by Jeff Johnston - Friday, April 7, 2017
Over half a lifetime hunting and fishing with my father, we’ve had some scrapes with disaster—like the time our john boat broke through the ice while duck hunting. Or when our boat’s engine died in the middle of a Texas lake at dark with a lightning storm approaching…but we always made it back home to momma.
With Dad’s health failing him a few years ago, I decided to take him duck hunting for old times’ sake. I helped him out of the truck into an awaiting boat. Then I paddled out to a marshy point in the lake and tossed a few decoys in about 2 feet of water before hunkering in the reeds. We killed a few birds and generally had a good time. Then it was time to go.
Because the mud in the shallow water made paddling the boat extremely difficult, I figured I’d simply wade out to grab the decoys, return to the boat, then paddle through the deeper water back to land. But I had no idea just how mucky it was.
About midway to the decoys the water went from thigh deep to over the belt of my chest waders as my feet sunk in mud that seemingly had no bottom. It was all I could do to raise one foot to move it ahead, but when I did the extra weight placed on the other foot would make it sink even further. Suddenly I forgot about the stupid decoys, as by this point I only had an inch of freeboard remaining on the top of my waders. And every time I’d move at all, I’d sink a bit further. It was quicksand! If my waders filled up, I’d be very hard pressed to move at all. And if my nose and mouth went below the waterline I was obviously doomed.
I yelled at my dad, who was about 10 yards away in the boat, to toss me the paddle, thinking I could use it to push myself out. But when he tried to throw it, it went about 2 feet into the water and landed with a splash. I could only watch as it drifted off with the waves. Mad at himself, my 70-year old father began to climb out of the boat to rescue me.
“Father!” I yelled, in as serious of a tone I’ve used with him. “Do not get out of that boat!” But Dad has never been one to let people tell him what to do. So he climbed out of the boat and promptly fell down, on his back, into the mud. Upside down like a turtle in the mud, he couldn’t stand up, get back in the boat or do anything except cuss.
We might die out here, in 2 feet of water. How embarrassing, I thought.
With the situation now dire, I began trying to wriggle my feet free from my boot waders. But it was no use. So then I lay prone and started wiggling. My waders began to fill, but because I was now in a swimming position, I could grip the mud with my hands in front of me and hold my head out of the water. Whew, was that November water cold! After a few minutes I freed one foot, then finally the other. Now I could swim/crawl over the mud. Eventually I made back to the boat and pulled my father in. We left the decoys. And we never told my mother.
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