- February 8, 2023
As we launched the boat, the sun slipped under a bank of clouds and lit up the pond’s surface with a million diamond-like reflections. The warm morning light washed softly over the landscape. Recollections of childhood events are often inordinate. From my gallery of memories. I recall how truly huge the body of water seemed,
As we launched the boat, the sun slipped under a bank of clouds and lit up the pond’s surface with a million diamond-like reflections. The warm morning light washed softly over the landscape. Recollections of childhood events are often inordinate. From my gallery of memories. I recall how truly huge the body of water seemed, almost like embarking on an ocean voyage. Youthful enthusiasm distorted the proportions. The pond was probably less than three acres in size.
Launching the boat required one of us to shove off and climb aboard simultaneously. This was best performed from a position in the ankle-deep water, the cool mud oozing between your toes. The launcher sometimes miscalculated and would be left hanging on the gunwale. Getting in wasn’t easy. You had to pull yourself above the waterline while pushing your weight into the boat; all under the verbal encouragement of your counterpart who most likely had already begun rowing the boat into deeper water.
Rowing the craft took timing and dexterity. One of the oars was missing the lower half of its paddle, broken while trying to give a water snake a headache. With standard rowing, the boat veered severely to one side. The trick was to combine two, two-handed strokes, followed by two pulls from the side with the defective oar. Using this cadence, the boat tracked a straight course.
The boat’s size made for close quarters but mattered little as we mostly stood while flinging flies, quickly learning the advantages of fishing out opposite sides. A revelation after one of us got hooked. We used highly colorful flies, supposedly hand-tied in Japan, which were no doubt specially imported by the Western Auto Store in Montoursville. Probably just for us. The bright colors hooked us as solidly as they did the fish.
The bluegills were an easy mark. They always seemed tolerant of our poor presentations. Each cast left a series of bubbles on the surface — the water appearing carbonated. We were enjoying ourselves. It was a period in life before we fully appreciated the luxury of having “free” time. After several hours of fishing, we had a nice batch of bluegills. Because the rope stringer had to be untied to add fish, the procedure was to toss our captives into the bottom of the boat, then add them en masse. This made the process less inconvenient.
The stringer of bluegills seemed agitated, moving back and forth in unison as if trying to break free. Who could blame them, with heads compacted tightly together and a piece of rope strung through their breathing apparatuses? As I pulled the stringer up to add to our take, the weight seemed exceptionally heavy. What surfaced was enough to make us want to jump from the boat. It was a snapping turtle — with a head as big as a slice of bread, a shell the circumference of a 55-gallon drum. Its spiked back was covered with dark green moss, its clawed feet struggling mightily. It had tremendous strength. Its menacing eyes seemed focused on me as if angered over having its lunch interrupted. I wasn’t sure if the beast was fighting my pull or trying to climb on board.
Both of us boys were momentarily immobilized, eyes glued in frozen bodies. Our looks of astonishment did little to loosen the turtle’s firm hold. For some unknown reason my trembling arms held the rope tight, my hands only a foot away from the monster’s horny beak, which was latched on to the stringer load of gasping ‘gills. The intruder was stealing our catch — trying to deprive us of my Grandma Brennan’s fish chowder and those golden fried fillets.
In a chaotic state, my friend whacked at the creature with an oar, only managing to soak the two of us. “Don’t pull it in the boat,” was the advice I received but didn’t need. After all, those were my fingers at grave risk. I wasn’t about to give it access to my toes. The boat twirled around in circles. Would we be sucked under in a giant whirlpool? Would we be drowned and dined on by the shelled savage?
As we yelled instructions at each other, our voices would not elevate past a pre-pubescent pitch. We sounded like our lungs were full of helium. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the giant turtle tore free and sank from sight. We pulled the stringer inside the boat only having lost a few fish, and quickly moved to another part of the pond.
We referred to the event as the “Intruder Incident,” and were so plagued by the episode we lived by the “No Swimming” rule for quite some time.