Ozark Stories and Tips

The Entertainer

Idler to the Rescue Photo, Ozark, Missouri

They say that "idle hands are the devil's workshop". So what better way to foil temptation than by picking up a canoe paddle, and go idling down the river with IGO's Idler? When Idler mentioned she was heading my way, opportunity knocked to enjoy—camping and canoeing. Basically, I made a few recommendations, and Idler the avid travel planner took care of the rest.

Avid travel planner, eh? I like that. Very diplomatic of you, Kevo. What you mean is that I’m anal-retentive about planning every little last detail.

One of IGO's cyber highlights has been meeting like-minded travelers. After several years acquaintance through journals, emails, and paths almost crossing, we'd finally met in NYC over Memorial Day weekend, '05. Here we were a year later planning to meet in quite a different setting.

Yeah, you got that right. Cue the theme music from "Deliverance" and the Jeff Foxworthy jokes. "You know you’re a redneck when… you met your wife at a family reunion."

The fact that we were going to meet in the back of beyond in Missouri rather set the stage. What transpired over the next few days led to the sort of one-of-a- kind escapade that only a pair of chronic travelers could concoct.

Yeah, and we’re going to tell you all the gory details, right, Kevo?

Arriving at the campsite, Idler began setting up her campsite with the efficiency we've so often read about. From a small duffel bag came tent, self-inflating mattress, gas cooking apparatus with utensils; basically all the comforts of home.

You didn’t mention the flashlight. Good thing I had one.

My excessive camping gear—(but NO flashlight!)—was strewn everywhere, but I soon discovered I'd brought the wrong tent poles and no stakes. Resigned, I said I’d sleep in one of the chaise loungers. Idler didn't say anything, and didn't have to. I'd already picked-up on the remarkable difference when she travels solo compared to having husband and son in tow. And now, me.

I have to say you looked perfectly miserable sleeping in that lounge chair, Kevo.—(what do you think the Mama Juana was for?)—Luckily it didn’t rain.

Too often women sacrifice vacation leisure while trying to placate family. However, chivalry is far from dead in my campsite and canoe. We may have entered this joint venture as mutual guests and hosts, but I wanted Idler to simply show-up, enjoy herself, and let me take care of the rest.

Awww… Isn’t that sweet? And this coming from a man who forgets his tent poles and flashlight. I’m touched. Truly I am.

Part of this involved collecting a large pile of wood before she arrived, which seemed to satisfy familiar stereotypes—man's obsession with building huge fires, while woman's needs are simpler—just getting something to eat. Perhaps woman has choked on one too many man-cooked, over-charred hot dogs and marshmallows. Lucky for Idler, these items weren't on the planned menu. I got my fire, she got her meals, and no one choked on anything.

It was all quite tasty, Kevo. Not a single thing charred. I still can’t believe you volunteered to do all the cooking.

Preparing to embark on our first drift segment, there was momentary hesitation with both of us still on our best company behavior. With two experienced oars people, who was going to command the driver's seat? Much to my relief, I eagerly accepted the nod with the promise to keep us both dry. Not that Idler would have turned madder than a wet hen, but my credibility was in jeopardy.

Me, mad? Perish the thought. That ‘honor’ of taking command meant you did most of the paddling, while I sat in the bow and sunbathed.

The river immediately whisked us around the first of many bends, and the soothing presence of nature liquefied conversation. The chance to recap our lives' mosaics, while filling in gaps, had greater depths than the waters we navigated, quite proficiently I might add. The greatest threat of capsizing came from relentless laughter; the side-splitting, rupture-the-swollen-surgery-incision-kind which more than rocked the boat.

No, the greatest threat of capsizing came whenever you clambered around in the canoe getting another beer from the cooler.

The only "crash course" encountered had nothing to do with risk. This was Idler; IGO's version of ask Jeeves. To read her musings is one thing. To further pick her brain in-person, quite another. The woman's breadth of knowledge has never ceased to amaze me, and the on-going commentary identifying birds, plants, insects, and elements of nature was astounding.

Really, Kevo, you make me sound like Roger Tory Petersen reincarnated. And those definitely were otters that we saw along the riverbank, by the way. I’ve confirmed it.

Paddling with the big city college English and Composition professor, class was in session by default. Idler never whipped out a red pen, but I did cringe when conversation veered towards grammar. She'd already picked up that us Missourians speak using the participle before the direct objective or some form of ill-bred communication. Thankfully, she doesn't edit my journals.

Well, I’m editing THIS one. You mean "past tense instead of past participle in compound tenses." And it’s charming, really, in a 19th-century way. When dialectologists get wind of this speech relic, they’ll be beating a path to your door, tape recorders in hand.

I kept forgetting that Idler had rural roots like myself, which helped explain her childhood obsession with pet turtles. Not only were stops made to remove turtles from roadways, but quite the endeavor was made in swift waters to rescue a large box turtle swept up in the current. Thankfully, CPR wasn't required, though I've no doubt Idler’s technique would've been proficient.

Obsessed? Who says I’m obsessed? Can’t a person rescue a few hapless turtles without being called obsessed? I mean, that one turtle did look a lot like one of the turtles I had growing up, I’ll admit. I’m sure glad we got to him before CPR was necessary. But I wouldn’t call that obsessed. No, definitely not obsessed. Not me.

Her appearance in my neck of the woods was thanks to yet another off-beat interest, ragtime music and a large festival she'd just attended in Columbia, Missouri. Her journal on a festival in Budapest had already been my introduction to ragtime, spanning well beyond "The Entertainer" with genres I was sure to enjoy.

Oh, god, I hate "The Entertainer." See, that’s what most people think ragtime is—pokey, antiquated-sounding, tame stuff. No! Ragtime was the rock music of its day! The music of rebellion!

Sorry… forgot you’d heard that lecture already.

When not on the river or at camp, we were tooling around in a sporty yellow rental car with a fresh stack of ragtime cd's. She gave me a running musical commentary, complete with supporting facts and tidbits. Music has a way of conjuring a picture, but these selections perfectly complimented the rolling countryside of Missouri beyond the windows, and of course, the company.

Know what, Kevo? Ever since this trip, I can’t listen to Willie "The Lion" Smith’s "Echoes of Spring" without picturing the Missouri countryside.

Yeh, me too because before leaving, Idler gave me a couple of downloaded ragtime cd's she'd made just for the occasion. Beyond thoughtfulness, she knows that I relive my travel memories through music.

Hey, whaddaya say we do this again sometime? I’ve got a whole bunch of Dr. John boogie-woogie piano music you’re gonna love. Just promise me you’ll bring tent poles.

And a flashlight.

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