Springtime on the Pulaski II

…The raft tottered and spun as we lurched away from the dam. The Pulaski whipped us downstream at a horrifying speed. My bent arms were rigidly fused to my chest, my fists frozen around the raft’s single line. Jay-Bird and Jude rode the raft like the bronco it had become, whooping and hollering above the roar of the whitewater, slicing the paddles through the waves. I had a hard time sharing their enthusiasm.

From its shore the Pulaski was a turbulent, swollen serpent. From the center of the stream, it was an endless series of exploding peaks and deep valleys, coffee-colored moguls that rendered the paddles useless. It tossed us, up and down, port and starboard. Our rubber craft ricocheted from rocks and was sucked into eddies. Trees and cliff-tops sped past us. Instantly a boulder confronted us. Just as quickly the torrent slung us down a series of rapids. I was suddenly submerged. Bubbles danced away from me in a muddy expanse of yellow-brown. I burst into the sunlight, gasping, my hands still tightly gripping the line, my spotted glasses sitting lopsided on my face.

But I was alone in the raft!

“Jay!” I screamed, looking about wildly. “Jay-Bird! Jude!”

Cresting a wave, I barely caught sight of Jay’s white-blond head upstream before I was swept around an outcropping of rock. Off I sailed, spinning this way and that. Another wave tossed me up and I was able to glimpse Jude waving crazily from a boulder far behind me.

Overhead the bridge soared past.

My hands trembled as they clamped the line. I fought back tears. How could I get to shore? How could I get out of the river? How could I get home?

My mind raced as I flew downstream, but I could come up with no reasonable way out of my predicament. Without paddles, the only thing I could do to save myself was jump overboard and swim for shore.

The bridge disappeared behind me — I had never been this far downriver. Ahead of me towered the old brick hydro plant we passed on the way to town. Dad had explained to me how the force of the river drove turbines — giant corkscrews — to make electricity. But I had never seen the old power plant from this perspective before. Its vast intakes rose out of the river and I has headed straight toward them. I needed to jump! Now!

But I couldn’t move.

In an instant a turbine maw sucked me in. I shut my eyes and felt my raft lurch off to the left. The roar of the river suddenly ceased. I opened my eyes and was surprised to find that I was calmly floating inside a colossal brick-and-plaster fortress whose top opened to a dazzling blue sky. To my left was a grassy knoll and to my right were the turbine openings through which the Pulaski rumbled past.

I took a breath and jumped out of the raft. Still clinging to the line, I swam to the bank and slogged ashore. My knees were shaking and I collapsed into the lush spring grass. I rolled onto my back and a sound burst out of me. A sob! A laugh! A chuckle! I laughed until tears rolled down my cheek, until my sides ached!

I deflated the raft, rolled it up, and tucked it under my arm. I pulled away the corner of a corrugated sheet covering a giant doorway and squeezed through. I raced home, eager to meet up with Jude and Jay-Bird and to see whether they managed to hang onto the paddles for our next rafting adventure.