Posts Tagged ‘outdoors’

Recently, I was asked, “Just what is a river rat, anyway?”

In the fly-leaf of ‘Journeys Across Niagara’, I describe myself as growing up on the Upper Niagara River, as a ‘river rat’—(I didn’t think anyone actually read fly-leafs anymore.)

Well, let’s go to the source for the answer—Wikipedia:

“…a large, herbivorous, semiaquatic rodent and the only member of the family Myocastoridae. Originally native to subtropical and temperate South America, it has since been introduced to North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa, primarily by fur ranchers. Although it is still valued for its fur in some regions, its destructive feeding and burrowing behaviors make this invasive species a pest throughout most of its range. There are two commonly used names in the English language for Myocastor coypus. The name “nutria” (or local derivatives such as “nutria- or nutra- rat”) is generally used in North America… In Italy the popular name is “nutria”, but it is also called castorino (“little beaver”), by which its fur is known.”

Quoting from Elvira Woodruff, The Christmas Doll (2000):

“To her horror, she discovered that the rope she was holding was not a rope at all, but a tail. And attached to the tail was a large river rat that scrambled frantically in midair, thrashing to get away.”

Whoa – let’s just wait a minute there fella– ‘a large rodent’?– ‘an invasive pest’? that ain’t a gonna do it.  ‘A semiaquatic rat’ called “little beaver”?   That’s not what I want on my tombstone. What do they know?  Who reads the lousy Wikipedia anyway? And,we all know how shallow internet research is, — don’t we? (see ‘Research-the Writer’s Mantra’).

Let’s check another source – one that understands real people. How about the Urban Dictionary?

 “Someone who either lives or represents El Rio, California. Usually low life wannabe gangsters who frequent Wal-Mart stores and attempt to steal sh_ _ only to be caught and think they are bad ass mofos. They start fights only to run away from it.”

Say what? I’m either a hairy wet rodent or a Wal-Mart wannabe gangsta?

Well—how much can a dictionary that calls itself ‘urban’ know anyway? Bet they never even seen a real river.

Ok – let’s go to the master book of definitions itself – Webster’s Merriam Dictionary.

Nothing. No entry – it’s not in the dictionary.

They’re kidding right? Now, I don’t even exist? Wait – here’s something in the Expanded Webster Merriam (so, I do exist – I’m just rare):

“…one who spends his leisure time on or along a river.”

Ok, that’s getting closer, but, it’s rather bland, isn’t it?

Wait a minute…what do we have here? This looks more like it:

Trademark Search > Trademark Category > Clothing Products > WHAT IS A RIVER RAT? DEFINITION OF A RIVER RAT (RI-VER RAT) N. Mammal, Unique and rare breed. Thrives best on or near water. Usually travels in groups, but may be spotted alone. Capable of consuming mass quantities of adult beverages. Peaceful by nature, respects others, loves life. Heavily concentrated in Louisiana, but can be found worldwide. WARNING: APPROACH WITH CAUTION IF PROVOKED.” Legal Source

Now we’re getting somewhere, or as Betty Bryant wrote in ‘Here Comes the Showboat!’ (1994):

“While other children were learning how to walk, I was learning how to swim, and I knew how to set a trotline, gig a frog, catch a crawfish, and strip the mud vein out of a carp by the time I was four. Dad called me a river rat.”

That a girl, Betty! Ride that boat!

Being a ‘rat’ on the Niagara River (actually it’s not a river at all, but a ‘strait’, see ‘The Niagara River – a Wonder of Creation’) I wasn’t in wonder of the mighty Niagara Falls, located downriver. I feared it greatly, viewing it as a threat—as the ultimate and final judgment for my escapades.  More than once, I found myself fighting to escape the swift current, carrying me to that huge, misty cloud ahead, as various capers went astray. Rather than captivating me, like it did the crowds of  ‘ohhing‘ and ‘ahhing‘ tourists, it scared the living daylights out of me. I’d look downriver and loath that huge cloud on the horizon, knowing that while I tinkered and toyed along the length of the river, it was always there, beckoning and calling to me with open arms to enter its eternal embrace.

Not that I ever did anything stupid, you understand. Things just seemed to happen for no reason of my own. It was the ‘river gods’. They were out to get me. It’s true. I’ll give you an example and you’ll see what I mean. How about an ordinary Bass fishing trip?

Navy Island is a small island that sits off of Grand Island, in the middle of the Niagara River, just a short distance above the brink of the mighty Niagara Falls.

The current along the island is fast, around 8 to 12 miles per hour, picking up speed as it approaches the abyss ahead. It’s also home to one of the best Smallmouth Bass drifts in the entire river (some great Musky fishing too). Get in a boat, shoot to the upper tip of the island, put the motor in neutral and drift the length of the island and you’ll tangle with some of the most beautiful three to five-pound smallies anywhere.  Great fishing – if you have a boat, but make sure your motor is running  – you wouldn’t want to stall here! The picture below shows the downriver end of Grand Island, with Navy Island off to the left and the Falls above it.)

Well, at the time of this fishing trip, I was 16 years wise and did, in fact, have a small, 12 foot aluminum Jon boat with an old, beat up 18 horse outboard on it. It was dinged up pretty bad and wasn’t much as far as boats on the Niagara go, but it worked, and to me it was the Queen Mary luxury liner. Unfortunately, at that time, it was sitting on the bottom of Lake Erie at a place called Sturgeon Point, after a Coast Guard Officer emptied a full clip of .45 hollow point bullets into it (but that’s another story).

Meanwhile, it was the peak of the Smallmouth bite and I was determined not to be left out. I managed to get possession of a 10 foot inflatable rubber raft that had a 3 ½ HP motor on it, a friend used on a small, inland lake. I tested it out – the raft didn’t leak and the motor ran good – so I was going bass fishing.

At daybreak, on the shore of Grand Island, I pumped up the raft with a foot pump, fastened the motor to the mount, loaded up all my gear, and pushed off for Navy Island. It was slow going, cutting across the swift current, to cover the  half mile to the upper tip of Navy Island, but I finally made it and was elated and feeling quite pleased with myself that I was going to get in on the fishing. I cast out a chartreuse Mister Twister, topped off with a live crawfish, and got ready for the action as I started the first drift.

It didn’t happen.

Unless I was trolling for birds, the drift was too fast for the lure to sink as it skipped across the surface. I put on a half ounce drop sinker—no go. One ounce – no good. Two ounces – still not working. The inflated raft, riding on top of the surface, having no hull friction below the waterline, skimmed across the surface – like a surfboard catching a wave at Maui. By now, I’d drifted down to the end of the island and it was time to motor back up to start another drift. Those 3 ½ horses barely moved me against the current, but after enough time to read “Crime and Punishment” a couple of times through, I arrived back at the head of the Island, ready for another drift, and – I had a plan. The slow journey back up the river had given me plenty of time to figure out a solution. I untied the anchor rope from the five-pound mushroom anchor, and strung the rope through the hole of the anchor. I then tied one end of the rope to one side of the back of the raft and the other end to the opposite side, with the anchor riding free in the middle. Ready to start the drift, I tossed the anchor overboard. It quickly sunk and I could feel it bouncing along the bottom of the river as the raft drifted.

It worked great! The dragging anchor slowed the raft down to enable the perfect drift, and if the smallies cooperated, it was going to be a great fishing day!

I had boated (rafted?) a nice three-pounder and was setting the hook on a second one, when all hell broke loose. The anchor snagged the bottom of the river and didn’t bounce – but held fast.  With the raft anchored firm on the river’s bottom while being pushed hard by the current on the river’s surface, the ten-foot raft instantly became a five-foot raft as it buckled in the middle, with the back half going completely underwater – motor and all.With half the raft underwater, and the river claiming the rest, inch by inch, everything that was in – went out – into the river and either sunk or floated, carried off by the current. Tackle box, rods, lunch – everything. When the bait box of crawfish went down, I had a fleeting thought of seeing the largest smallie in Niagara inhaling it and flipping me a “Thank you” with a smirk on its face.

But I was losing the raft fast. In a panic, I began sawing through the anchor rope with my pocket knife. When the last strand finally let go, the back of the raft popped up out of the water, like a jack-in-the-box. Whew—tragedy averted! Everything was gone, but the motor was still mounted on the back of the raft. Thank God!

Yanking on the starter cord, it didn’t start. Again – nothing; and again—and again. Nothing. Not a purr. Not a putt. Not a cough. Water ran out of the housing. Looking around, no boats were anywhere in sight. The shore of Navy Island was only about 70 feet away, but the raft was surfing by it and would soon be past the Island. Again I panicked—once past the Island, there was nothing between me and those thundering cataracts downriver. Looking ahead, I could see that ominous cloud on the horizon and I swear it was grinning.

Holding the rope in one hand, I dove into the river and began swimming for Navy Island. I knew if I didn’t reach the shore before the current carried me past the Island, I’d be fish food. I swam as hard as I could. But swim like I did, I was losing ground. The raft was flying with the current – and was taking me with it. I let go of the rope and swam like the devil for the island (believe me, the devil can swim).

Nothing in my life ever felt as good as when I felt ground under my feet as I was about to past the end of the island.

Pulling myself onto the shore, I sat there, watching the raft skimming along the surface, until I couldn’t see it any more.  After fulfilling my need to scream and kick a bunch of trees and rocks, I started waving and hollering for help. Finally, another fisherman came along (having a real boat), who gave me a ride back to Grand Island.

I never did know what happened to the raft.

So you see, it wasn’t anything on my part that caused me to fear and dislike the Falls – it was those river gods that didn’t like me and were out to get me. You can see that—right?

Later in life, I made amends with the Falls. Upon going down into the gorge below the cataracts, I was in wonder of the great canyon, the awesome rapids and the lush beauty of this glorious place that was right under my nose all these years. I was consumed by the mystery of it. I realized Niagara was actually two rivers, the “Upper” and the “Lower” Niagara, and they were as different as night is from day. One is an open faucet, emptying the ‘Great Lakes’, with a roar and thunder in a cloud of mist. The other is a living monument, craving across the earth, leaving a trail of beauty and attitude.

Much has been written about Niagara over the years, most about the mighty cataracts—little about the Niagara Gorge. This is truly amazing, when one considers the beauty, the challenge and the extensive, exciting history that engulfs the lower river  .          

Regardless of where on Niagara – Upper, Lower or the Cataracts themselves, my heart resides in the River, watching—listening to the “water”. When the time comes for me to depart this life, my ashes will finally fold into those beckoning arms of Niagara, and like the ‘Hermit of Niagara’, I’ll be ‘one with the water‘…

Until Next Time:

Embrace Life’s Bridges – For they Define Who You Are

DK Levick

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Is there anyone in the world – who hasn’t heard of Niagara Falls?

Well – I’m sure there is, in the deepest jungles of Africa and Brazil, and on the remote steppes of Mongolia and the grassy plains of the Yellow River – and on various desert islands across the oceans – there can be found lonely people wandering about who have never heard of Niagara Falls.

But, everyone else walking on the face of the planet, has heard that somewhere, within North America, there exists a magnificent waterfall, called Niagara.  In fact, millions upon millions have seen it, standing in awe at its immense power and majesty.

No – they’re not the tallest or even the most beautiful waterfalls in the world, (actually, there are about 500 waterfalls in the world that are taller than Niagara (Angel Falls in Venezuela is the tallest, at 3,212 feet), but most have little water flowing over them)…

Iguazu Falls – Brazil

…but they are the most known and visited. The combination of height and volume separates Niagara from all the others and makes them the spectacular wonder that they are.

Over 28 million people visit Niagara’s waterfalls each year. Since 1825, the world’s leading statesmen, monarchs, authors, painters, scientists, politicians, celebrities, business leaders and people from all walks, colors and languages have journeyed to stand in awe of the majestic falls and hear them roar their song of glory.

The Niagara River and Niagara Falls have been known outside of North America since the late 17th century, when Father Louis Hennepin, a French priest, at the request of King Louis XIV, accompanied the explorer La Salle, and first witnessed them in 1679. He wrote about his travels in ‘A New Discovery’ of a Vast Country in America (1688). While his painting of the Falls contained some exaggerations and distortions, it was widely circulated in Europe and became the icon of the “new world”.

But, what are the Falls and from where do they draw their strength?

Let’s take a journey down the Niagara River.


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When a faded picture from a by-gone era sets in motion a perilous quest…

…five young men not only encounter harrowing danger in the forbidden Niagara Gorge, but must confront the swirling illusions of the world they knew – changing their lives forever.

The day we decided to go down into the gorge of Niagara Falls—to walk on the ice bridge—had started out normal enough but quickly showed itself as anything but normal …

Living in the City of Niagara Falls in the early 1960s, winters were simple for teenagers – like snowball fights and warm-ups at “Ol’ Gordy’s” general store, and arguing over his “wall of pictures.” It’s a ritual—sipping Cokes while studying the old photographs … listening to Ol’ Gordy’s tales..and dreaming about the daredevils of old.

Then, on a frigid February morning, all that changed. An ice ball to Kevin’s face, and a funny looking picture, snatched from Ol’ Gordy’s wall, sets in motion a journey from which they will never recover. Despite Ol’ Gordy’s warnings (or perhaps because of them) that, not only is it extremely dangerous, but against the law, they secretly vow to venture forth and walk on – the ice-bridge of Niagara Falls.

The ice-bridge of Niagara Falls – an aberration of nature—steeped in history – fraught with tragedy – challenged through the ages, by daredevils, bootleggers and tourists alike – lures them from the world they know into the depths of the mysterious Niagara Gorge. As in a time machine, they enter an exhilarating bygone world of impassable rapids, massive frozen sculptors and unassailable walls of ice.

Coming face-to-face with the mighty Falls itself, from the bottom looking up, as it proclaims its dominion over them, they find themselves in a struggle of life and death with a Niagara they never knew existed.

Peeling back time, along the way we encounter others, who had made their own journeys across Niagara in eras gone by. We’re there when the ‘Hermit of Niagara’, living on top of the mighty Falls itself, finds his destiny in becoming one with the water. Years later, we stand in awe on the day Niagara stood still and explore a riverbed never before walked on by man – until the water returns – sealing the mystery of the flute.

We follow the journey of the feather, and witness slavery through the eyes of a runaway slave girl, as she rides the ‘Underground Railroad’ seeking to find the bridge to freedom and paying the fare to ride that train.

We march to the beat of the drum and the chant of the the tom-tom, as nations clash and cultures collide when the journey of a British drummer boy converges with that of a young Iroquois brave at the brutal and bloody “Devil’s Hole” massacre.

‘Journeys across Niagara’ (previously titled: ‘Bridges -a Tale of Niagara’ and recipiant of the Readers Favorite 2011 Silver medal for General Fiction YA), is much more than a simple tale of camaraderie and adventure shared by young men. It a  tale that is rich in both historical fact and fiction, weaving a series of unique historical events, in a twist of mystery and revelation, with a group of 1962 teens, caught up in the complexities of a changing world around them. While each struggles with his own inner demons and angels – together they face the demons and angels of the Niagara Gorge.

It is my hope that you enjoy the journeys, and that you hear the crack of the ice, while feeling the tremor beneath your feet travel up your loins, knowing the mighty Niagara is reaching to claim you as well. ‘Journeys’ is a kaleidoscope of adventure and history, exploring the questions confronting people of all ages and from all times.

The earth is forever, and we’re just visitors—and only for a short time at that. By the time we begin to understand enough about the world to ask the right questions, our visit is over, and someone else is asking the same questions.

Until Next Time:

Embrace Life’s Bridges – For they Define Who You Are

DK Levick

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It was appalling how quickly the ‘takers’ had converged on the river.

Overnight taverns, hotels, mills and souvenirs shops had sprouted up everywhere, each vying for the best location and view of the mighty Falls to fill their insatiable selfishness and greed.

It was only a few short years earlier that a trip to Niagara, to experience the great cataracts, was both difficult and dangerous, available only to the hardy and the adventurous. Access to Niagara was overland, either by carriage, horseback or on foot. The journey was long, tedious and bruising.  Routes were few, roads were bone jarring and treacherous, taking days to cover only a few miles.

But it was worth it, to see the majesty of creation in its fullest glory and radiance, untouched, unspoiled, unblemished by human intervention. Just the pure beauty and splender of nature.


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As we watch in awe and wonder at the mighty cataracts thundering their eternal roar and we bathe in the ever-present cloud of moist incense pluming upwards, our minds think back to the well-known “Maid of the Mist” legend.

You know the story right?


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Silently the moon hides, the earth is black.

So black you cannot see the hand held in front of your face. The sky opens and the moon winks from behind the clouds offering you the silhouettes of the trees.

The moon likes playing with the earth.

The ground is cold and damp but warms quickly from your body as you sit on a cushion of leaves and dew-laden grass. The crisp pungent odor of earth mingled with fallen leaves rises from the ground – the perfume of the forest.  You breathe in, pulling the fragrance deep into your soul. It mixes with your blood, flows through your body filling it with the essence of earth. “From dust you came and to dust shall you return“. You merge with the forest.

You are alive. The forest knows you and it welcomes you.


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I want to thank everyone who has or is reading ‘Bridges’. It thrills me to know you are enjoying the book and the stories within.

More than one reader has come back asking about the ‘Ice Demon’ the boys ‘encountered’ on their journey down into the Gorge. What was it?  Was it real?  Was it their imagination? What did it mean?

Who among us hasn’t had experiences they can’t explain? Seen something – sensed something – heard something – that wasn’t there?

Who hasn’t had the hair stand up on the back of their necks and a chill run down their spine when a sudden wind blew across their face?

Or felt goose bumps run up and down their arms? Or heard the shuffling of feet outside their door at night – when no one was there?

Or the tolling of a bell where there is no church?

How many times  have  we seen a shadow flicker across the corner of our eyes and upon jerking our heads around – we see nothing?

There are things that happen in life we can’t explain – and we accept them because if we don’t  – we go mad.

The boys seen something – that much I know.  There was something in the ice.

Was it only the sunlight reflecting through the giant ice pillar?   Maybe

Was it only the cold that fused their hands to the ice and kept pieces of their flesh?  Maybe

Was it their imagination, their adrenalin or their heightened sense of awareness that made them feel and sense things they otherwise wouldn’t have?  Maybe – these are plausible explanations, and like the things mentioned earlier, we find plausible explanations – to keep from going mad.

Or was there a living force dwelling inside the ice?  If so – was it a ‘demon’  or an angel?

I don’t know – I only recorded their story.

Like me – you now have their story too – what do you think it was?

I know this: Before they touched the ice, Kevin and Chuck were adversaries with a gulf of turbulent water between them and after they touched the ice,  a  ‘bridge’ crossed that turbulent river changing their relationship from that time on.  Why?  What happened?  I don’t know – maybe you do.

25 years later – Kevin still didn’t know what they touched in the ice that day.


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