Drawings for Strangers 5: Big Can for Bill

The calm before the storm

The calm before the storm

I’m not quite sure what I meant at the time, but my diary entry for June 28, 2013 says “We set off in a weird current.”  We filmed an active dredging site and figured out the raft was a great camera dolly.  The signs were adding up that we had been on the river for a week.  We were running out of new songs to sing, our weather radio was already malfunctioning, and our favorite time of day was Chip thirty: a spontaneous measurement of time after which random amounts of barbecue lays were rationed out to improve moral.  It was at exactly this time on June, 28th that The Mighty Miss decided to give us some more tough love.  I had underestimated the dreary grey blobs on the horizon.  Those were some dreary grey blobs with a mission – to give us a ride.  Without any warning shots, the torrent fell full force and we rushed to put on our wool clothes, rain jackets, and PFDs – getting each layer soaked in the process.  The water was choppy.  Maybe it was shivering too, or just mocking us.  Soon, a houseboat appeared out of the haze.  It was heading straight for us.  We were relieved to see another vessel that could rescue us if things got worse.  It was heading straight for us.  Hannah noticed that the boat looked like a rental.  The driver probably had no experience steering upriver in conditions this fierce.  The unusual current was difficult enough to navigate, but the powerful, shifting winds made it almost impossible.  And now we were playing chicken.  Hannah didn’t tell me how worried she was until after she skillfully avoided disaster – almost.  We looked back to see the houseboat pass.  Floundering in its wake was our half-empty bag of barbecue chips.  Littering never felt so much like a funeral.

The lockmaster’s horn ended the first round of our grudge match with mother nature.  We cowered in the corner of the giant water elevator and gulped down some tang.  Sure enough, when the horn blew for us to exit the gates, it was round two.  This time we weren’t taking any chances and Hannah resisted her inclination to ride the whitewater down to Winona.  We maneuvered over to the backyard of a trailer home and I hopped out with a rope to wrangle Mizz Grizzly onto the bank.  I put the rope behind my back and leaned on it with all my weight.  If I had been a few pounds lighter, I might have slipped off the slick concrete slab and sent Hannah downriver by her self earlier than planed.  Fortunately, she had taught me well and we had the boat secure after a few minutes of struggle.  We took a moment to relax on the grass and looked out at the raging river.  Our jaws dropped when three ducks appeared from around the bend – traveling upriver in single file, as if they were leaving the parking lot after hearing a delightfully-routine Sunday sermon.

Pencil, Ink, Weeds, and Wildflowers on Paper

Pencil, Ink, Weeds, and Wildflowers on Paper

Hannah noticed some of the neighbors were staring at us.  Our concern for their concern was quickly diminished when we met Bill.  Bill was the owner of the backyard we had used to stage our river rescue scene.  Of course, he and Hannah became friends immediately and soon we were sipping Coronas at his picnic table.  He told us about the disasters he had seen while living in view of the dam and he was glad we had pulled over.  Hannah interviewed him and I tried to seem thankful for the beverage while I politely ignored the conversation and sketched the channel.  Bill was a dairy farmer.  He had served in a non-combat position during The Vietnam War.  He remembered the shirts that said “Kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out.”  He had skydived, tripped acid at a Yes concert, and believed everything happens for a reason.

I have never done any of those things.  I don’t know about reasons; I am only sure that “Everything happens.”  In a way, a lack of overarching reason makes creativity more beautiful.  There we were, Hannah and I, creating friendships and artwork out of people and pigments that were not intended for anything.

The storm, like the three ducks, passed slowly but surely and we left Bill’s backyard with a full memory card and a lot to think about.

Even after the storm had passed, the wind was moving this tree like an old flag.

Even after the storm had passed, the wind was moving this tree like an old flag.

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