The heat being HOT, Miranda and I met up with Anne and Connor for our Wednesday swimming hole run around 1 p.m. We hadn’t been to the Verde yet this year and Anne had a kid-sized kayak that Connor was testing out, so the Verde River was our destination.
Hauling kayaks is always a work-out for a woman my size. Luckily, Anne is a power-lifter so the biggest problem is that she tends to go too fast for me to keep the back end at pace. In addition, we hauled the summer gear: a floatation ring–”floatie”–; life vests for kayaking; cooler; lunch bags; towels for all; water toys; small net for catching minnows or insects; sunscreen. Pretty much, the works. By the time we reached the water, the kids were ready to get in. So were the grown-ups.
Now, I will confess that I am a cold-water-wimp. The Verde is relatively warm though, so I was in, up to my knees rather quickly–for me. But Anne, Connor and Miranda were all swimming before my toe hit the water. They cooled off for a few minutes and then Connor climbed out and hopped on his kayak. Anne followed and coached him a bit. He was doing remarkably well (having learned to kayak myself several times, I know that it is not always as easy as it looks). They went up river a ways and came back. Connor jumped out and Miranda asked if she could try it.
I was a little worried because I didn’t want to have to ask Anne to swim to the far side of the river (50 feet, a wide spot on the Verde) to rescue her from the reeds. And yes, I am also a swimming wimp, truth be told. But I helped her climb in and helped her with the paddling motion a few times and off she went. In about ten minutes, she had mastered the paddling to a degree that she was making wider and wider circles around the river. Then I suggested backwards. That was comical. I tried a number of different ways of describing the necessary change in the stroke to go backwards, none of which she grasped. At one point, she put the paddle behind her head. I let it go and when she returned to shore, I helped her make the motion a few times. She figured it out after a few minutes though, “master” is not a word I would apply here.
The wind was windy on this day. Gusts of forty-five-miles-per-hour was the prediction. I’d say we got that. And the wind was blowing in opposition to the river with a tendency to the south. For the kayakers, this meant at times sitting nearly still on the water with a slight drift to the far shore. Occasionally, a gust would drive you to backwards and into the reeds if you did not paddle strongly. At one point, Miranda was stuck on the reeds on the far side and attempting to extricate herself by unsuccessfully paddling backwards. She didn’t seem too frustrated until I tried to coach her out of the spot so I let her figure it out. Figuring it out meant being pulled out and pushed into the middle of the river by a nice man swimming in the deep channel.
After a while, Connor wanted to go back up river and he and Anne took off and were gone for over a half hour. Miranda swam around in her life vest and played with some other swimmers on a boogie board. I finally went in up to my shoulders. At one point, her lips were blue and I made her get out and warm up for a while. The kayaks came back and Miranda asked Anne if she would go up the river with her. I was glad when Anne said that she was tired but maybe mom…
We launched and headed up river. Quickly the sounds of the swimmers were behind us and the sounds of red-winged black birds darting in the reeds filled the air. Miranda started out ahead but I caught up and pulled out front. Not showing off, just enjoying the feeling of strength pulling on a river to propel myself forward gives me. The river bends ever-so-slightly and we were out of eye-shot of the swimmers. We practiced a little backwards and turning and reached the Tuzigoot bridge, a good 50 feet above us. Only a few yards past it the river narrows considerably. Miranda didn’t like the look of it and wanted to turn around.
The way back is with the current so the going was easier, at least when the wind didn’t gust. I encouraged Miranda to stay near the middle of the river as this tended to be deep and there was less chance of being blown into the reeds. We glide along and I ask her if she likes kayaking. She tells me that she does and I tell her that I love kayaking. She says, “I love kayaking too!” with much enthusiasm.
She begins to tire and rests for a moment. Once again, I am out front. A hundred yards or so from the swimmers, I notice in my peripheral vision a not-small animal entering the river on the right bank. Looking directly, I see a large snake. Trying not to freak Miranda out and thinking that there are no venomous water snakes in Arizona, I calmly announce to her that a snake has entered the river and we need to stop and let it pass. She doesn’t hear me and keeps paddling asking what I said. I repeat myself louder and she gets excited, paddling faster I think, asking where the snake is. I point with my paddle and she catches up with me, she sees it too.
Around this time, I can see the snake’s back clearly as it glides powerfully across the river: diamonds. Definitely diamonds. The tone of my voice shifts into that ‘someone is on fire or bleeding’ tone that moms get sometimes. She passes me on the left and I begin to insist that she back up. She’s still paddling forward and I see the snake pass in front of me. “Back up! Back up!” I am yelling now. The swimmers apparently hear me about this time and start watching us. “BACK UP! BACK UP!” I am screaming. She keeps trying but she can’t do it. She can’t remember how and keeps paddling forward. In a bizarre twist of body memory, I try to paddle forward, thinking I’ll push the water with my paddle and push the snake away and I keep paddling backwards. The snake, by this time, has figured out that it is not alone. As it nears Miranda’s kayak, sitting about 5 inches out of the water, the snake raises itself out of the water as much as it can, in what might have been a truly funny imitation of the Loch Ness monster under other circumstances.
There are over two inches of rattle on the tail. “BACK UP!” I repeat. Miranda is crying now and scooting around on the top of her kayak in a way that might have landed her in the water on any less-stable craft. It somehow gets turned around backwards, though still moving forward. It is not possible to steer it this way and the snake is looking like it might try to board if there is any contact made. “Turn around, get your feet the other way!” I am paddling two strokes forward and one back. The snake is between 2 and 3 feet away from the little yellow kayak. Suddenly, he drops back down into the water and makes a beeline for the left bank. I give thanks and praise to the gods and goddesses of rivers, kayaks, children and even snakes. I encourage Miranda to get back to the swimming area as quickly as possible so she can have the coming meltdown on shore.
“What kind of snake was that?!” everyone on shore wants to know.
“DID YOU KNOW RATTLESNAKES COULD SWIM?” I scream. They are silent for a moment as this information sinks in. I suspect they would not have believed me, had they not seen the size of the snake themselves. We arrive on the bank and they help us pull up. I go quickly to Miranda and wrap my arms around her. “Wow! What an adventure you just had!” I tell her.
“What do you mean?” she asks between tears.
“When something scary happens and you live to tell the story, that’s an adventure!” and utter a prayer that this will not be our last kayaking trip. Sadly, there are not photos or video of all the excitement. I suspect however, had I had any sort of camera in the kayak with me, it would have been at the bottom of the Verde River by the time it was all over.