Kathleen Clary Miller

Kathleen Clary Miller has written 300+ columns and stories for periodicals both local and national, and has authored three books (www.amazon.com/author/millerkathleenclary). She lives in the woods of the Ninemile Valley, thirty miles west of Missoula.

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            Our son Mark was on board the drift boat fishing from the back.  His bride Ashleysat in the double seat up front, by me.  We took turns planting our hips in the brace to try our hand at snagging trout.  It was glorious.  Until we weren’t moving.

             “Put your rod away—NOW!” my husband Brad directed.  But there was this perfect little foam line–-just one more cast?  I suffer from obsessive casting disorder. 

There we sat, securely fastened to one rock as the Kevlar boat bottom gripped hold, while pushed against another by the impossibly formidable underwater pull. Stuck—as in no matter how hard Brad and Mark pushed with oars, feet, arms, and backs. Thirty minutes passed.

            “Strap this on!” Brad commanded over the crashing current, a wee bit of frustration in his voice.  As Mark buckled the orange life vest, Ashley looked down.

            “This is not good.”

            “I’m worried they’ll hit their heads,” I whispered to her, since the rock they planned to step out onto was triangular in shape, the base of the triangle being on the bottom of the Blackfoot, where I expected them both to join it.

            “Once it moves,” Brad locked eyes on me more intensely than he had at the altar, “use the oars and get over to the bank.”  Right.

“We’ll meet you there!” he shrieked over the volume of water that churned with new force, as if someone had switched the blender from stir to puree.

Where?  In heaven?

I shifted into rowing position as they heaved against the boat with all their might, considering they had no leverage on a slippery pyramid point.  After several attempts during which Ashley bowed her head to pray and I gripped the oar handles as if my life depended on it, they surrendered and stepped gingerly back into the boat, at which point it shifted to nearly take on water.  We froze, and then shimmied in order to avoid that picture.

When I suggested that we hurl the anchor as far as we could and pull on its line, Brad looked at me like I had two heads and was wondering what he had ever seen in me.

For another half hour the men deliberated.  It was only when I overheard my over-confident husband who always knows the answer to everything (ahem) say to Mark, “I actually don’t know what to do,” and Mark concurred, that I mentally entertained rescue. Since we’d seen not a single human being, an essential ingredient to the charm of the occasion (until now, when charming would have been a steady stream of tubers) I wondered from whence would such assistance come?

 Ashley whispered to me, “Pass me the camera.”  She intended to take a picture of our heroic husbands (hopefully) but wanted it to be a candid shot so as to capture their feminine side, i.e. slightly hysterical.  I surreptitiously reached behind me, unzipped the tackle bag pocket, and lifted the camera like a pick-pocketing pro, only to have Brad’s legal instinct kick in and eagle eyes bead on my hand.

“I’m so glad you find this humorous!” he snapped sarcastically.  Although no photographic images accompany this story, don’t give up on your imagination.

Gazing far ahead, I thought positively: It doesn’t get dark for another six hours; Look at the lovely view!

Just then I removed my sunglasses to discover such Pollyanna reverie had been assaulted by a sight to engender sore eyes: two stark-naked male very senior citizens standing on the beach six yards downstream.  When a guide had first ferried us down this stretch, right before we took out on the ramp at the end of the day, she had pointed out “the Blackfoot’s nude beach” but there had been no one in attendance.  Today, oh good fortune, two tan elderly gentlemen faced front, raw hands on rawer hips, displaying unclad anatomical parts while assessing our situation.  And doing nothing about it, thank God.

Speech fled as I struggled to instruct Ashley to turn around, look downriver and to the right.  After swallowing seven times, I advised her.  Then I added, “and don’t scream.”

She did, and she didn’t, although her eyes popped so that I worried they might have enlarged permanently. 

“This is who we will have to call upon for help?” I asked her.

The Miller men folk were blissfully unaware of the scene up ahead.  They were entirely focused, exhausted, depleted of strength and mental acuity—as we all would have to be in order to elicit questionably successful aid from eighty-year-old au naturel men who didn’t even don tool belts.

“At least we’re almost to the take out,” I chirped, knowing that just around the corner from the nude beach was the end of our drift.

“How do you know that?” Brad, while still battling, was baffled by my uncharacteristic confidence since I have neither memory for places nor the slightest sense of direction, especially on the ever-changing landscape of a river.  He’d clearly forgotten our guide’s former reference.

Trust me.

Brad and Mark conveniently ignored me as I urged them to consider that rescue was within reach, provided they could bear to reach for it.  Caught between a rock and a nude beach, would I have to be the female to holler for—pardon the pun—the bare essentials?

The river gods were with me: I never had to make that hard decision.  Apparently our weight shifted just so, and the boat turned, just enough for Brad to twist it around the rock and send it spinning—on a collision course for the clothing-optional cove.

In one final burst of adrenalin, my brave husband hauled oars and corrected our curve.  Just as we righted and passed several stripped and sagging sunbathers, we managed to look lazy despite father and sons horror at such blatant disregard of their own sex’s discretion.

“’Let’s pull over and rest awhile,” Brad sighed as we floated past the geriatric dangling (gag) gathering.

“A little farther downstream,” I suggested.

I smiled coquettishly and congratulated Brad on his aquatic achievement, then thought about what really bothered me.

“Can we go back and cast that fantastic foam line?”

“Over my dead, clothed body!”  Ashley threatened.