The day started out much like any other day. The sun rose in the east and all of that. And I woke up on my cot in the tipi and made a mad dash to the showerhouse to get ready before my kids woke up. I was fairly successful and made it back to the tipi, so fresh and so clean, just as the large bell was being rung to wake up the rest of camp.
Things progressed as usual that morning. We had morning worship, sang some songs about how Jesus loves us and how we love him back and how we will follow him. Then we moved over to the circle of logs where we eat. Breakfast was probably the same as normal, a bit charred and smoky after being cooked over an open fire. Unless I was in charge of cooking, then it was usually late.
I was looking forward to the day that my campers and I had planned after breakfast. It was going to be a morning of leisure spent fishing at the lake. I would grab the tackle box and the kids would grab fishing poles. We'd make the short hike (past the "burial spot" of "Ginger the dead horse") and end up at the small lake. The kids would fish, and probably catch nothing, and I'd lay on the dock and tell jokes and stories or poke fun at the kids for not catching anything. It was bound to be a great morning.
And things began to go exactly the way I envisioned them. After breakfast I rounded up my small group of campers and we hiked over to the lake (and we did go past the "burial spot" of "Ginger the dead horse"). We made it to the dock and my campers were pretty self-sufficient with putting the bait on the hooks and flinging them into the water. I sat down on the dock and watched them fish for a little bit.
Then I heard some chattering and giggling coming from the trees. I turned my gaze from my campers and looked at the trail as it emerged from the trees, waiting to see the source of the commotion.
Max, a good friend and fellow counselor, came bounding down the trail leading his group of excited and loud first-third grade campers. His co-counselor Anne was the caboose on this train of noise. They came over to the dock, but stopped by the paddle boats and canoes. Max and Anne began the process of trying to explain lake safety rules to their group of kids. One of the most important rules was to stay clear of the far side of the lake. It was shallow and there were lots of places (like fallen trees) where it would be easy for them to get stuck.
At camp, kids are divided into three groups: green swimmers, blue swimmers and red swimmers. Green swimmers are accomplished swimmers, and when they wear their green bracelets at the lake and pool the lifeguard knows they require little supervision. The drowning factor for green swimmers is low. Blue swimmers are a step below green swimmers, and those campers wearing blue bracelets let the lifeguard know they need to be watched a little more carefully. Red swimmers are on the lowest rung of swimming ability. A red bracelet lets the lifeguard know that if the camper gets into water above their knees that trouble is on the horizon. At the lake, green swimmers are allowed to go boating with green swimmers and blue swimmers. Blue swimmers are allowed to go boating with green swimmers. Red swimmers require the accompaniment of a counselor if they are in a boat. It appeared that most of Max and Anne's campers were green swimmers because after they went over the rules several canoes quickly deployed from the dock and Max and Anne were still on dry land.
Max and Anne saw me relaxing on the dock, and so they came over to talk. We began sharing how our weeks were going and all the excitement that we had experienced thus far. That's when we heard it.
It was a shout from the far side of the lake. I immediately jumped to my feet and we looked over to see every single canoe of Max and Anne's campers stuck on the far side of the lake. It seemed as if they had made a beeline from the dock directly to the side of the lake that they were just told to stay away from. Max cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled, "Get out of there!!!"
"We can't!" was the reply. "We're stuck!" It seems the wind had been too strong for them and had blown their canoes directly where they were not supposed to go.
Max, Anne and I exchanged glances. Looking at Max, I said, "Let's go!"
The two of us hopped into the rescue canoe and we quickly deployed with the intention of going to dislodge the stuck canoes. I sat in front and Max sat in the back. Now, if you know much about canoes you know that it is mainly the responsibility of the person in back of the canoe to do most of the steering. I'm not sure anyone explained that to Max. Instead of going straight ahead, and making a direct line towards the campers, we began making a gradual arc to the left and to the opposite side of the lake. I yelled back at Max that he was steering incorrectly, but he assured me that he was most definitely NOT. So I began making wide, forceful arcs with my oar into the water and got us moving in the correct direction.
We stopped when we got close to the stuck canoes. They were wedged into the trees and branches in such a way that if we were to maneuver our canoe any closer, we'd be stuck ourselves. I grabbed my oar and shoved it down into the water, testing the depth. When I found that it was fairly shallow I turned to Max. "One of us is going to need to get out of the canoe to pull them out. Who's it going to be?" I'm not sure what happened next, but I remember that somehow I was the one that ended up getting out of the canoe.
I am not a good swimmer. When I get into water that reaches my chest, I often envision myself being swept away and drowning. It has to do with growing up in a family that didn't go swimming, and didn't send their children to swimming lessons. When I was a child, the term "swimming pool" meant the little green turtle-shaped plastic tub we'd fill with water from the hose and sit in out in our front yard. So when I miraculously got out of the canoe without tipping it and stood in the water that came up to about my armpits I began to question my own sanity. Luckily I was wearing a life jacket, otherwise I think I would have thought that all hope was lost and began uncontrollably weeping. I managed to trudge over to two of the canoes and pull them out from the fallen trees and sticks. Luckily, at one time that side of the lake had been the side that was most used and so there was an older dock not too far away. I slogged my way through the water, pulling those two canoes behind, over to the dock. I pulled myself out of the water, told one of the campers in one of the canoes to move forward to the middle and then began rowing back to the other side of the lake, towing the second canoe behind us.
As we rowed by Max, I saw the unfortunate consequence of removing all of the weight out of the front of the canoe, without first having Max move to the middle. He was sitting in the back of the canoe with the front end jutting up at a hilarious angle from the water. He was rowing furiously, trying to get over to another stranded canoe, and making very little progress.
I managed to get the two canoes safely back to the otherside, at which point the poor campers decided that they were completely finished with boating and quickly jumped out onto the dock.
This next part is a bit hazy, and as I look back on it I definitely question the decision we made. But after we lifted one of the canoes out of the water we heard Max yelling that Anne and I should take a paddle boat out, instead of a canoe, to rescue the last canoe of campers. And we listened to him. If we had taken a canoe our rescue time would have been much faster, but for some reason we decided to listen to the idea of a man who was still trying to paddle his canoe that was still almost perpendicular to the water.
Anne and I put a paddle boat into the water and climbed in. We began paddling furiously to the far side of the lake, and several sweaty minutes later we made it to the far side. We managed to reach the canoe without needing to get out of the boat and began towing it back to safety. At this point Max had somehow managed to get out of his canoe and into the canoe that he had been trying to rescue for the past twenty minutes and was now paddling that canoe to safety, but had left his canoe stranded and empty. So as we paddled by that canoe we grabbed onto it, as well, and began pulling it along with us.
So finally every camper and every canoe was accounted for and on dry land. I looked at my watch to see what time it was, and I saw that not only was there now a large amount of water inside my watch, but we were late for lunch. Turning to my campers I told them to quickly pack things up we needed to get back for lunch. We made the hike back to lunch as fast as their little legs would take them. I was rather grumpy that my morning of leisure had been rudely disrupted and that my wet clothes were clinging in uncomfortable places. Water gushed from my shoes with each step.
When we finally made it back to camp I told my campers to hurry and go get lunch. I assured them that I would be there as quickly as I could change into dry and cling-free clothes. I climbed into my tipi and began grumbling and muttering as I changed out of my sopping clothes. I think I may have even said some words that I had enough tact to not say in front of the campers. But finally I was dry and ready for lunch.
I climbed out of my tipi and walked down to the logs for lunch when I was greeted by the strangest thing: applause. It seems that my campers had relayed the whole story to the rest of the campsite and they had told how I had rescued the poor little campers from the lake. For one brief fleeting moment
I was the hero of camp.
But I still had to help wash dishes afterwards.