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  • [This is a short story with multiple episodes. The seed of this one is That Splashing Sound.]

    The stream we were exploring had no name on the topo map, so we dubbed it Laughing Brook for the tinkling it made as it rushed over the beaver dam and down into the cove. The late afternoon sun was still hot, so fish might not be feeding, but Iris cast a lure out anyway and let it troll behind the boat.

    "I just remembered that I saw a big fish jumping over the beaver dam while I was gathering firewood," Iris said, "going up, not down! Maybe we'll catch up to it." Maybe so, I thought. You never know what will happen when Iris is around.

    We cruised up the brook through a beaver bog and into a pine forest. Annie and I paddled harder to make progress against a rising current, but so far the channel was clear of rocks.

    The canoe's progress suddenly slowed. We paddled harder, but were hardly moving. Iris yawped as the fishing rod flew out of her hands. I grabbed it as it passed by. Either we had snagged the hook or caught a monster. The rod jerked in my hand, so it had to be the monster. "Stop playing out line," I said, handing her the rod. "Start reeling in." Bracing her feet on my seat, Iris yanked the rod up and started reeling, whooping with joy as the canoe rocked.

    After much cranking, a twenty-inch Atlantic salmon emerged, and I was able to wrangle it onboard. The fish flopped wildly between us, at one point whipping Iris's shin with its tail. Iris yowled. I tossed my poncho over the salmon, swaddled it, and picked up the wriggling mass.

    "We really shouldn't keep this fish," I told them, struggling to hold on to it. "It needs to swim upstream to spawn. There aren't a lot like it that make it this far anymore."

    The ladies agreed, so reluctantly, I detached the hook and dumped Ms. Salmon overboard, almost losing my balance. There went dinner and Iris' leg was gashed and bleeding.

    I looked for a place to tie up the canoe. The pine forest was becoming mixed here, with big maples and beeches scattered amidst many old logs. Huckleberries crowded the banks. We paddled up to a mossy spot and scrambled out. Annie instructed Iris to sit on the bank and splash water on her gashed shin. We had brought no first aid supplies, although there had been a kit back in the cabin. I wanted a remedy for possible infection, but didn't know what to look for.

    "Why are you laughing?" Annie asked, looking at me. I was about to tell her she was wrong when I too heard a man laugh. Pivoting around, I saw a man about 30 feet behind me, bending over. Another person crouched next to him. The man was young and wore shorts and a khaki shirt. As the crouching figure stood up, I saw it was a young woman with a large basket.

    "It's still bleeding," Iris complained to Annie. "All because I caught a pregnant fish!" Hearing that, the couple finally noticed us and then approached. The woman said "Hello! Is everything OK?"

    "See," I said to Annie, "that wasn't me!" Turning to them, I said "Hello and help! Do you have any first aid supplies? My daughter suffered a cut on her leg." "From a fish!" Iris echoed with a certain pride.

    The pair went straight to Iris and inspected her wound. Immediately, the man ran up the stream bank, shouting over his shoulder "I see something that can help you." We watched as he reached a patch of weeds about three feet high, dotted with purple flowers. Yanking up several stalks, he sprinted back. "This is what we sometimes use for cuts and bruises," the young woman explained.

    She removed her bandanna, dipped it in the stream, and held it out to him as he tore off bunches of leaves, crushed them in his hands and piled them on the bandana. She wrapped up the clump of leaves, kneaded it through the cloth, and tied the bundle around Iris's calf, creating a poultice. "Press on this," she told Iris. "Be firm, but not enough to hurt." Iris complied.

    "What was that?" I asked, somewhat stunned.

    The woman explained, "It's Fireweed, also known as Purple Rocket. Native Americans used it to treat wounds and taught the settlers about it. It really can help."

    As much as I wanted to know who these young folks were and why they were here, all I could think of to say next was "Why were you laughing over there?"

    The man said, "Oh, Trish found a nice patch of purple Russula mushrooms that she thought are edible, but the cap of one of them had a swath chewed out of it – probably by a slug – in the shape of a question mark. As mushroom hunters, that made us laugh out loud." I think I got the gag, even though mushrooms are a mystery to me.

    We all were quiet for a moment. Before I could thank them or ask them about themselves, the man said, "By the way, this is Trish and I'm Nathan. So, are you the people that Douglas said we should expect?"

    Continued in That Industrious Sound

    [The original seed of this series is On Sustainable Power, May 31, 2012.
    To identify all the stories in the series, click the tag That Sound beneath the map.]

    @image: Russula Paludosa, Finland
    @audio: Laughter, recorded by Mike Koenig, CC License, Attribution 3.0
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