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 Recently, I was guiding a small group down a section of the Black River. Due to recent rain, the water levels were up, and the current was moving us along at a brisk pace. Summer on the river usually means a languid float, with plenty of opportunity to observe wildlife and soak in the tranquility this section of the Black provides. Dragon flies landed on the bow my boat, then flew off, zipping across the surface of the water. A barn owl flew silently across the river, landing in a tree above our heads. It's easy to become complacent and distracted in such a peaceful environment.  The Black is a slow moving river that seems peaceful and benign, and most of time, it is. This past September, however, engorged with water from Hurricane Matthew, the river ran at full flood stage wreaking havoc and destruction. Homes were flooded, valuable agriculture destroyed, and livestock drowned. That seemed a world away, until I got a quick reminder that the river had changed since I'd last paddled it. I rounded a bend and could see several down trees blocking our access. There was a gap in the center and I managed to squeeze my 10 ft. boat through it. The group, several hundred yards behind me, would need to make the same move. However they were paddling a 12.5 ft. boat, making the maneuver more challenging. If they didn't hit the gap at the right angle, they would likely get stuck against one of the logs and go for a swim. With a possibility of strainers in the mix, I was really hoping to avoid that. I turned my bow up river and quickly paddled up to the gap in the logs. The best case scenario was to pull them through by the bow strap as they entered the gap. Whether or not I would stay upright while doing this, was speculative. I grabbed a branch and braced my self, as the first boat came in. While nearly tipping in the process, the first boat came through. Ditto number two and three. The fourth boat held a fit and experienced 74 year old paddler. My only concern was the back problems he informed my of at the start of the paddle. We paused for a second to catch our breath, then he shot for the gap, nearly clearing it, but wedging up against a downfall. As he started to tilt I grabbed his bow strap and pulled hard. The kayak came through and nearly took me down as it did so. However, we were both upright and moving down river. The group reconvened and the rest of our afternoon was a relaxed paddle on the Black. I was reminded however, that the only thing consistent about a river is its capability to change.


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