Helping with the Canoe

There’s not much opportunity to hike naked in Iowa, so I made the most of it one fine summer day several years ago. I was wading downstream from one Skunk River swimming hole to the next, carrying my shorts and towel, lifting them over my head for the deep spots. I kept an eye on the bank, where the trail was visible at some points. There was no one on the trail to see me.

But my rear was unprotected, so to speak. The canoeists must have been paddling carefully, because I didn’t hear them at all. I became aware of them only as they passed me. It was two college men. Keeping in mind the first principle of clothed encounters—don’t act like you’re doing anything wrong—I greeted them, and one of them briefly replied. They paddled on downstream.

Shortly after the canoe passed the next bend in the river, I heard a commotion. When I rounded the bend myself, I saw the two men struggling with their capsized canoe in the riff (the closest thing this river has to rapids), with wet camping gear strewn on the bank.

I shouted out, “Do you need some help?”

One of the men nodded to me.

“Is it okay if I keep my clothes dry?”

The man didn’t seem to understand the question.

“I’m naked—is that okay?” I said while waving my shorts.

“Oh, that’s all right,” replied the other man with an accent I couldn’t place.

I dropped my textiles on the far bank and waded across the riff to join them. The current had pinned the canoe under a log. It took the strength of three men—two in swimsuits and one undressed for the work—to pry it free.

Eventually we succeeded. The swimming hole I was originally headed for was just beyond the riff, so I enjoyed a leisurely swim while the students sorted out their gear. In the center of a sleeping bag they found some weed that was still dry. They proceeded to enjoy a smoke to de-stress from their troubles. They didn’t offer to share. But unlike them, at least I had dry clothes for the trip home.

The postscript to this adventure came the next day. I was sunbathing on the same bank where the students had pulled their gear out of the water.

Suddenly, out of sight around a bend just upstream, a man cursed loudly. (It made me think of that case in Michigan where a man was fined for cursing in public—wasn’t he a canoeist too?)

Then a woman said in a firm voice, “You panicked and almost tipped us over.”

When they came into view, the man said to me with an embarrassed look on his face, “Sorry about that. We ran into a little trouble back there.”

“That’s okay,” I replied. “Yesterday some people did tip over right there.”

So the naked man was not the one who had anything to apologize for. And that’s as it should be.