"...I trusted in the Almighty… I knew I could only be killed once,
and I had to die sometime."
-Anne Bailey, 1823

Monday, January 14

The Hunch and Scrunch Scout

The summer heat was more than oppressive; it was horrific, it was horrible, it was heinous! My shift clung wetly to my back and the sun hadn't even come up. I pulled my stockings up, fastened my garters and slipped my feet into my shoes, trying hard to keep my toes from poking through the holes in the bottom. My stocking heels had long since worn through, but fortunately my shoes were quite comfortable and wouldn't rub, even on the long journey before me. The aroma of fresh coffee wafted up into the cabin’s loft, causing me to hurry a bit more while lacing my stays. Once tied off at the top, I dropped my lightest weight petticoats over my head, slipped my arms into a shortgown, tied my apron ‘round my waist and finally tied my hair up into a scrap of cloth. Another long bead of sweat ran down my back, just one of many more to come I was sure.
               Coming down from the Morgan’s loft brought an immediate, but short lived relief from the heat. As hot as it was, I didn't deny the cup of coffee Mr. Morgan set before me.  Mr. Morgan, proprietor of Moon Valley Traders and I were joining a small group of men to explore the viability of traveling the last 20 miles of the Blue River and gaining access to the Ohio. We believed the area to be relatively safe for travel via canoe, but wanted to determine if it would be passable for families traveling by flatboat.

               My sleep sluggish mind was wandering when a certain mug caught my eye. It appeared to be made by my dear friend Mr. Jay Henderson, the potter. Still more than half asleep, I reached without thinking, picked up the mug, and turned it upside down to see the maker’s mark. 
J. Henderson Artifacts
Of course, not having had my own cup of coffee yet, my brain had not quite woken up and it certainly didn’t recognize the fact that the mug under scrutiny was, in fact, FULL of Mistress Morgan’s coffee! Nonetheless, recognized or not, the coffee was, in fact there, or at least it was; until I turned the mug upside down and I poured the hot coffee on my feet, skirts and the floor! Suddenly, I was wide awake and screeching as hot coffee filled my right shoe. Fortune was with me and the coffee quickly ran out the hole in the bottom of my shoe barely scalding my toes along the way.  Mortified, my eyes immediately searched the faces of Mr. and Mrs. Morgan to see how my folly had affected them. Thankfully, they were nearly falling upon the floor laughing. I just shook my head, swiped a towel from the table and set about cleaning my mess whilst they continued to laugh.
The Morgan's ~ Proprietors of Moon Valley Trade Company 
               Once fully fortified with coffee, Mr. Morgan and I set off into the darkness to begin our journey. Time passed quickly as we traveled in comfortable conversation. Just as the sun began to peek over the horizon Mr. Morgan rudely broke right into the middle of the Great Moccasin Mishap story exclaiming, “Where are we and how did we end up here?”

Apparently, so engrossed were we in the story of when I had burned an Indian's moccasin, we’d completely missed a turning and had gone several miles past our destination. Knowing our friends Josh and Pit would be impatiently waiting for our arrival hurried us along as we renegotiated our route. Finally, only a few minutes passed the determined time, we arrived at our destination to find Josh, Pit, and Pit’s dear wife Connie. Guns, foodstuffs, and supplies were quickly stowed, and soon we were off shore, paddling along the shallows of the Blue River, waving goodbye to Connie.

The rising sun sparkled off the water, fish jumped, and squirrels chided us for disturbing their morning routine. Together, our tiny flotilla of four people in 3 boats slid through the water in relative silence, each of us enjoying the place and time in our own way.  The heat of the day pressed upon us as we paddled our way along the river’s edge and as predicted my stays were soaked through well before nine in the morning.  Of course, the first time I remarked upon the heat Mr. Morgan was kind enough to cool me down instantly with a paddle splash of water! Pit and Josh instantly removed themselves from our immediate area as a splash war ensued. The winner of this war would be impossible to determine as we both ended up with mass casualties and quite a bit of water in our boat.
The real surprise for me came when the water sloshed around the bottom of the boat and the skin of a large snake appeared right between my feet. Not knowing if this skin was still attached to its owner I began to debate my options. Knife?  Rifle? Jump out of the boat? Fortunately, my agitation caused more sloshing and the remaining skin slipped into full view, thankfully, unattached to anything.  Now, you may wonder if I screamed like a girl during this little episode. Because I am the writer of this story I will say emphatically and unequivocally, “No! I did NOT scream like a girl, and you’ve no need to seek verification thereof, and please disregard anyone’s lies to the contrary.” Rather, I scooped up the remains of the offending creature, rinsed it in river water and made a hatband of it.

The day progressed; we paddled, checked maps, kept watch for sign of hostiles, and occasionally were forced to “hump and scrunch” as Mr. Morgan so eloquently called it, and I've changed to the more family appropriate "hunch and crunch" method. Perhaps you’ve an idea of this? If ever the bottom of your canoe, bateau or pirogue has drug along the bottom of a creek or river becoming momentarily stuck upon the shoals, you may have found yourself coiling your entire body into a hunched position only to uncoil rapidly, attempting to scrunch the boat forward bit by bit, using your paddle as a lever.  This trick was quite effective for us, provided there was just enough water to carry us off an offending rock or shoal. However, just about as nearly as oft, as not  we were forced to abandon our seats, step out into the water and drag our canoe along.  Considering the heat of the day, these short periods of walking the canoe along were not minded in the least.

The humping, scrunching, and dragging went on for a few more hours without incident, until around half past two when Pit’s canoe found its way into a snag he was unable to extricate himself from.  Mr. Morgan and I were surprised when from behind us suddenly, a splash was heard, a curse flew to the wind, and as we watched, Pit and all of his accouterments were unceremoniously dumped into the river.  Of course we immediately stopped, as did Josh. Josh handed me a line to hold his canoe and I was left to hold both boats while Dennis and Josh rendered aid to our dear friend.

As the menfolk pulled Pit and his wool blankets, his pack and other gear dripping and soaked from the river, I took in the beauty of our surroundings.  This beauty was instantly and irrevocably marred by my observation of a huge water moccasin! The snake, whose girth resembled the size of my wrist, lay coiled just below the surface of the water less than five feet from my ankles, its triangular shaped head just above the waterline tongue tasting the wind.  Now, once again, you may ask, “Did you scream like a girl?” and this time I will honestly answer, “No! I was literally too frightened to scream.”  

To find the conclusion to The Hunch and Scrunch Scout look for an upcoming edition of 
On The Trail Magazine. Click this link to subscribe to On The Trail

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