With resolve unshaken by our incident at the river, Zen Master and I wanted to do some old fashioned rural exploration before the snows melted completely. We decided to stick close to home this time and check out a large abandoned farm I’d been eying nearby.
We were hesitant to be seen entering the property directly, for fear of the locals, and opted instead to park at a nearby cemetery, walking the old railroad tracks until we could find an entry point over the old barbed-wire fence that was sheltered from view.
Along the way we noticed a frozen pond. Deciding to push our luck one more time we made a detour, trekking across a field to reach it. The surface of the pond was frozen solid, and appeared quite stable. I carefully scooted out into the pond’s center, to see if it could be crossed on foot. Zen Master attempted to join me, but as he neared the middle the ice cracked, sending white lightning bolts racing in my direction. We were able to escape without a repeat of last time, and decided to get back on track rather than press our luck any further.
The farm consisted of a large home and several outbuildings (as most farms do), including a dairy barn and a small structure that was rumored to have been the local general store once upon a time. That building was my main reason for coming, but the house was our first priority.
The house must have been grand in its time, and could still be a nice home, though it’s currently a fixer-upper. I knew it had been occupied not too long ago, and on approaching the front door I was not 100% certain that the building was vacant. I knocked hesitantly to make sure no one was home, though I had no plan on how to handle the residents should someone actually answer.
Luckily no one came to the door, and after a moment’s hesitation we found it unlocked and proceeded inside. There was quite a bit of garbage lying around, no doubt left over from the previous tenants. I spotted a Rural Missouri magazine lying on a table from 2003, most likely the last time the place had been let out to anyone. Some vines had managed to grow through a nearby window. The walls were standard wood paneling, and some rooms, such as the kitchen, had clearly been added on at a later date, giving the house a chaotic feeling, with parts of old walls sticking out here and there.
At its center was an interesting semi-spiral staircase, which led to an attic/bedroom area on the second floor. The kid’s room was easy to spot, as most of their possessions had been left lying on the floor. The most interesting thing about the house was the fact that someone had attempted to repaint all the trim - throughout every room on both floor and even in the stairwell – using a can of spray paint. Not the best idea.
The barn was nothing special, other than featuring a hayloft with an interesting series of ropes and pulleys. Likewise, the milking shed was indicative of an ordinary, small-scale dairy operation. There was an attic that I climbed part way into, but there didn’t seem to be anything worth seeing up top. A notation in the poured concrete floor read “5-18-57.”
Finally, we headed down to the old general store, taking care not to be spotted by passing cars as it was nearest to the road. At least, I had always heard that it had been a general store, though it didn’t particularly resemble one, and appeared very nondescript. My grandmother even claimed there were dances held there once upon a time.
Entering from the back it was apparent that the building had been turned into a stable of some sort, but it was also evident from certain features, such as a flue, that this had not always been the case. Indeed, the large storefront windows – now boarded shut and visible only from the inside – proved that I was in the right place. Unfortunately it was getting dark by this time, and the general darkness of the building itself prevented any meaningful photography.
Cold, hungry, and satisfied with our discoveries, the two of us headed home.
Last weekend my friend Zen Master hit me with an idea we’d been bouncing around ever since he got his canoe – taking a float trip along a frozen river. Now, he’s had his canoe for a year or two, but we haven’t had any serious ice or snowfall since then, so up until now the idea was just a fantasy.
That is, until last week. I was lucky enough to get home from Massachusetts just before the big ice storm hit, and while I was snowed in the first day or two (which prevented me from immediately joining in on the fun in Springfield – bobsledding the old Hydra-Slide) Zen Master’s the proud owner of a Jeep Cherokee with 4-wheel drive. The next thing I knew he was sitting in my driveway with canoe strapped on top, ready to go.
We picked a section of the Sac River we were familiar with, and one we knew was shallow this time of year, in case one or both of us should fall in. When we arrived we found that – much to our surprise – we weren’t the first to have this idea. There was a truck parked nearby, and some unmistakable tracks in the snow; that of a small boat dragged to the water’s edge.
The river wasn’t quite as icy as we would have hoped, but there were still frozen areas, which we chewed through like a soviet icebreaker, and plenty of snow.
The first thing we noticed was something hanging several feet over the water. It had two spinning halves and resembled a large pinwheel. My friend commented that it appeared “otherworldly.” As we drew closer we realized it was an artificial duck suspended in mid-flight. Looking around we noticed a whole array of decoys sharing the water with us, and a camouflaged duck boat on a nearby shore. Above it we spotted a similarly camouflaged man with rifle in hand, hiding in the trees. It was at this time I wished I had remembered to wear some orange, but we decided our big red canoe would be sufficient.
There were several turbulent spots along the way; more so than usual. We reckoned it was due to the lower water levels. This wasn’t a problem going downstream, naturally, but it made for an interesting return trip.
Passing by a submerged car, we finally reached the old bridge (mentioned in a previous entry), which we decided would be our turning point. After getting out and attempting to cross it without falling we returned to the water and began our trip home.
We had no problem powering through the first set of eddies, and were forced to portage the canoe around another, more powerful current, but were finally stopped by one particularly shallow, fast-moving area. The currents spun us around and had our craft pinned against a log when I got the idea to pull myself along some roots and vines protruding from the washed-out shore. This worked for a time, and we almost made it, but something went awry at the last minute and our ship capsized, dumping us into the frigid water. In retrospect it was bound to happen.
Clambering onto the shore we bailed the water out of our boat, then proceeded to empty our boots and wring out our socks. After we felt like we had warmed up enough we carried the boat along the water’s edge until we found a safe point of re-entry. However, it wasn’t long before we hit another trouble spot, and rather than take the plunge a second time we opted to just get out and walk.
The trip back took longer than either of us imagined, and the hunter was gone by the time we returned, though we did find an errant decoy along the way. We heard several shots during the course of journey and actually passed a dead duck floating downstream, but it was only one of several frozen animals we encountered along the way.
I was intent on sitting by the fireplace the rest of the night once I got home and out of my sopping wet coveralls, but against my better judgment I was goaded into joining White Rabbit, Hiccup, Underdog, and Punctual at the Hydra-Slide after all. I had to scrounge up some dry clothes and get Zen Master to tow me out of my driveway, in which I was completely snowed in, but it was worth it in the long run.
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