Girls’ Camp Lore
The kayaks were laid out along the bank by the short dock in front of the boathouse. There were two orange, open faced kayaks for the girls, a longer open kayak for Lois, and my Blue Breeze at 18’ and 25” wide opening, bought by my dad for me over 23 years ago. It is the only enclosed kayak, with adjustable leg brackets and an internal inflatable triangular innertube, evidently needed to keep me afloat. We had agreed to kayak after swimming, as we would certainly continue to get wet.
“OK, kids,” I yelled out, “time to find your paddles and life preservers.” They floated into the shallow water and took off their flippers before exiting their tractor-tire inner tubes. Soon, they met me on the incline, preservers on, leaning on their kayak paddles, inspecting the inside of their kayaks.
“Eeuu!” Ella shouted. “My kayak is crawling with ants! What am I going to do?”
“What can you do,” I asked back. She’ll figure out something on her own, part of my “Girls’ Camp” subliminal plan.
She is now hopping around the perimeter, hands flapping in the air. “Ohhhh,” she shuddered, “There are spiders, too!”
By now, Avery was peering at her kayak’s inhabitants. Her shoulders quivered, but she did not make a sound.
I made my way to investigate. A Daddy-Long legs crawled over the edge and joined a smaller, water spider, coming off of a reed, bent over the boat. I brushed him off and picked up the Daddy-long legs and held it up for the girls to see.
“Ella,” I asked, “Didn’t I tell you about the Daddy-Long legs? You pick him up and ask him, ‘Where are my cows?’ One leg will point straight out and that is where you’ll find them!” **
This, of course, overlooks the fact most kids are no longer on farms, don’t have cows and, if they did, the spider is not a compass, so you can move him around resulting in your cows being anywhere in a 360° radius. In the moment, nobody considers all the variables, but picks up the spider to see if that is true. I’ve never had a Daddy-long legs disappoint.
Both girls moved in closer for the demonstration, but did not participate. They did figure out how to splash the ants out with water, eased their kayaks down the bank and into the lake where Lois already waited. Last, it was my turn.
I peered into the cavern of my kayak to see if anything had crawled in and pronounced it good to go. We all pushed off in direction of the pothole along the eastern shoreline. There, we might see muskrats, painted turtles, bullfrogs, the occasional heron and, at night, beaver. We’d float over two lily pad patches and around the corner before steering into the circle of water, my sanctuary, inaccessible to motorized craft.
We had barely been on the water for five minutes when I heard Ella let out a screech followed, this time, by Avery. They had joined their kayaks into a combined float and were now frothing up the water with their paddles waving. I headed their direction, not so much concerned about them being dumped into the lake as the tenor of their screaming.
“Girls,” I called out, pulling up next to them, “What’s the problem?”
“Spiders! Big spiders!” Ella trembled again. “You have to get them out of here! I can’t do it!”
Avery was hunched down in her kayak, with the paddle poised in a defensive, yet useless, position.
“OK, everybody,” I said, “Take a deep breath. We have to practice being calm. Know that you aren’t in any danger even if you fall out of the kayak. It will not sink and you have your preservers on plus your whistles, if you really need help.” They both nodded and inhaled slowly.
I edged next to Ella, leaned over and took the Daddy-long legs into my boat. “Remember, he is a friendly spider. He will not bite. He’ll just help you find your cows,” I laughed and continued, “Isn’t it great that here in the north we don’t have any poisonous critters?”
They both meekly nodded in agreement and adjusted themselves into the center of their kayaks to follow Lois, up ahead. I fell in behind to see that all was indeed, settled.
Before I had time to rearrange my butt in the seat, I felt something wiggle, no slither, over my foot. I knew without looking, what was riding along with me. It happened last week, too. There wasn’t a milli-second between the slither and my scream. “Oh my god, no! Not another one!”
I swung my behind up on the back of the kayak, almost simultaneously jerking my legs to either side of the kayak’s opening. My kayak swayed toward the water, but I grabbed the sides and quickly balanced. Then, I looked down. There, on the floor, a long garter snake curled his way from under my seat to the spot under the inflatable triangle and disappeared.
Now, the girls were sitting bolt upright, stopped in mid-paddle. “What is it, Nana?” Ella yelled over the waves.
“A SNAKE!” I yelled back, hoping there was only one. Last week, not one, but two snakes appeared inside my craft while I floated into the eastern cove!
All my brave words about spiders evaporated in the face of this snake. This snake called forth memories of Eve in the Garden. No wonder women have such a difficult time with snakes!
My boat stopped rocking. I did not want to ferry this (and maybe another) snake back to the cabin! What to do? Lois was now paddling toward me. I eased myself into position and paddled to shore, jumped into the water and stared back into the cavity of my kayak.
Yup, there it was. Maybe if I pulled the inflatable out, I could see better what was hitching a ride. Just as I grabbed the red air tube to remove it, Lois drew up alongside of me and gave out an audible gasp.
“Oh, oh,” she said breathlessly, “I thought that red tube was your snake!”
This time, I was able to laugh. “No, my snake is in here. I so want to just pick him up and throw him in the water. I know he can swim to shore, but . . . I just can’t bring myself to touch him. Maybe, if I had gloves? Why can’t I do mind over matter, grab him and fling him away?”
This we knew to be a rhetorical question. We hoped that, if a matter of life or death, I’d snap out of it. It was just this measly, wiggly, frightened, creepy garter snake.
Lois took charge.
“Jan, can you tilt the kayak toward me? You keep your head down. I’ll pick him up and give him a good toss.”
And, she did. The snake flew over my head and we watched him swim away as the girls floated in closer, but not too close!
I pulled out the inflatable, checked under my seat, pounded on the sides, replaced everything and gingerly, slid myself back into the kayak. My cellular memory could feel the slithering over my foot and my heart still raced. I tried to calm my breathing, but it was just stuck.”
When Ella and Avery glided over, I looked up – sheepishly.
“Oh, kids, I can’t believe that, no sooner than I gave you some pointers about how to stay calm on the water and get over those spiders, I blow it all on a snake!” Then, looking at Lois, I added, “So much for being a role model!”
As the girls pointed their kayaks back toward the pothole, I called out my last advice,
“Do as I say, not as I do,” just to make sure all was not lost on today’s lesson.
** Frank C. Brown’s collection of North Carolina Folklore has this to say about Granddaddies:
“When ones’ cows have strayed from home they can be located by saying this to the granddaddy spider: ‘Granddaddy, Granddaddy, where are my cows? He will point one foot in the direction in which they are.'”