In my years in Indiana in the mid-1990s, I worked a couple of summers as stage manager for two musicals running in rep at Lincoln Amphitheatre in Lincoln State Park, about forty miles east of Evansville.
I have found that summer theatre gigs – especially at outdoor theatres – have much in common with military boot camp. A crew of people living in close quarters, working hard, and unwinding when and if ever the opportunity arises.
Our “dark day” – the day on which we had no shows or rehearsals – was Monday. That was the day for resting a little, laundry, paying bills, shopping, car maintenance, and occasional impromptu parties or a nice dinner out.
Our technical director, Bud, would occasionally arrange group outings for Mondays. A “Christmas in July” event happened on a July Monday near the end of the season. It was held, naturally, in Santa Claus, Indiana, which was just a few miles from the state park.
My favorite Bud-organized event was the annual canoe trip on the Blue River near Milltown, Indiana. It was always held on the Monday closest to Independence Day. Most everybody in the company participated. After the Sunday night performance, we’d hit Schnuck’s and buy food and beverages to pack into coolers. My friend Randy always packed a large supply of chicken wings. Now that I’m thinking of it, I’m pretty sure I left my Blue River cooler to Randy when I moved to Texas.
On Monday morning, we’d leave Evansville early in cars and travel to Milltown (www.cavecountrycanoes.com). After grabbing our gear at the Milltown base, a school bus took our group of two dozen or more to the launch ramp seven miles upriver.
Even though our group started at the same ramp, it didn’t take long for everybody to spread out and the canoes travelled through quiet and solitude, passing an occasional angler or other canoers and kayakers along the way.
The Blue River is a scenic river with a series of Class 1 rapids passing through Indiana cave country on the way to the Ohio River. The bulk of the trip is through peaceful waters and verdant forests with the rapids comfortably spaced. Longer trips are available, but our 7-mile excursion – estimated at 2-4 hours length – was easily stretched longer with frequent pauses for breaks, lunch, and swimming at sandbars along the way.
It’s a perfect summer day that I looked forward to in my Indiana years.
Before you read on, you need to know this: … When I was a boy, I took swimming lessons at Midfield pool. The instructor was good and I learned to swim. On the final day of the two-week session, the swimming instructor wore street clothes and let all of the students just play in the pool, enjoying our newly-developed skills. That water play included a dive from the high diving board.
We had diving lessons earlier in the week and, while it was not my specialty, I was okay with it. On that final day, I eagerly climbed the ladder to the high dive to take my turn. When my turn came, I walked out to the edge of the board and looked down at the deep end of the municipal pool.
And I froze.
I don’t know how long I stood there, but it feels like a really long time. I wouldn’t jump, and I wouldn’t turn around and go back down the ladder. I was mortified. And petrified.
The other kids were urging me on, as were the adults at poolside. I still didn’t budge.
Finally, the poor swim instructor stripped down to his trunks and got in the pool. He assured me that if I would just jump, he’d be there if I had a problem.
Finally, I jumped and swam to the side. No problem. I still don’t know what happened to me up there on the high dive but, ever since, I am skittish in water over my head – especially if I’m not sure how deep it is.
Over time, however, when I do take the plunge, I have a habit of letting the fall continue after I hit the water until the downward momentum ends. Occasionally, I touch the bottom; usually, the fall stops before I get there. Then, I begin to swim back up to the surface. Nobody ever told me that isn’t the way it’s done …
Near the end of the Blue River canoe trip take-out point, the old Milltown Bridge crosses the river. It had been a tradition for some of the veterans of our group to jump off the bridge to close out the trip.
On my first Blue River adventure, my buddies in the group asked me if I would join them for the jump. Some were old hands at the ritual and others were first-timers like me. Given my trepidation with unknown depths, I was hesitant, but I finally decided to go for it. Five of us climbed up to the middle truss of the bridge and, after a short count, jumped in together.
The water was cool, deep, and pleasant and I allowed myself to drop until I wasn’t dropping anymore. It was freeing, a calming sensation that I still recall.
I slowly began my swim back to the surface of the flowing river. As soon as I surfaced, I heard shouts of “We’ve got him!” and three of my friends began grabbing at me to help me back to shore.
I had stayed under too long. I was being “saved,” it seems.
I kept insisting that I was fine to swim on my own, but my friends wouldn’t let me go until they had pulled me to the riverbank and forced me to lie on the ground, despite all my assurances that I was okay.
And oh, yes, we had drawn a crowd to watch my “rescue.”
I appreciate the concern. Now, all these years later, I still know I wasn’t in danger and would have successfully finished the swim on my own. I made a “note to self” to not allow the long drop to continue next time I plunged into deep water. It makes people anxious and causes all kinds of commotion.
Slightly embarrassed, I made my way to the showers, cleaned up, and changed clothes.
A subgroup of our canoers had made plans to travel over to Leavenworth, Indiana, for dinner at the Overlook, a restaurant on a bluff overlooking a gentle bend in the Ohio River. As we dined on home-style meals, the sun set across the Ohio. A nearly ideal Summer day – despite a brief setback – was drawing to its end with the evening drive back to Evansville in the direction of the setting sun.