And now the story of how I almost took a bullet on this tranquil-looking river: One September afternoon, we were paddling a bright red canoe on a much less remote section of this river than in the photo, dotted here and there with houses and fishing shacks. The Tippy is gorgeous up near Winamac, Indiana, and the day was the best of an Indiana autumn – temperate and clear, with an eye-poppingly blue sky. We had only been dating for about three months, and spending every kid-free weekend in a canoe or putting boots to a trail. So as we paddled, we were suspended in a kind of addled bliss you find when you mix love hormones with nature. As we rounded a bend in the river, I noticed a house, and a couple of white Labs horsing around on the bank to the left of the canoe. On the opposite bank was uninterrupted forest.
Then suddenly: POP ———>ziiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing————>CRACK.
“What the [EXPLETIVE THAT STARTS WITH F] was that?” Travis turned around quickly, causing the canoe to wobble dangerously. His F-bomb bounced off the trees a few times before dissipating. We reflexively looked to the trees on the right where the final CRACK had taken place, and then to the left where the zinging had originated.
The Labs were gone, and there was no one else about, as if all life on the left side of the bank had been sucked into a vacuum, leaving only the awkward question hanging in the air: Pardon me, but did you just try to shoot me?
Now, everyone who gets this far into the story says the exact same thing at this point, and you, too, are thinking it right now: “Paddle faster. I hear banjoes.” That’s exactly what we were thinking too, and so we did, paddling much faster until we reached a public boat launch about half a mile upstream where we stopped to discuss things. There had been no more zinging, and I was inclined to chalk it up to a careless squirrel hunter and keep going.
It’s funny what we get worked up about, and what we don’t. When I had to wait out a huge tornado in a truck stop shower on the way back from a trip in March, 2012, I spent a lot of time afterward trying to figure out the exact path of the tornado, so I could see *just how* close it had been, piecing together information from Youtube videos and news accounts. Never mind that the guy in front of me on the road wasn’t as lucky as me, or that I could hear debris hitting the truck stop from the inside, I had to gnaw for weeks on the question of just how close a call it had been. But a bullet whizzing by my head on a river? Meh, whatever, let’s finish the day.
Travis, on the other hand, was uninterested in applying a live and let live philosophy to this event. Once we reached the boat launch, he started ripping open the small ziplock that contained his phone. “I’m calling the cops,” he announced.
“We’re at a boat launch in the middle of nowhere,” I observed. Nonetheless, he called information and then punched in the number for the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department with pissed-off fingers. Resigned to spending time off the water, I got my camera out of the dry bag and started photographing flowers. Twenty minutes later, a police car pulled up.
“Not a lotta brain cells in this county,” chuckled the sheriff’s deputy after we related the story, probably accurately sensing that his primary task was calming us down. “You know, they filmed Deliverance here.” (See? Even the cop thought about the banjoes.) He paused after this last joke and pretended to write something down. “All right, so they had two white Labs, huh? Yeah, that ought to narrow it down. I’ll drive up the road and take a look. You two have a nice day.”
The Deliverance joke had its intended effect (how often does the movie Deliverance have a calming effect?), and we finished our paddle, if warily.
By mid-week, Travis had spoken to a number of his friends involved in either law enforcement or the military and calculated, using the length of the canoe and our positions in it, and the fact that we both heard it, what type of gun the bullet had come from and its approximate path, which turned out to be right between us.
He was tracking his tornado. Meanwhile, I was searching the internet for “Paddle faster; I hear banjoes” T-shirts.