Tag Archives: boat trip

‘Gators and Civil War Antagonism

081107Ch'ston 127 After ascertaining that it would be safe to walk back to the ‘gator pond  at Magnolia Plantation (it was a designated wildlife trail after all) we fixed on a nine o’clock start for the morning so that we could snap the alligators (snap, ha!) and then “do” Charleston in the afternoon. Finally getting away at 10:15, we turned up at the boat dock, last to board and huffing and puffing, to be greeted with “You English?”

“Yes.” Puff. Puff.

“Well this is what you would have had,” the tour guide said with a grand sweep of his arm, “if you hadn’t been so greedy.” Jimmy and I exchanged puzzled looks and didn’t put our minds to his comment until much later when we realized that he had been talking about British taxation in the 1700’s and the American War of Independence. Charming man! Jimmy muttered to me, “Nothing’s changed then,” referring to current exorbitant taxation in Britain.

Grumpy at the helm.
Grumpy at the helm.

Memories are long in the South. The not-very-civil American Civil War is still referred to as “the recent unpleasantness” and the British are obviously still a target of derision for some people nearly 250 years after the Revolution.

Prince Not-So-Charming seemed to be having an off day as he puttered his passengers around a pond that had been “built” by erecting dykes filled with “sweet” or fresh water. Sweet water is siphoned off the top of the high tide when the salt water sinks to the bottom as the river ebbs. Used originally for hunting and fishing on the estate, the pond is now serves as a conservation area. Duckweed formed an unbroken surface on the water which looked like a bilious green carpet sturdy enough to walk on, but we easily cut a swathe through it leaving a wake of clear dark water behind us.

A tail!
A tail!

Ms. Excitable here sat front and center pointing out all the wildlife as Prince N-S-C had informed us, “You do the lookin’. I’ll do the talkin’.” True to his word, he cruised quickly past several basking alligators on the outbound trip, not even giving us a chance to lift our cameras, while he droned on and on. Then he nipped so close to the ‘gators on the way back to the dock, he startled them into the water so none of the passengers got much of a look – just heard the plop.

Okay, guys. Here's some lunch for you. Show yourselves.
Okay, guys. Here’s some lunch for you. Show yourselves.

We arrived back at the dock after half an hour of a supposedly 45 minute trip. My photos were few and out of focus, out of frame or just plain boring. We saved ourselves the expense of a tip for the indifferent tour guide, but we would have to hunt ‘gators on foot.

Lots of water and duckweed - not much else to see. That tiny white dot is an egret fishing in our wake but you'll have to take my word for that.
Lots of water and duckweed – not much else to see. That tiny white dot is an egret fishing in our wake but you’ll have to take my word for that.

Could this be my most dimwitted plan yet?

Posted this at 6 am then hit my own like button. Speak of dimwitted!

Uuuuun-cllllllle! Ryyyyy-aaaaan!’s Birthday

After lunch in a peaceful woodland setting above the Missouri River my husband and I descended through a steep muddy canyon to the jetty to await a return boat trip back along part of Lewis and Clark’s route. I delighted in the flora on the woodland floor – sweet-smelling mock orange growing wild, harebells and mountain bluebells, Indian blanket and dog rose. We pondered the birds we had seen along the river – a sleekly flying pelican which when fully loaded can carry three gallons of water in its bill and bald eagles of every generation: an eaglet in the nest, a five year old speckled youth and a stately, hunched adult perched on a dead tree acting as a river lookout. N.B. Benjamin Franklin didn’t want the Bald Eagle to be the symbol of America as it was a scavenger and a thief. He wanted the national emblem to be a turkey!

Wildflowers in a peaceful setting

As we left our forest idyll and neared the jetty, the tinkling sound of children’s laughter in the distance greeted us. While on the periphery of their merriment, the shrieks of gay abandon were delightfully muted. Shortly darts of color between the pines became squealing banshees.

We hadn’t yet located the centre of this dynamic gathering when the tuneless strains of Happy Birthday drifted up, sung with obvious gusto. Quiet then descended on the gulch for five minutes as the cake was cut and distributed. Soon toddlers running with plates of chocolate cake covered in day-glow icing began crisscrossing our path. The icing that wasn’t smeared on their faces had kicked into their brains with a sugar rush. Bedlam ensued just as we came into their midst.

Uncle Ryan was celebrating his birthday with – and I counted – three babes in arms, six toddlers, another eight under 10’s, one pregnant mom amongst assorted moms and dads who hardly looked older than teenagers themselves and Grandma.  And we were to be honored with a return journey on the boat with them.

It was hot and humid, we were weary and grumpy after an early start and we no longer wanted to be Lewis and Clark expeditioners. We wanted to be in our car by ourselves with the air conditioning on.  Jimmy and I stood sweating glumly on the jetty while filthy, happy children pounded up and down. Parents stressed over the possibility of kids falling in the water and Grandma, with fluffy blond hair and an ample lap, provided seating for two toddlers at a time.

A canopied tourist boat slid past on the far bank of the Missouri River – already full! If most of the passengers didn’t disembark for a picnic –  and it was already late in the day – we’d have to spend another two hours on the jetty to wait for the next boat with “Uuuuun-cllllllle Ryyyyy-aaaaan!,” who it would seem was out of earshot right then, and his family. Toddlers were sobbing, “I want to get on the boat!” and harassed parents were trying to keep tabs on all the excitable tiny tots on the narrow jetty. Only Grandma was calm, tending to the grandchildren within arms’ reach.

A second boat appeared unexpectedly. It was nearly empty and I began to work out a strategy so as not to share a ride with UncleRyan. Don’t get me wrong. Taken individually, the children were all quite sweet (except the little girl in the lavender t-shirt who was a complainer and a whiner) but the prospect of being confined with the whole over-tired family, still at full volume, on a small boat did not fill me with joy. Jimmy was ready to swim back.

We positioned ourselves so as not to appear part of the birthday celebrations and arranged our faces so as not to appear in the festive mood – not difficult at this point. The first boat drew alongside and two couples disembarked. The captain thankfully identified us as party poopers and invited us on board. Children howled as it became obvious that they were being left behind, but we knew the second boat would draw up within minutes.

Tranquil river trip without the benefit of Uncle Ryan’s family

Dripping with perspiration and tense with unnecessary angst, we slid, literally, into our seats and began to cool off as we motored upstream.  Our air conditioned car awaited us for a short jaunt back to our air conditioned trailer.

So good on you Lewis and Clark and all the hardy explorers, pioneers, ranchers, cowboys, trappers, prospectors and settlers.  The United States would still be confined to the east coast, the middle of the country would be French and the western region would be part of Mexico if it had been left to Jimmy and me to explore the Wild West.

Lewis and Clark as Property Consultants

In our quest for a place to settle down in the United States we were attracted to Last Chance Gulch – or Helena as it is now known, the capital of Montana – where prospectors took one last chance at mining for gold before moving west.

The other attraction to visit Helena was to follow in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark by taking a boat trip (yes, I know, oxymoron like baggy tights, Congressional ethics or European Community) down the Missouri River. This longest river in the United States is worryingly known as Big Misery but behaved for us as we puttered downstream on the Sacagawea, an open-topped tour boat named for a Shoshone Indian guide who served as interpreter for Lewis and Clark. As we came across the L & C’s Trail again and again in this rugged and formidable part of the country, we never ceased to be amazed at the tenacity of the pair who trekked 8,000 miles through the wilderness for two years with no maps, no apps, no radio, no GPS and no spouse to blame for a wrong turn.

The Lewis and Clark trail, 21st century style

We witnessed the site of the August, 1949 Mann Gulch Fire which burned 3,000 acres in 10 minutes claiming the lives of 13 smoke jumpers – men who parachute into fight forest fires when there is no other means of access.  Two of the only three who survived the fire sprinted for 60 seconds out of the canyon to safety with the fire chasing them – a feat never equaled to this day, even by professional athletes.

One year previously, a fire had torn through our destination picnic area, but when we disembarked we witnessed all the devastation that had happened just three days before when torrential rain had flooded down the gulch. To walk up the washed out path we were forced to leap a stream (with the grace of two arthritic elephants) that hadn’t flowed in 50 years.  The forest reeked of burnt timber, refreshed by the recent downpour. The sight of fallen burnt out trees was disheartening.  We sat on a boulder to eat our lunch and take stock of both the beauty and the destructive forces of nature.

The downside of nature

Our captain and river guide had apprised us of all these facts as well as the record low temperature for the area of -70°F – that’s 102 degrees below freezing if you haven’t already worked it out.  “It was just the once in January 1954,” Jimmy reminded me.

“I know.”

“That’s 54 years ago.”

“I know.”

“It normally doesn’t dip below 0°F.”

“That’s comforting.”  That’s still 32° below freezing.

Wildfires, desperately cold winters, floods, no more gold. We won’t be living there.

FYI – My favorite oxymoron was nixed by him indoors. It involved a well-known computer company’s tech support.