A Nice Night for a Swim

Julia and I spent most of the day working on the old house, making it (hopefully) show better, in hopes of selling it quickly. We worked up until about 3:30 PM, then pulled the plug as she had an appointment at 4:00 to get a tooth pulled. She was finished there by 4:15, amazingly, with a rather ugly (former) wisdom tooth in a little baggie. After a quick trip for supplies at the grocery store, we found ourselves at 5:00 PM parked along the banks of the Clark Fork, under Higgins Bridge, essentially in this exact spot (photographed previously on a gorgeous day). It was partly cloudy, but dark clouds were gathering off to the west.

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Our plan was to attend an event called 1000 Flowers. This is what the event was all about:

In recognition of all the brave women who step forward as victims of sexual assault, we will gather to line both sides of the Higgins Street Bridge. Our goal is to drop 1000 flowers off the bridge together. Bring a flower free of ribbons or other non-natural material. We will also collect positive written messages of support for the woman who just recently endured a very public trial here in Missoula. Please bring your love of women and their courage – no hate or anger.

Missoula recently saw the wrap-up of a contentious rape trial; you can check out the details here. Now a lot of folks think this guy should have been convicted. It was a tough case and, to be honest, I didn’t follow it. Without the facts I’m not going to hold an opinion on the result, I’m just going to hope that the jury did their job. It would be a tough situation to be in for them, no doubt about it. I do, however, support wholeheartedly the statement behind this 1000 Flowers event, and I was happy to attend with Julia. We had a couple flowers we intended to drop.

When we parked the truck, we were watching the river, heavy and gray in the evening light. Julia commented on a couple things floating along; the first was a duck. We soon realized the second one was a dog, though, way out in the middle of the river, and it appeared to be having trouble. We got out and started watching it. Other people along the trail there also stopped. The dog was up against one of the bridge abutments, swimming hard against the current but getting nowhere. From where we stood, it looked like it went under a couple times. Julia told me to call the Strongwater guys, who are just up and across the street, to see if they had anyone river-ready, as they often surf that part of the river even in winter (there are couple waves built there for just that purpose). It seemed grim. A couple people, presumably the owners of the dog, were going up and down the opposite bank in what looked to be a pretty frantic state; hard to say, as they were too far away to even hear over the water.

So I stripped off my vest, handed Julia my phone, and went in after it.

“Take off your pants!” she said.

“Julia,” I said, a finger raised, “this is neither the time nor the place.”

(Just kidding. She did tell me to take my pants off because they’d be heavy, which was true; I just now made up my clever response)

Keep in mind a few things. I’m pretty tolerant of cold, and I’m a pretty strong swimmer. The river flow is low right now. It was low-40s in temperature outside. It wasn’t that big of a deal. My biggest problem is the shoes I had on aren’t made for walking over slippery river rocks. I know this river, particularly this stretch, and at no point did I have any concern about whether or not what I was doing was stupid. I’m a very cautious person by nature, for the most part, and I was 100% confident in what I was doing.

Was the water cold? Hell yes. But no colder than it was back in October when we spent a day fishing on the Bitterroot, spending much of our time in the water. Nor was it any colder than Rock Creek was on Thanksgiving Day when I went in to cross the stream so I could photograph the fish Julia caught.

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There was only one spot where it even got as deep as my chest, and of course this is where I tripped and actually had to swim a few feet. To people on the shore it may have looked like I was laboring, but that was only because the footing was tough. I think I tripped once or twice more. Anyway, I crossed to a raised bar in the middle of the river. At this point the dog had found some footing. It started to come toward me, but then it appeared to hear it’s owner hollering at it and went back the other direction. This time it swam cross-current and got out. I waded another section, saw the dog on shore, then gave Julia the thumbs-up. She got in the truck and took off; I knew she was heading over the bridge to meet me on the other side, which by now was much closer than the bank I’d started from. So I stood there a couple more minutes and caught my breath.

Some dude over near where Julia had been waiting kept hollering, “Just stay there!” A couple dudes on the bridge above me called down to see if I was okay. I was fine. A tad . . . chilled . . . but fine. Just fat and soaking wet. I waded the rest of the way across the river (it never got above mid-thigh), climbed up the bank, and a minute or two later Julia pulled up and I climbed into the cab, where the heater was blasting. It was still only about 5:20. I offered to wait and do the 1000 Flowers thing, but Julia said it was fine to just go home — we’d had enough adventure.

We talked about it afterward on the drive home. She said people were first worried about the dog, then about me. Like I shouldn’t be out there, that I’d get hypothermia, etc. One guy (presumably the “Just stay there!” dude) was certain he needed to go get his rescue gear to rescue ME.

I think people freak out about things and measure what other people do against what they are willing to do themselves. Most people wouldn’t go in the river today. It was no big deal to me. People who hunt in the north encounter bigger, colder water in lower temperatures all the time in the SUMMER, for crissakes. Like I said, I know my limits, I’m cautious, and if it had been frigid out, or if the water had been utterly freezing when I first stepped in, I wouldn’t have done it. My choice to suffer a small risk and a little discomfort was weighed against the alternative, and I chose to go for it.

What was that alternative? The freakin’ dog. We could have left, then I’d have wondered forever what would have happened to it. We could have stayed on the bank and watched, and, as it turned out, we would have seen it find its way to safety. At the time, though, it didn’t seem like that was going to happen. If I’d stood there and watched that dog drown I’d have been haunted for the rest of my life. As it turned out, everyone is fine.

I think instances of bad luck or misfortune often become tragedy or catastrophe because people fail, or are afraid, to act. Now I’m not blowing this thing out of proportion — it wasn’t that big of a deal. But facing risk calmly, however slight (and I honestly felt this was pretty low level risk, regardless of what anyone on the river trail might have been thinking), is good practice, I think.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s foolish to even write about it. I was just irritated that people would judge me foolish for doing it. Some will. But I’m probably at greater risk from drunk drivers every damn time I’m on the road than I was out on that river today. It was worth it to me. And it’s never a bad thing to make your girl proud, and Julia said she was of me for doing it. So there’s that. You know it’s all about the ladies up in these parts.

Speaking of which, it turns out that, despite the foul weather that rolled in (which we drove through on our way home — a near blinding rain and wind storm), the 1000 Flowers event was a big success. Read about it here.

Way to go, Missoula.

 

9 thoughts on “A Nice Night for a Swim

  1. Kent Gowran

    Good on you, Chris.

    There were probably as many, if not more, who saw that and thought, ‘Right on’. I would hope that to be the case, at any rate.

    It’s far from an original thought, but I first heard it from my grandpa who always said, “I did what I thought was right at the time.” and I’ve always liked that. There’s no way to know what will happen, but if you do what you feel you should do, your conscience will clear more often than not.

    Reply
  2. John Mueller

    Chris you make your father-in-law proud of you too. You did what I hope I would have tried. I share your feelings about the dark lasting effects of watching and doing nothing.

    Reply
    1. Chris Post author

      Thanks, Patti. I actually have started freelancing for the local indie paper again, but so far it’s just music stuff. Would definitely like to branch out from there.

      Reply
  3. David Cranmer

    “… and measure what other people do against what they are willing to do themselves.” That is a perfect summation of how most folks normally behave. In my opinion you did the right thing and it separates you from the hive. And I agree with Patti.

    Reply
  4. Sage

    Good for you! I might have done the same thing and would certainly been willing to help. I have been in the water a few times when it was freezing, it’s not fun but you do what you have to do.

    Reply

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