Hmmm . . . this thread kind of reminds me of a column that I wrote last year . . . kind of a "what-not-to-do" canoe safety story. Many, many lessons were learned that day.
Chewin' the Cud: My fiddleheading misadventure
By Jason Johnson
UNITY (May 29): A few weekends ago I decided to go fiddleheading with a couple of friends of my wife's. For the sake of anonymity, let's call them B. Stackhouse from Pittsfield and J. Tupper from Unity. 
In any case, the day started out well enough as Bobby and I headed down to our not-so-secret spot alongside 25-Mile Stream to pick a few fiddleheads. I had told Jolean that we would meet her around 9 a.m. at my house and so at 9:30 a.m. (knowing Jolean's tendency to never be on time) we headed back to my house ... only to find that she still had not arrived.
Nevertheless, after a fashion, Jolean showed up and together the three of us loaded up my beat-up canoe dubbed the "Ugly Duckling" into Bobby's pickup since Jolean and I had discovered an even more secret spot that was a virtual Fiddlehead Nirvana ... the only problem was it required the use of a canoe to cross over the stream.
Now you probably should know a few things about the Ugly Duckling. First off, this isn't one of those high-tech carbon fiber canoes built up in Old Town or even one of those lovingly crafted wood canoes that have been passed down from generation to generation. I bought the Ugly Duckling at a yard sale a number of years ago for about $25 (and that included the paddles.)
You probably should know that the reason I dubbed this old canoe the Ugly Duckling is due to the fact that it's not exactly the type of canoe you'll ever see gracing the cover of a LL Bean catalog.
Over the years with use and abuse the caning in the seats has been torn off and I've patched her up with so much fiberglass matting that it looks like it has a very bad case of leprosy … which incidentally has led to a major shortage of fiberglass epoxy and matting at Mac's Hardware.
In any case, we got the Ugly Duckling down to the stream. It was shortly after we had unloaded the Ugly Duckling that I had a couple premonitions of the calamity that was about to come.
The first sign of trouble was when Jolean managed to do a face plant into the mud ... despite the fact that there wasn't a tree root, rock or stump in sight.
The second sign was even more ominous as Bobby told me how every year he would go fiddleheading with his father (who died this past year) and every year his father would somehow manage to fall into the stream and go for an unexpected early-spring swim.
I should have realized right then and there that my carefree fiddleheading was about to take a turn for the worse. However, the lure of the fiddleheads ("the size of silver dollars" according to Jolean) was too strong and so we started out in the Ugly Duckling to make the 15 or so foot crossing of the stream.
Bobby volunteered to take the lead in the bow of the canoe followed by Jolean, who settled in the middle. Almost immediately, Jolean began to express some concerns. "I don't know. I don't know," said Jolean. "I think there might be weight limits for these canoes. I don't think this is a good idea."
From my vantage point on the stream bank the situation didn't look so bad and so after dismissing Jolean as simply being a bit of a pessimist I jumped into the canoe and shoved off from the shore.
"Don't worry Jolean. It's only a short stretch of water and besides if something happens we'll just go downstream a ways and get fetched up on that large tree blocking the stream," I replied.
I had no sooner said this however when I realized two disconcerting facts: 1. with all of the recent rain the stream was moving by at quite the fast pace and; 2. Jolean was right to worry about overtaxing the canoe as it was about three inches from the waterline. Never one to worry, I quickly told Bobby that we should probably head back to shore.
Fortunately, there was a tree growing nearby which I was able to grab hold of and use to help pivot the canoe back toward the shore.
Unfortunately, this action was merely one more mistake in a morning full of mistakes.
We were pivoting back toward the shore when we reached a point where the Ugly Duckling stopped pivoting (maybe someone who didn't fail physics in high school could tell me what this point is known as -- probably something like Pointus of No Returnus or some other Latin-sounding scientific name or Murphy's Axiom of Pivoting Canoes) and the canoe began dipping into the water.
It was at this point that Jolean began screeching, "The water is coming in. The water is coming in."
This reminded me a bit of Henny Penny of "The sky is falling. The sky is falling" fame. Unfortunately, unlike Henny Penny, Jolean was right ... the Ugly Duckling was rapidly filling with water.
Like a slow motion train wreck I watched in horror from the rear of the canoe as it filled with water, the bow dipped down and Bobby went down with it -- followed in quick succession by Jolean -- and it was at this point that I remember thinking, "Holy crap. Looks like I'm going in too."
Fortunately, I had heeded Jolean's advice to bring the life vests.
Unfortunately, none of us had thought to actually put them on...something I always do, but this one time did not since I had told myself I wouldn't need them due to this just being a short stretch of water.
As we all foundered toward the shore I remember thinking that of all of the many dumb things I had done that morning the absolute dumbest thing I had done was my choice of footwear.
Earlier, I had grabbed an old pair of firefighter's rubber boots to wear, which worked great while fiddleheading along the stream. However, while the firefighter boots worked great in the mud and shallow water, they did not work so well when filled with a couple quarts of stream water.
In fact, the boots worked as well as a pair of cement shoes. I have always told my wife that I would like to be buried in my firefighter uniform, but dying while wearing firefighter gear was not part of my ultimate plan.
Bobby and Jolean made it to shore in a rather quick fashion while I attempted to "swim" (and I use this term loosely here) in a sort of fashion toward shore.
As I slowly moved toward the bank I had a great water-line view of the Ugly Duckling with the life vests still inside drifting by, my paddle drifting by, Jolean's hat drifting by and Bobby's pail that had been a quarter full of fiddleheads drifting by.
For some reason of all the things I choose to latch on to -- of all the things that would provide me with some flotation even -- the one thing I grabbed hold of and held onto for dear life was Bobby's now nearly-empty pail of fiddleheads.
I guess you could blame it on the cold water, but for some reason I also felt compelled to try to save as many of the fiddleheads drifting by as well. I can only imagine the sight I must have been as I sort of half swam-sank to shore all the while trying to grab a hold of as many fiddleheads as possible -- all I can think is that I must have looked like a giant bullfrog on some type of bizarre feeding frenzy. In the end though I had managed to save about 20 or 25 of those edible ferns.
To make a long story short, I eventually got to shore and began to plot out my next move while attempting to wring out as much water from my clothing as possible. Bobby, meanwhile, was frantically trying to get his hospital pager to work, while Jolean was trying to figure out where we could find some more fiddleheads to pick.
I decided my first task would be to retrieve the Ugly Duckling... a simple affair I thought. Remember that large tree blocking the stream? I figured I would simply walk out on to the tree and rescue the Ugly Duckling when it fetched up on the tree.
However, this was not to be since there was maybe a five- or six-foot "hole" where the tree did not entirely block the stream and this was where the Ugly Duckling hit and kept cruising downstream.
I immediately began running as fast as I could to catch up to the Ugly Duckling...no small feat for a man of my build or a man still wearing boots containing two quarts of stream water, some wayward fiddleheads and maybe even a trout or two.
At last, I caught up to the Ugly Duckling as it had snagged up on some debris on the opposite side of the stream. I figured rescuing the canoe would be a simple task now as all I would have to do is get my good canoe and a change of dry clothing before returning to rescue the Ugly Duckling.
However, I no sooner had these thoughts when wouldn't you know it, the stream's current pushed the Ugly Duckling against a snag and then it rolled once and made a dive that would have made Shamu proud. The Ugly Duckling submerged into the murky water like a torpedoed destroyer going down for the last time. And that, my friends, is the story of my fiddleheading misadventure.
P.S. If anyone in Burnham, Pittsfield or the Atlantic Seaboard happens to find a green canoe that looks like a half-blind 5 year old got a hold of a can of fiberglass epoxy, would you kindly call me since it most likely means the Ugly Duckling has finally broken free of Davy Jones's Locker.
P.S.S. The truly ironic thing about this entire story -- I don't even like eating fiddleheads. In fact, I hate the taste of fiddleheads.
Jason lives in Unity with his wife Heidi and their five cats (he is well on his way to becoming one of those crazy old men that you hear about who dies leaving behind everything to the 100 or so cats living in the home). He works full-time for the City of Bangor Fire Department, but he does not save damsels in distress or cats stuck in trees -- he teaches public safety education classes to adults. Jason enjoys volunteering with the Unity Fire Department where he may, in fact some day, save a damsel in distress or a cat stuck in a tree. He also enjoys hiking, camping, photography, snowmobiling, ATVing and eating -- although he does this a little too much and too often. Jason grew up in Thorndike before moving to Unity. He graduated from Mount View High School and attended New England College in Henniker, N.H.
"Courage is not the absence of fear, but the realization that there is something more important than fear."
"Death is only one of many ways to die."