to keep my head above water and not be forced into oblivion with an icy bonk or over a waterfall to my death (not knowing there was no waterfall as it was only my second time in the river, the first being at a different location years ago, and not a native of Maple Ridge and despite knowing how to swim).
Suddenly, I became aware of a handsome young man (you are particularly aware of these things as a potentially drowning fat old woman) and people standing on the far shore, where I’d been before my dip and slip.
He boldly braved the strong current, telling me to hang on to the long, apparently lost or abandoned tuber’s stick that found its way into my hands from underwater, making me wish once again that I’d learned to drive stick.
I propped one end of it against the rocks enabling me to drift like an upcoming Canada Day flag, while he came to me like a soldier crossing a mine field, positioning himself behind me saying, “I’ve got you.”
My wisdom and experience rendered his confidence untrustworthy. I’d already realized this river was stronger than either of us.
He was going to try to walk me back across the river, after quashing my hope just to climb up the side I was on by telling me it was nothing but brambles, as well as physically impossible in my condition, I realized.
The idea was that we’d both hold on to the stick (big stick, like a slippery pole) and walk back across.
As we started out he said, “Hang on, don’t let go of the stick!” and seconds later, like a scene from any horror/drama/disaster movie, the river witch grabbed my stick – leaving us with nothing but soggy slivers.
A woman, whose name was Michelle (I learned after asking repeatedly while recovering), was shouting directions from the far shore, facilitating the rescue, encouraging me to be calm, and breathe.
I felt secure knowing she was there, like a lighthouse, perhaps, or a caring parent or a compassionate stranger, which she was.
Suddenly, another young man with shoulder length dark hair (whose name I’m so sorry I’ve forgotten in my shock/distress), appeared on a black inner tube and was suddenly the unnamed hero, a literary Jesus who sacrificed his ride and who – with Bryce, my first responder – got me to jump on the tube belly first (easy, just lean forward into gravity) and drag me to where the current allowed them to shift me close enough to shore that I could scrabble off, and then do the same for Bryce who was still struggling mid-river behind me.
Thank you, “Jesus.”
He waved and drifted off, not walking but floating on the water and soon out of sight.
My hero, Bryce, lost his flip flops in the process.
When we left (I wanted to leave the site of my embarrassment immediately, but I wasn’t driving and I’d already stressed my friend out so we stayed a little while to decompress, I guess), I gave him my cash on hand and a promo card for my book that had my email address on it and promised to e-transfer him any replacement value balance.
He kindly tried to refuse but I insisted. I just hope his flips weren’t $1,000.
As usual, with the glorious abundance of life’s many memorable experiences, there are often lessons embedded as deeply as the river rocks and as painfully as the cuts, bruises, and losses I and my rescuers incurred.
If I were to choose three I’d say, first, be careful in nature. She’s powerful.
Second, pee in the woods, not the river.
And third, know that you’re not alone and there are good people around to help you when you need it at the most awful and unexpected times.
I wrote this to publicly express my deep appreciation for everyone who helped me on Wednesday, including my friend who called for help and those watching from the edge.
You all know who you are.
Obviously, this small acknowledgment is lacking. But, I wanted to say thanks again from the bottom of my heart and wish you a safe, happy summer.
Jacquelyn Johnston, Maple Ridge
Have you taken a photo you’d like to contribute? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.