In late August, the five of us took a brief end-of-summer vacation to our family cabin in the Ozarks. Peter, Teddy and I were able to take an afternoon canoe trip on a Monday, when nobody else was on the Niangua River. Goldie wasn’t quite ready for her first river experience at (almost) 1 year old so she and Amy stayed behind. The boys and I had an awesome time. The river is fed by Bennett Spring, so the water is wonderfully cool on a hot day. If there is a breeze, there is a natural air conditioning effect that takes place as the wind pulls cool air off the water. There was plenty of time with complete silence, where not a car or airplane engine to be heard. Just the soft dipping sound of my paddle in the water. I was the only one paddling for 7 or 8 miles. Turns out 2 and 5 year old boys are eager but unreliable rowing partners.
The beauty of the river was breathtaking. There were several points where it looked like a mirror reflecting the lush greenery that embellishes the rolling Ozark Mountains. But there was one thing (at least) that made the afternoon not quite perfect: horse flies. Horse flies are ugly, mean, aggressive and noisy. Have you ever been to a stadium on a game day and not known or expected that you would be getting a military flyover before the game started? All of the sudden some F-14s or a Stealth Bomber just roars over your head and you feel the power shake you to your bones. You have adrenaline and a little fear mixed in with some fist-pumping American pride, right? Imagine all that awesomeness without the strong desire to chant, “USA! USA! USA!” And also the potential for a stinging flesh wound. Now you have a horse fly. They are huge. They are mean. They buzz your head unexpectedly and it sounds like someone has chucked a vibrating brick at your head. You can’t help but duck and swat your hand around like an aimless and helpless fool. You can donate hats and sunglasses to the river easily as you slap at the air while bobbing and weaving. You almost never hit them. And if they ever bite you, it feels like a teething toddler chomping down on your skin.
Why do horseflies exist? Why must they try to ruin the rare peaceful and beautiful Monday where I’m coasting down a pristine river with my two young boys? We can’t get rid of horseflies. But one thing I know for sure is that I’ll forget about the horseflies as the years go by and only remember eating lunch on the rocky bank of the river with our shirts off. I’ll remember the hundreds of rocks we threw into the river, and how many rare and special rocks the boys tried to take home with us. I’ll remember Teddy taking his first timid but empowering free float in the river in his life jacket, just letting the current slowly drift him away. The memories will be rich with love – the kind of love that comes with being simply present and enjoying the moment in a naturally beautiful place.
Horseflies aren’t going anywhere. Trials, pain, death, hardship will not stop buzzing our head. I believe that the journey and the memories won’t be soured by the tears and fears that come along the way. We should certainly never stop swatting and never stop fighting off those ugly suckers that just want to cause us pain and ruin our sunny afternoon. It feels so great when you nail one and then can float easy for a few more bends around the river.