We all have certain places that draw us back time and time again, or at least we ought to. These are the things in life that call us out of the routine and beg to be experienced. And we answer the call by going back time and time again hoping there is still more to be taken from the giver. Someday, when I am old and withered, someone will ask me what my life was about, and these are the stories I shall tell them. These are the times of I heard the call and followed it into the dark woods, or in this case, a small island.
A few years ago my family was given two kayaks by some friends of ours. A kayak is hardly more than a floating piece of plastic with a hole in the middle long and wide enough for you to sit in. These were that. I remember the maiden voyage; my brother and I shoved off into a small lake a few miles from our house, and there, that first evening, we were hooked. We loved the feeling of sitting an inch above the water and gliding over the surface. As it often does, one thing led to another, and before long several of our friends had also come about crafts of their own. This was all backstory to our finding “The Island”.
To date we’ve camped out on that island more times than I can remember. There’s a core group of about five of us and a smattering of less hardcore friends who come along only sometimes. The island has come to hold a place in our minds such as that when we see other campers out there on the beaches, they are imposters, trespassers. I think it’s because of the library of things that have gone down there that we feel so possessive of the thing. We have gathered firewood from its corners, taken captive the offspring of its geese, slaughtered an entire generation of its frogs, bore its driving rain under a tiny tarp, and one rather perilous time, pretty nearly burnt the whole thing down. It was an experiment with fire that was interrupted by the catching of a gar which was then returned to and extinguished before we got arrested for arson. One might venture to say that the connection we feel rivals that of the Indians who were driven from their tribal lands by the white man; or one may not.
The unofficial name of this small, pine covered beach that rises up out of Lake Hartwell is The Cape of Pretty Good Hope. My brother deemed it that one time, and we thought it a good name. Pretty Good Hope because there have been cold, miserable nights that we’ve kept each other’s company wondering what on earth drove us to paddle across just to sleep under the stars; this is exactly the kind of thing Patrick McManus expounds on in his book, A Fine and Pleasant Misery.
There is one night from last summer in particular that really stands out in the memory of our expeditions. “It was not a silent night” as Andrew Peterson sings, not indeed. As I recall there were about seven of us going out that night. And for whatever reason we weren’t able to make our way across until after dark, which ended up being a pertinent detail in this episode. Because of the larger number of friends going out, some of them had decided to take a john boat out in lieu of kayaks. A john boat is a piece of metal with a larger hole in the middle. So there were a couple people already out on the island, a few people putting the john boat into the water at the boat ramp, and my friend Samuel and I were loading up some stuff back at my house getting ready to head for the lake. It was about then I got an urgent call from the crew at the boat dock requesting a truck and a length of chain. As is standard with these types of calls, the necessary details are hardly given so that you really don’t have a good idea of what you’re about to walk into when you arrive with the truck and the chain. For hours after the fact we sat on lawn chairs in the sand and hashed out the facts of the situation. To the best of my knowledge, it went something like this.
Being dark as it was, it was difficult to see to unload the boat off the trailer. Dustin, one of the comes along sometimes members of the group, offered to park his manual car at the top of the boat ramp and shine his headlights down the slope. The important words here are manual and slope. A manual vehicle cannot be left running while it is in gear – meaning that the only thing holding her back was the parking break. It was at some time between Dustin leaving the car at the top of the left lane of the boat ramp and the removal of the boat from the trailer that the parking break went MIA, and the car, which was borrowed, started making its way towards the drink. As it picked up speed coming down the hill, it veered to the right and jumped the barrier, went through the other boat ramp lane, trounced over the rocks beside the ramp, and landed on the wet sand, all the while gaining speed with one unquestionable destination in the headlights. In what has to be one of the most incredible car entries in the history of Oconee County, Dustin ran alongside the car, and somewhere between the changing lanes and the trouncing, jumped in and slammed the brake. Not a moment too soon. The car slid into the lake up to about the floorboards so that he couldn’t even open the door to get out until the truck had pulled him back up the hill. It was later said by the others present that during this period they heard words coming from the car they’d never heard him say before, a real exercise in vocabulary for sure.
It’s events like the ones of that night that keep us going back. There’s no doubt that waking up in a small hammock eleven times during the cold dark night is less comfortable than your own bed. But you also know that you cannot open yourself up to the adventure, the what if, when you’re lying beneath air conditioned drywall. The comradery, the freedom, the possibility that someone’s car could go sailing into the lake, it’s enough to keep a boy coming back.
McManus, Patrick F. A Fine And Pleasant Misery. New York, NY.: Holt Paperbacks, 1981. Print.
Andrew Peterson. “Labor of Love.” Behold the Lamb of God. Fervent Records, 2004. MP3.