Rollin’ on the River

By Sandy Nachlinger

When Hugh and his family invited me, my husband Bob, and our nine-year-old son Max on a float trip down the Lower Neches River in Southeast Texas, I had misgivings. Canoes had always looked iffy to me – unstable and dangerous – and I didn’t know the first thing about rowing. What would happen if we tipped over? Would the river have rapids? How would we steer the contraption? After reassurances from my husband and with Hugh’s vow that we wouldn’t encounter rough water, plus the promise of life jackets all around, I agreed to give canoeing a try. A third couple – Dave and Donna – would join us on the adventure, along with their chocolate Labrador retriever, Duke. We looked forward to a great outing with friends on a hot June day.

On the appointed morning, we traveled to the put-in spot in the Big Thicket National Preserve not far from Beaumont, Texas. Beams of sunshine filtered through the loblolly pine and water oak that shaded the river as we carried our canoes to the bank. Each family carefully loaded their boat with food, beer, water, towels, sunscreen and insect repellent, all sealed in plastic bags as suggested by Hugh. Dave already knew everything about canoeing, a fact he mentioned more than once, while educating the rest of us on the subject. He’d had plenty of experience as an Eagle Scout. From his place on the bank, Dave made sure his wife occupied their canoe’s proper seat for optimum weight distribution of the craft, and he stowed their supplies carefully amidships. He advised Max on the correct grip for his oar and demonstrated preferred rowing techniques for me. Bob rolled his eyes and exchanged a smirk with Hugh, but I nodded and tried to imitate Dave’s moves while still on dry land.

Hugh, his wife Susan, and their son Brett launched their boat from the river bank, and we climbed into our borrowed canoe and followed close behind. I gasped and gripped the boat’s hull when the canoe wobbled, but the water’s flow looked steady and gentle and I could see the river bottom. So far, so good. Even if we tipped over, I figured we’d be okay. Dave tugged his canoe into the stream, climbed aboard, and called for his dog.

Duke let out a joyous bark, bounded off the bank, and landed right in Dave’s lap. You would think our resident expert on canoeing might have considered the effect of a dog jumping into a canoe, wouldn’t you? Especially if that dog weighed almost as much as the expert’s wife. Seconds later the canoe floated upside down in the river with Donna clinging to its hull. Dave lay sprawled half in, half out of the water, and Duke bounded back to the shore. The dog ran back and forth along the narrow sandbar and barked, clearly delighted. He sent a spray of water over us all when he shook. I can’t repeat what Dave shouted to his pet, nor Donna’s comments to her husband.

Did we laugh when Dave, Donna and the Lab were catapulted into the water? Did we chuckle as their oars and the plastic bags filled with their supplies floated downstream? No, not at first; but once we determined that everyone was okay, we couldn’t hold back our chuckles. Judging by Dave’s red face, we didn’t even need to tease him about his Eagle Scout expertise for him to grasp the situation’s irony.

With everyone’s help, Dave righted the canoe and retrieved most of his family’s supplies. He removed a towel from a sealed bag and pitched it to Donna, settled Duke in the bottom of their boat with a stern command, and they again pushed off from the bank into the middle of the stream. We spent the rest of the warm summer day floating down the gentle river. With great blue herons and turtles for company, we skimmed over submerged logs and dodged low-hanging branches. We reveled in the river’s quiet beauty. My husband, son and I fell into a rhythm with our oars and relaxed as the current carried us downstream. Every once in a while someone would think of Dave’s catastrophe, start to giggle, and then we’d all end up laughing.

Eventually, even Dave joined in, but I noticed he didn’t offer any more sage advice or utter the words “Eagle Scout.”

About this writer

  • Sandy Nachlinger

    Sandy Nachlinger

    Sandra R. Nachlinger is the author of two novels (so far!):  I.O.U. Sex (co-written with Sandra Allen) and Bluebonnets for Elly. She enjoys sewing, quilting, writing, reading, spending time with her granddaughter, and hiking in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She blogs about all those things and more at

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20 Responses to “Rollin’ on the River”

  1. Judy Nill says:

    What a delightful story! Made me smile. Love the style of this writer.

  2. Sandra Allen says:

    LOL. You are a brave woman to venture out in a canoe! I love it when a “man” who thinks he knows everything finds out he doesn’t!

  3. Thank you for the kind comment, Judy. I’m glad you enjoyed the story (and my style).

  4. Wonderful essay, Sandra! Such a delight to read your writing in another place besides your blog. As you know, we love to canoe and kayak, but we have our own catastrophe story of tipping the canoe over (with our two young sons in it!!), so I could appreciate your story. Kayaks are much more stable!


  5. Lynn W!. Ainsworth says:

    Funny story. I can just imagine how difficult it was to keep from laughing when the dog bounced into the canoe. A great day to remember.

    I also enjoyed both books.

  6. Great Story. Beautiful descriptions.

  7. Ella Tate says:

    Easy visual, lovely and laughable! Great writing, Sandy.

  8. Thank you, Melanie. That was a memorable canoe trip and lots of fun … well, maybe not so much for Dave!

  9. Mary Maxwell says:

    Great imagery and superb writing, but I’m not surprised!

  10. I loved this! A delightful true tale. Reminds me of being at Boy Scout camp with my grandson one summer evening when the Scoutmaster got tired of waiting for the fire to catch hold. He admonished all of the Scouts to never do what he was about to do. He poured a steady stream of gas on the fire. The flames roared up to the sky and quickly consumed the huge mound of wood in the pit. Scouts scrambled for more firewood to save the night’s ’round the campfire experience. The laughter was plentiful that night as well.

  11. Irma Fritz says:

    What a fun story. Poor Dave! I’m glad it all worked out fine in the end and that everyone ended up still being friends.
    Thanks for this wonderful memory, Sandy Nachlinger!

  12. Sandy, I enjoyed this very much. Funny and also lovely, in the sense that I could feel what it might be like to be floating idly down the river. Good writing.

  13. Rose Ann says:

    Enjoyed your story–a funny, happy memory (for most of you) :)

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