Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Into the Wind by Bill Chance

“Canoes, too, are unobtrusive; they don’t storm the natural world or ride over it, but drift in upon it as a part of its own silence. As you either care about what the land is or not, so do you like or dislike quiet things–sailboats, or rainy green mornings in foreign places, or a grazing herd, or the ruins of old monasteries in the mountains. . . . Chances for being quiet nowadays are limited.”

― John Graves, Goodbye to a River

Into the Wind

There’s this thing about a canoe on a lake in the wind. When you are going into the wind you’re going very slowly and working very hard to push against the resistance. But since the waves are going the other way, opposite you, it seems like you’re flying, rushing along. It’s only when you look over to the shore that you see the glacial progress you’re making.

On the other hand, when you turn around, and go with the wind at your back you will move right along with the waves and appear, when you look at the water, to almost be standing still. It takes some proper point of reference, some object on the shore, to gauge your true rapid speed.

Sam and his two sons rented a canoe. He intended to paddle from one end of Cedar Lake to the other.

They walked to the little park store, which has rentals. They had to wait because the operator who lived by himself in a recreational vehicle beside the store had closed up for an hour and gone into town. He had left a note on the door to the store. When he came back he rented them the boat. He made Sam fill out several pages of paperwork, apologizing, “Please fill this out in case the State audits me.”

Samy asked, “Well, have they ever audited you?”

He said, “Yes, once. They came out a couple years ago but I told them that my wife had passed away that week and I couldn’t deal with it so they went away and haven’t come back.”

They rented the little aluminum canoe for an hour, six dollars an hour. The rental place was in a cove down at one end of the lake and due to the drought the lake levels were way down. It was difficult to get out of the cove because the water was so shallow. The boys peered over the gunwale at the thick water plants rubbing against the canoe while their father used the paddle to pole their way along

Sam wanted to go the length of the lake, all the way to the dam but as they moved out into the center he wasn’t sure they would make it. The stout wind would catch the front of the canoe, where Frank, the older son, sat ineffectually flailing at the water with one paddle, and spin it around so Sam would have to paddle hard and carefully to keep it pointed at the dam. Two other families had rented canoes right after them and they were unable to get out of the cove due to the wind.

After being spun twice Sam decided to move over to the west coastline, as close as possible, and pay close attention to steering the canoe – they were able to make progress that way. It was hard work, pushing against the wind, taking all the strength Sam had in his shoulders.

For Sam it felt good to be paddling a canoe again. He was good at it. When he was a child in Florida he had a canoe of his own. He would haul it down to the canal next to their house and paddle around after school.

Frank and Sam’s youngest son, Luke had never been in a canoe before. Luke was surprised to find out it was made of metal, he thought they were all made of wood. They both said the canoe was more stable than they thought it would be, they thought it would be harder to keep it from tipping over. Sam told them a lot of that was because he was working pretty hard at keeping it straight while they flailed around. Especially Frank at the front trying to paddle.

They made it all the way to the dam. No huge feat, but the kids enjoyed it. It felt like a great victory. They circled the concrete drainage structure, a tall cylinder sticking out of the water with a wrought iron valve wheel on top. The kids asked questions about it, which Sam couldn’t answer. Then they turned and headed back.

Sam was worried they would be late, he had only paid for an hour. He wished that he had shelled out another six bucks so they could relax. But the wind and waves bore them along at a rapid speed on the return. It took them forty minutes to reach the dam and only ten to get back. Poor Luke knelt on his knees in the center of the canoe during the whole trip and could barely stand when they pushed up onto shore. His young legs regained their flexibility quickly enough.

Sam’s shoulders didn’t recover quite so fast. For a week the soreness reminded him of the struggle across the lake in the canoe with his two sons. He would shrug his shoulders against the pain and smile.

Sunday Snippet, Archipelago by Bill Chance

They liked to ski in that area because of the hundreds of small islands that cut the wind and waves and made for the smooth glass-like surface that was so fun to ski on. But the area was like a maze, as much land as water, and a confusing labyrinth of passages, gaps, and islets. It was tough to know exactly where your were at any time.

—-Bill Chance, Archipelago


Trees reflected in a pond, inverted, with Chihuly, Red Reeds


Sam leaned back and pulled on the rope while cutting his ski into the water. He shot sideways, outward, and felt the wave of the wake as it shoved him into midair. Bracing, he cut back as he landed on the smooth, green surface outside the wake and turned to grin at Jim on the other side. Sam relaxed and enjoyed the smooth skimming across the mirror smooth water.

He realized that in the year since his family moved to Central America his skiing had improved so much. The fact he could ski every day, all year round, made such a difference. There was never that long layoff of the winter months where he would get soft and uncoordinated – have to relearn everything in the spring.

He glanced up at the boat where Jim’s father and little brother were driving them around the water in the vast archipelago of little jungle-covered islands. Something was wrong and he could see Arnold’s red hair disappearing below the rear gunwale as he looked for something in the bowels of the boat. Jim’s father was turned around too, looking, pointing and barking orders, although Sam couldn’t understand what he was saying.

“What’s up?” Sam shouted across at Jim, “Something wrong in the boat.”

“Hell if I know,” Jim shouted back.

“Make that jump, Jim. See if you can get as high as I did.”

Jim nodded, pulled and made a sharp turn outward like Sam had a few seconds before. He did fly high as he hit the wake wave, maybe a little higher than Sam had. But he over rotated and waved his hands desperately as the nose of the long slalom ski caught the water first and at a bad angle. Jim cartwheeled over twice bouncing off the water and then sinking in.

Sam laughed as he let go of his rope, slowly coasted to a stop, and sank down to his life jacket. The two good friends had been working hard on their skiing and fell hundred of times. He knew Jim was fine and saw him smile as his face poked back up above the water.

They both turned to the boat expecting to watch it circle around so the both of them could grab their tow handles and keep skiing. It was a routine they had done many, many times before – three times that very day.

But Arnold was still rooting around and his father was still looking at him. Before either of the two boys could yell from the water the boat had moved around the nearest island and disappeared.

“Shit!” Sam said. “They didn’t see us fall.”

“Don’t worry, they’ll notice soon enough and come back to find us.”

They liked to ski in that area because of the hundreds of small islands that cut the wind and waves and made for the smooth glass-like surface that was so fun to ski on. But the area was like a maze, as much land as water, and a confusing labyrinth of passages, gaps, and islets. It was tough to know exactly where your were at any time.

As the two boys bobbed in the water, floating on their foam jackets, and holding on to their skis, they could hear the whine of the outboard motor moving around between the islands, going back and forth, but couldn’t see anything. This went on for a long time.

“They can’t find us,” said Sam.

“Don’t worry, eventually they will, the water’s warm, we can wait.”

But then the sound of the motor died away.

“Now what?” asked Sam.

“They probably are low on gas and went back to fill up.”

By that time it was getting to be late afternoon and it was the rainy season. Inevitably, the small clouds overhead began to quickly coalesce into large angry-looking black overcast blankets. And then the rain began to fall. It was warm rain, almost like a hot shower. But it was think and heavy – coming down in a deluge of giant globs of water. The boys were used to that, but they were very exposed.

“What do we do know,” Sam yelled over the din of splashing water.

“Let’s swim to the nearest island and wait it out there.”

They weren’t very far from the dark green hillock and were strong swimmers. It was an easy task, especially with their life jackets, to paddle and cover the space between them and the nearest land, even pulling their skis along.

The problem was the jungle grew in a thick, inhospitable blanket right down into the water. They had to swim along the shore until they came to a spot where a tree had died and fallen into the lake, leaving a gap in the jungle foliage. They were able to swim among the dead branches and find a little bit of spongy ground to sit on.

As they moved up they were startled by a gigantic toad, camouflaged invisible into the thick layer of forest detritus along the shore. The toad, bigger than either of the boys had ever seen, grunted and leaped past them into the water with a gigantic splash. Both boys cried out in a moment of fear and then laughed together when they realized the gigantic monster was merely a harmless toad.

There wasn’t much open space left in the spot the amphibian and abandoned and the two boys had to crowd together sitting on the wet ground, still holding their skis. The thick vegetation overhead provided only a little shelter from the rain – the drops of water falling on their heads came a little less often, but were much larger after they tumbled through the leaves.

“They will never be able to see us here,” said Sam.

“In this rain they couldn’t see us or hear us anywhere anyway. It’ll have to stop sometime. They’ll come looking then.”

And the rain did stop. But by then the sun was falling behind the tall trees of the next island to the west.

The suns sets quickly in the tropics – its path is straight down and there aren’t very many minutes of twilight. As it disappeared in the post-rain humidity it became surprisingly cold and the boys shivered in the misty miasma of decomposing life that flowed out from the darkness behind them into the lake.

The two boys sat silent, their thoughts to themselves, as the dark night descended and devoured the whole world. The loud sounds of the nocturnal jungle dwellers began to rise in a wild cacophony of shrieks, cries, and growls.

The boys could only listen and wonder where the whine of an outboard was.