On July 3, 2015, Ed and I had just finished a canoe trip on the Sturgeon River near Wolverine, Michigan. Ed hopped on the bike we'd left locked to a tree and rode off to get the car. I waited with our gear.
Because of its quick current, tight turns, and frequent obstructions, the Sturgeon is one of the Lower Peninsula's most challenging rivers. That's why we like it.
Other people were down by the river, too, sitting in lawn chairs, cooling their feet in the shallows, or beginning a trip. I saw all kinds of craft: canoes, kayaks, inner tubes, a crocodile float. I assessed each group, speculating how long it would be before they flipped.
I watched a man and two women unload inflatables from the back of a pick-up. One of the women, lugging a six-pack, tried to sit on her tube while keeping her lit cigarette out of the water. Much laughter. Holding his already-opened beer high, the man helped her get on. The current swept them across the river where they beached on a gravel bar to wait for the other woman in their party.
Barefoot, she was towing a big lounge chair that seemed ready to pop. Her flip-flops were tied into the chair, along with a grocery bag containing an orange soda and a can of Pringles. Instead of a bathing suit, she wore a camisole and a long cotton dress that billowed over her ample body.
I worried the chair might burst if she hit one of the log jams we'd seen. Or that her dress would snag on a streamside tree.
"Get in the chair, just hop on," the man called from across the river.
When she tried to position the chair, it moved away from her.
"Just hop in," the other woman shouted.
I didn't think hopping was something this large woman could do.
The man got off his tube and wobbled back through the current. "I'll hold it for you," he said. She made a half-hearted lunge backwards, and fell into the water. It took awhile for her to push herself up.
"Do you want to use my tube and I'll take the chair?" the other woman called. "Come on over and we'll switch."
"Yeah, just walk across," the man said. He grabbed the chair and hauled it to the other side. They waited, looking at her. Others along the river were watching, too.
She took a step. "Ow, ow, it hurts my feet," she said.
"Just come across," the man said.
"It hurts," she said.
Suddenly, a different man splashed into the river toward the stranded woman, carrying a pair of water sandals. "Can you use these?" he said.
"I feel like such a baby," she said. "The stones in this river hurt my feet."
"That's why I wear sandals—they fasten around the back and stay on and protect your feet." He held them out.
"Are you sure?" she said.
"Must be why I've got them," he answered.
"My name is Madison," she said. "If you give me your phone number, I'll pay you for the sandals."
"Nope," he said. "It's an extra pair."
Then, I was stunned to see him kneel down in the river. Placing her hand on his shoulder for balance, he reached under the water, and one after the other, fastened the sandals on her feet.
Step by step, in the sandals she'd been given, the woman named Madison began walking to the other side.
"Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant." –Mark 10:44 (NRSV)
Playlist: "Proud Mary," Creedence Clearwater Revival, Chronicle: The 20 Greatest Hits, 1968.