Courtesy Kim Cambell
When I was 13, my family left Oregon and bought a small ranch along the Nachaco River in British Columbia. Our 1,200 acres consisted mostly of timber and bush. There was no electric power or telephone service. We had to drive to town and use a pay phone to conduct business or contact family.
We spent hours exploring this wild new country on horseback. We learned not to follow game trails into the muskegs, or peat bogs, where the horses would break through. We learned to swim our horses in the river and let them find the way home if we got lost in the bush. We had good stock horses; mine, a Quarter Horse mare named “Skeeter,” was particularly quick and sure-footed.
When school started, a pretty girl caught my eye and my heart. “Marla” was strong and full of life, with a fun-loving, easy nature. She lived on a ranch somewhere across the river. I knew she was the girl for me.
Courting wasn’t easy without a telephone, and winter travel was difficult. We managed to meet at school for sock hops and went sledding once at a neighbor’s farm, but we had few opportunities to be alone and talk about serious stuff. Eventually, she moved on. Though crushed, I understood.
I didn’t see Marla the following summer, but that fall I heard she was dating a guy I didn’t approve of. I knew I could be the man she wanted! I decided to ride Skeeter across the river to the road that led to her place. I had things to say to that girl that wouldn’t wait.
I donned a heavy wool coat and rode Skeeter to the river. I’d never crossed at this point before, but it looked good. There was a large rock midstream, and I figured there was a gravel bar below it. The water looked a bit high, but I was in love. I was chasing the girl I loved.
The river was swifter than it looked. We swept past the rock without even getting close. Skeeter began going under, and I knew I had to get off so she could swim. I slid off her rump and grabbed at her tail so she could pull me across — but I missed. Now I was in trouble.
[pullquote] The water looked a bit high, but I was in love. I was chasing the girl I loved. [/pullquote]
The heavy coat pulled me under, making it impossible to swim. But Mother would kill me if I lost it, and I’d need it if I ever got out of the river, so I kept it on.
I went under the surface and saw green streamers of light rising through the water. This is a peaceful way to die, I thought. Marla would mourn my death and hold me in her heart forever because I’d died trying to reach her. Then I remembered: I hadn’t told anyone where I was going. No one would even know where to look for my body.
I fought my way to the surface and began using what I knew about river survival, angling myself to the current and staying on top. I drifted downriver at least a mile before I made shallow water. I’d lost track of Skeeter long ago, but she was right there as I inched onto the shore, pushing me with her nose. I stumbled back into the saddle and headed for home.
For years, I told no one about this incident. I was fully grown before I told my folks. In 2000, I saw Marla at my high school reunion. She was still the same fun-loving girl I’d known in 1968, and she still lived on a ranch along the river, married to a school sweetheart (one I approved of). I decided to finally tell her how I’d almost died trying to reach her and talk to her.
In true country fashion, Marla just looked at me and asked, “Why didn’t you write me a letter?”