Sunday, March 2, 2014


I took the future Mrs ERJ canoeing on March 2, 1986.  We had been dating, exclusively, for about 10 weeks.

We canoed on the Red Cedar River in East Lansing.  We paddled down the river as far as Potter Park.  There were people burning a bonfire in Crego Park.  A gentle snow started sifting out of the clouds near the end of our journey.

Ice Ballerinas

The previous day/nights had been above freezing in the days and below freezing at night.  In many places, where the bank was steep, there were many  horizontal shelves of ice that corresponded to the subsiding flood level and each temperature cycle.

Many of the shelves had ice ballerinas that looked like inverted champagne flutes (icicles) that dangled down from the edges and joined them to the shelf below.  There were hundreds, nay, thousands of these ice ballerinas lined up in staggered rows of chorus lines.

As near as I could deduce, icicles would form from the edges of the horizontal shelf.  Then a relatively warm night would follow and a thin skim of ice would form.  The water level would drop the following day and the skim of ice would sag and droop, except where it was attached to the icicles.

Then a very cold night would follow and a thick shelf of ice would form.  The cycle would repeat.

The ballerinas were beautiful in the sunlight (early in the trip).  The future Mrs ERJ insisted on a closer look.  In spite of my reservations, which I shared with her, she still wanted a closer look.  With arched eyebrow she informed me that she was a fully formed adult and capable of assessing risks on her own.

Editorial aside:  There is an infinitesimally small chance that the concerns I expressed may have been heard as "patronizing".  There was never any profit in exploring that possibility so I cannot report whether they were, in fact, heard that way.

I paddled and wedged the nose of the canoe into the steep bank of the shore.  She stepped half out of the canoe.  Her left foot was in the bow, the other rested on one of the stouter ice shelves.  She was able to get within 6" and admire the ballerina from many different angles.  The future Mrs ERJ weighed no more than thistle down.  The canoe hardly bobbed when half her weight left it.

Everything is new, and special, and beautiful when you are with somebody you love.  I regret not having a camera because I wonder if the ballerinas were really as beautiful as they are in my memory.

The rest of the story

We encountered difficulties paddling back upstream.

We struggled to paddle up through the rapids by the Kellogg Center.  On the third try, my kayak paddle flew apart and the sleeve that joined the two halves flew into the rapids.

Much to the future Mrs ERJ's chagrin, I insisted we park the canoe while I waded out to collect my sleeve.  The rapids were shallow and I could see the gleam of the machined aluminum sleeve.

I caught up with the sleeve as it darted down the rapids.  It would hang up on a rock, teeter and then dart again.  It was an exhilarating chase.

The downstream end of a rapids is typically separated from the deep pool beneath it by a steep drift of smooth, round river pebbles that collect where the fast water sheets over the drop-off into the pool.  Those wet, smooth, round river pebbles are as capable of supporting weight as a stack of greased ball bearings.

Yes, I went swimming.  Swimming in COLD WATER is often described as "exhilarating".

A strange sound

I heard a strange sound as my head bobbed back to the surface.  I dog paddled back to the shore without the sleeve.  As I pulled myself up the bank by grabbing saplings I heard the sound getting louder.

I started telling the future Mrs ERJ what needed to happen before hypothermia sapped my brain of lucid thought.  The sound continued to grow in volume.

I feared that the future Mrs ERJ was in the grip of incipient panic.

She assured me that what I heard were sounds of gaiety.  In fact, the sounds became louder and less stifled with each step.

We entered the Kellogg Center (on the MSU campus).  I found a men's room and filled a basin with HOT water.  I sat on the vanity with my feet in the water.  The future Mrs ERJ found a blanket and I made a cocoon about my self and the basin of water.

Then, the future Mrs ERJ collected the motor vehicle.  Floated the canoe down the Red Cedar river to where she had parked.  I may have helped her get the canoe on the car but my recollection is conveniently hazy.  She slung me in the car. Drove my car (manual transmission) to her house. Stuffed me in a hot bathtub.  Plied me with hot liquids.  Supplied me with clean, dry clothes.

During the entire time she was performing those superhuman feats of physical exertion the future Mrs ERJ exhibited intermittent fits of hyperventilation with involuntary vocalizations.  She cavalierly dismissed my concerns regarding her physical well being.  She claimed that what I heard were indeed involuntary...but that they were expressions of mirth.

That day, perhaps more than any other, sealed my fate.  I was smitten.

I still love her deeply.  Especially when she laughs at me.

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