“I began to feel badly for Gartley. I was already three fish in from the back of the boat and he hasn’t caught anything except a few river bottom rocks and a stick. Contented with my early success, I pull back. Harrison pulls in the anchor and we float down river, inching our way back to inner station.”
“Pjurtz’s dispatch did contain a very grave warning, that even if we did decide to float the river, run straight through, and by all means do not stop and get out of the boat and wander up into the woods. After those several fish I caught, we had completely disregarded everything Pjurtz had said. Clearly, it was one possessive guide protecting his potential sports from overly molested fish. Pjurtz had gone to great lengths in his dispatch to dissuade us from fishing and floating the river that he included such an ominous warning to not even get out of the boat. This seemed excessive, was he threatening us?”
“About halfway down the river, Harrison wanted to show Gartley and myself where he had proposed to his wife. Several years prior Harrison brought his then girlfriend down river on an early fall float and popped the question when they to stopped for lunch. On a small island in the middle of the river, there’s a nice grassy meadow surrounded by mountain laurel. At the edge of the meadow, shaded from the autumn afternoon sun, there’s a picnic bench. This was where Harrison set up lunch, and proposed to his now wife.”
“There are certain places that friends describe that must be seen when they are near. It isn’t so much sentimental as figuring a way to one up a pal when you go to pop the question yourself. Harrison nosed the bow of Big Red into the bank at an opening of the mountain laurel. Gartley jumped out and took a line and tied off the raft to a large hemlock that lumbered over the the river bank. Harrison leads us through a maze of laurel then, suddenly, we’re in the openness of a quarter acre meadow penned in by an ever encroaching thicket. In the short years since Harrison had proposed, the laurel had nearly claimed the picnic table into its clutches.”
“ The sound of the river was still very much in our ear. There is a small rapid where the main stem of the river and the back channel around the island rejoin that creates the classic calming sound of rushing water. I had carried up our small cooler with sandwiches, water and beer. The bottles of water were safe on what turned out to be one of the most pleasant late May afternoons any of us could remember. Maybe it was the lowered expections that Pjurzt’s words placed over our view of the day, regardless it was perfect.”
“Gartley finished his Genesee Cream Ale and smashed down the can against the picnic table. Harrison gets a funny look on his face and asks if we heard anything. The river, what else? Harrison tells us to listen closer, “there’s something nearer that doesn’t sound quite right.”
“We look around and then we begin to hear it, something almost like a cicada but closer to the ground, and plus, it’s too early for cicadas. We had been sitting on the top of the picinic table, not the benches. Gartley takes a peek under the table.”
“Holy Jesus-fucking Christ, there’s a fucking rattler under the table!” Gartley screams as if an adolescent school girl.
“Harrison and I look under the table, then quickly jump out of our skin to clear ourselves from around the table. I reach back to try and grab the cooler with the waters and the remains of a six pack of Genesee. The timber rattler tries to strike at me. I freeze my attempt to rescue the beer. I scream bloody murder and the three of us began to run back toward Big Red.”
“We cross the meadow in seconds flat only to be greeted by yet another rattler underneath a log that lay across our trail back to the boat. We freeze in our tracks trying to figure out the best new path to take back through the laurel.”
“The three of us spent the next half hour picking and climbing through the tangled maze of over grown mountain laurel. We could at times see Big Red, but the branches and vines made it impossible to get there the way and as quickly as we wanted. We came across three more snakes, two more canebrakes and a copper head. The shock of seeing each as hard as seeing the first underneath the table. I hate fucking snakes. What we had begun to called Ball and Chain Island, we now call Fucking Snake Island.
“Once back to the raft, I untie Big Red from the hemlock, we all jump in, and Harrison Paddles like hell. How so many snakes ended up on one small island, we’ve never been able to figure out or have explained to us. Never get out of the boat Pjurtz said. Jesus God-damn right.”
“The rapid at the bottom of Fucking Snake Island was a welcome diversion from the madness of our encounter. We were a good river mile closer to inner station before we begin to laugh about the snakes. Gartley broke the silent tension, “Well, just checked and didn’t shit myself, how about you guys?”
To be continued…