Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Huck Finn Had Nothing On Us

Just as I swung into the crowded pickup/dropoff south terminal area at Hartsfield International Airport to pick up Uncle Buster and Jeanne; my phone rang.

"YEAH. Where you at?"
"I'm almost there"
"We're all the way at the end."

After 15 minutes of easing my truck through the crowded lines, I finally spotted them. Buster was sitting as far from any other humans as the hustle-and-bustle of Harsfield would allow, and Jeanne was by his side. I hadn't even come to a complete stop and he was in the truck:
"Get me out of here" he said.

And away we went.

When I pulled up to the front door at Pea Ridge Plantation I'm not sure Buster even went inside; he went straight to the tractor and started riding. I heard the low rumble of the big John Deere for the next 3 hours. Finally, just at dusk, it subsided into a roaring harmony with the spring buzz of cicadas, the chorus of frogs, and the gentle "plooop" of fish shrugging off the lazy mantle of a hot spring day; turning back to the business of hunt-and-catch for table fare.

Finally, as the last glowing purple of a pollen-hazed sunset faded across the lake; I spied a pair of lights bobbing down the bridge road and a gravelly voice floated across the lake:

Catching any?

The answer was, as always "not many", but I didn't care.

Well. Lets go to Lake Juliette tomorrow afternoon then.

I was game, of course.

Juliette requires the use of a motor no bigger than 25 horsepower; an attempt, I think, to keep the lake relatively pristine and free of the usual cross-section of southern humanity and its penchance for "overdoing it." Given the massive powerplant belching coal-fired smoke into the air at the North end, I'm not sure why they bothered with the restriction. However, Buster happened to have such a boat handy, though in some state of disrepair, so we spent an hour or so the next morning getting the little aluminum jonboat cranked and tackle stowed before heading to the lake.

The trip was miraculously uneventful (no tag, no trailer pin, questionable trailer lights, ungreased hubs), and we were underway on the water in no time at all. After 15 minutes at top speed, and quite a long way from the dock, the motor began making a very concerning VVVROOOOMMMM sound at intervals. A look of perplexed consternation crossed Buster's face; followed by a series of derogatory remarks concerning boats in general, jonboats specifically, the laborforce, general inability of anyone (nonspecific) to follow instructions, and Mercury outboard motors. I sat very still at the front of the boat while he gently swore under his breath and fiddled with some switches at the rear, then we were underway yet again at a slightly reduced pace.

Shortly afterwards we slowed to a stop and began fishing; the soft "whiizzzz" and "splash" of the baits keeping time, somehow, with the natural order of sound on the water. After a short few minutes of fishing my attempts to untangle myself from several yards of stray line was violently interrupted by a howl of fury from the rear of the boat and the sudden exclamation from the captain: "WE ARE TAKING ON WATER."

Now, in boat lingo I understood that to mean that we were, in short, "sinking." Sure enough, a quick glance to the rear confirmed that Buster, and my jar of pickled okra, were both beginning to resemble bath toys at the rear of the boat. Several inches of water had crept in through a faulty drain plug of some kind. The lack of profanity (suggesting dangerously intense concentration) and the rapid rocking of the boat, coupled with the frantic activity taking place at the rear, confirmed my worst fears. We were, in fact, headed for a long swim.

To my surprise, Buster cranked the motor up, reached down, and SNATCHED the entire plug out of the bottom. "We'll just outrun it" he grinned in response to my unintelligible expression of horror. His plan was simple: run the boat wide-open allowing the rushing water below, and the upward tilt of the boat, to drain the water inside.

It worked, and we continued performing his genius quick-save tactic periodically during the rest of the afternoon. The only real problem I noticed with his method was this: the captain would periodically disappear under the motor to struggle with the drain plug for long periods of time while running at a full-clip towards the middle of the lake; our tiny boat hurtling headlong, hither-and-yon, as the tiny craft willed. Since he didn't seem particularly concerned, I just put on a 1960's vintage life jacket and faced backwards. I figured if I was going to die in a jon-boat collision I really didn't want to see it coming.

Disaster averted - we resumed fishing, then took off again for the northern reaches of the lake. A few minutes had gone by and I had only just begun to un-pucker from the first sinking incident, when the boat began to slow once again. I sat very still, looking forward, waiting on the next series of clankings and swearings from the rear of the boat, but none came. I turned around, slowly, to find Buster looking at me with a huge grin on his face: "BabyJimmy, we're on an ADVENTURE!" he crowed.

And really, that's all that you need.

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