One of the most memorable canoe trips in this river rat’s life didn’t take place on a warm spring day on some famous river known for its whitewater or smallmouth bass.
Yet the float trip was unforgettable, the only snow float we’ve ever taken.
That January many moons ago was a cold one at the backwoods bachelor cabin that my pal, Hog Ears, and I shared out in the boons, on the fringes of Ozarks civilization. Cabin fever was starting to set in.
We were both laid off for the winter from our jobs at the state park. We’d done just about all the squirrel hunting we cared to do that winter. If we ate any more fried squirrel and ‘taters we’d sprout bushy tails.
When the snow started falling one afternoon, we deemed it a glorious sight not having to drive — gasp! — to work.
Hog Ears and I pulled on warm coats and sat out in the swing on the big front porch to watch the snow pile up. A crystal clear stream flowed right through our front yard, past the rock cabin we rented for $50 a month, utilities paid. The rent must have been so steep since the cabin sat on a thousand acres, along a gravel road miles from the pavement.
The deeper the snow, the darker the stream appeared, an illusion along any waterway when snow accumulates. The scene was worthy of a Christmas card. Right there on the porch Hog Ears got inspired.
“Hey, let’s take a snow float,” he piped. Go canoeing in the snow, in the freezing cold? What a splendid idea.
The next morning we slapped some tire chains on Hog Ears’ 1970 Chevy Suburban, dark blue with some rust accents around the fenders. We slid a red Coleman canoe into the back of the Suburban and headed out into the four inches of snow on our gravel road. Tire tracks showed that one vehicle had gone by our place since the snow, probably the mail gal.
We reached the snow-covered pavement with ease, thanks to the tire chains. Hog Ears turned east and headed for Beaver Creek, a jewel of a stream that flows through the hills east of Branson, Mo., eventually joining Bull Shoals Lake.
The snow had stopped, but the day was overcast, thick, gray and cold. The snow was deep when we stopped at the old iron bridge where we’d launch the canoe. There wasn’t an access here, but the canoe slid easily down the snowy, steep bank.
With life jackets buckled, we set off down the creek. The first memory is the total silence. There wasn’t a sound in this whitened world, no bird songs, no wind, nothing. The snow absorbed any sound.
Looking downstream, the water in Beaver Creek appeared black surrounded by snow. But when we looked straight down to the bottom, it was tap-water clear.
Hog Ears and I are normally fish fanatics on a river float trip, but not today. We figured the water was too cold to catch anything and left our poles at the cabin. We got our limit in beauty we’ll never forget.
This particular snow was fairly wet, so the cedars, pines and hardwoods were frosted in thick white. Not a speck of ground peeked through the deep snow. Wintry landscapes unfolded at every bend in the creek on our first snow float, and my last.
Not that I haven’t tried to make another float in the snow. One night several years back, the forecast promised four to six inches of snow. By now Hog Ears had moved to Alaska so I called another buddy. He was up for a snow float.
Dang. By morning, not a flake had fallen. No snow float for us. Now it’s another January and the winter is young. Maybe this is the year we’ll float again in the snow.
Flip Putthoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter@NWAFlip
Sports on 01/17/2017