The Truth, Mainly - 06/03/1991

Shirking responsibility on the Loup and elsewhere
by Leon Satterfield

There's George Bush looking youthful and vigorous again in a news photo out of Kennebunkport: He's leaning forward into the wind, his right hand goosing the throttle of his gas-guzzling speedboat, Fidelity. He's defeated his hyperactive thyroid — it's just one damned gland after another — so there may not be any more military adventures for a while. And as he revs up Fidelity, he looks as if he's trying to forget that after more than two years, he still doesn't have a domestic policy.

Kennebunkport is a pleasant refuge from the nagging realization. It's what the president has instead or the Loup River Expeditionary Force.

That's the low-budget, non-lethal version of domestic irresponsibility that a group of us local playboys indulge in every spring when we float down the Loup River for three days.

Cut loose from the civilizing influence or our wives, families and dogs, we hear duty whisper low, "Thou must," and we say the hell with it. So what if that leaky faucet still isn't fixed, if the garden still isn't weeded, if the storm windows are still up? It's Louptime.

On the river, our talk grows vile enough for male bonding to kick in. We think light and eat heavy: Steak and chili dogs and bacon and eggs and hash-browns and baloney and cheese and Loup River croutons — white bread fried in bacon fat. Loupers, whose livers and stomachs still allow it, drink beer on the river during the day and sip whiskey around the campfire at night; the rest of us swig lime-flavored LaCroix and hope the others don't notice.

We speak military jargon: ETD (estimated time of departure) is zero eight hundred; ETA (estimated time of arrival) at the LREF point of embarkation is thirteen hundred. We wear army surplus clothes and honor each other in quasi-military manner for catching the most fish (the Attaboy Angler Award), for having the most vigorous metabolism (the Attaboy Regularity Award), for spending the most consecutive hours in a sleeping bag (the Attaboy Night-Night Award).

It knocks us out. We are aging Lords of Misrule, the Boys of Summer with our hair grown thin, our middles thick, and as we float on the current we maneuver our canoes and jonboats into position so we can squirt one another with water pistols.

We get sunburned and dyspeptic and tick-infested. We come home full of bugbites and headaches, smelling so bad our dogs take a new interest in us and our wives ask again why we keep doing this. It's a hard question.

Like the President, we're not much into the navel-gazing thing. We're not much interested in examining our motive.

If we were — and if we weren't embarrassed to talk about it — we'd have to note the obvious attraction: the astonishing beauty of the river. The leaves on the cottonwoods are fresh and glossy and the sunsets are extravaganzas that Kennebunkport has only heard rumors of. Sometimes the river runs past high clay bluffs and cliff swallows zing in and out of their holes in the face of them as we float by. Sometimes the lush pastures roll down from the hills right up to the river bank, and placid Herefords knee deep in new grass stand watching us, and sometimes a horse or a farm dog runs along the bank keeping up with us as we boom by in the current.

But we don't always stay in the channel so sometimes we have to get out of the boats and pull them over sand through two inches of water while the wet tow rope cuts into our hands. Sometimes the current pins our boats against trees fallen into the river and we swamp and capsize and lose gear. Sometimes it's cold and windy and rainy and we teeter on the edge of hypothermia, and sometimes we try to sleep in wet sleeping bags.

That's when, like our wives, we wonder why we keep doing this.

In our waggish mode, we say that it's because three days of misery make the rest or the year seem like a piece of cake, that we willingly submit to being wet and cold as a way of making ourselves appreciate being warm and dry.

But what we don't talk about on the Loup is what I imagine George Bush doesn't talk about at Kennebunkport: How our frenzy of macho fun is a way of copping out of mundane responsibilities, a way of saying that for right now it doesn't matter that the garden is still unweeded, the faucet still leaky, the roads and bridges and health delivery systems still decaying, domestic tranquility not yet insured and general welfare not yet promoted.

On the river, that kind or talk is too heavy. It's like talk of Kurdish suffering and Kuwaiti justice and Iraqi casualties. It's what we're on the river to get away from. On the river in the springtime, we don't carry mirrors and morning is breaking like the first morning. Until the headaches set in, we're still young and innocent and exuberant. And not responsible.

It must be like that in Kennebunkport too.


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.

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