Ghost of 4th of July Past - 7/4/2011

Today, we journey back to the 4th of July of 1972. My last as a teenager and a civilian. It was also my last before becoming a father, but none of this has anything to do with this story. My then-wife and her family were celebrating Independence Day as a last hurrah before my upcoming departure to Air Force basic training. I am certain they were hoping that Ho Chi Minh would soon be wearing my ears on a necklace. This trip was a temporary detente between me and that awful family. Again, not part of this story.

We were camping at the Bumblebee Campground on Bumblebee Creek, a tributary of the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River in northern Idaho. At that time, Coeur d’Alene was the only French I spoke. Come to think of it, I don’t speak much more than that now.

It is no secret that I love to fish. In those days, Bumblebee Creek, though a small stream, was a great source of brook trout and one of my favorite places to fish. Not just because of my dislike for the other males in our party, I took my fishing gear upstream, alone. I love to fish alone as it is a great opportunity to reflect and hear only the babbling of a brook and not that of people.

The brush was so thick on the creek banks that the only way to walk upstream was to actually wade. Even in July, the water was ice cold, but after a while, numbness replaces the bitter chill. The creek bed is composed entirely of rocks, slippery, often moss covered, rocks. This dicey surface combined with my maladroitness was a recipe for disaster. You only think you know where this story is going.

I had extracted several nice fish from pools along my route, upstream, when I encountered a particularly swift and deep stretch of water. As you would expect, I slipped and fell down. Valuing my catch and gear more than my health well-being, I fell pretty hard, but was able to right myself and continue on.

I came upon a culvert that was built to channel water from a gulch under a forest service road into the main creek. At the dumping point of the duct formed a large pool that I believed would be home to some nice brookies. I climbed up and sat on the edge of the corrugated pipe so I could fish down into the pond. I could see several nice fish, but before I had baited up the pool became cloudy. I soon realized that it was blood fouling the water. My first thought was that a bear or mountain lion upstream was feasting on something and the blood was washing downstream. That was not an unreasonable assumption.

Then the reality that the blood was running off of the culvert changed my thought process. The blood was coming from me. But how? I was experiencing no pain. I stood up and performed a self-exam. The source of the blood was from the area of my right, rear pocket, where I had stored a jar of salmon eggs (a favorite trout bait of mine). When I had fallen, the jar had shattered and a large piece of glass was now part of my buttocks. There had been no pain, since the ice-cold water had numbed me. Evidently there are no major arteries in the buttocks, so though I was bleeding quite heavily, I was apparently not bleeding out. That fact did not ease my panic. Does panic increase blood flow? Oh crap.

Since at this point I had lost all interest in fishing, I did not need to wade back to camp; I could walk the forest service road. Actually, I made it back to camp in record time. Someone else went back later for my gear and fish, which I had also lost interest in. They could follow the blood trail.

Then came the most embarrassing part of the ordeal, I had to ask my hated father-in-law to pull the shard of glass out of my, now not so numb, ass, with a pair of pliers. Actually shard is not an adequate word. This was more of a hunk of glass. I am sure he was less gentle than he could have been. After all, I had knocked up his daughter.

We did have a first aid kit, but some of it had been expended earlier in the camp-out, when one of my in-laws had stepped into a frying pan containing hot grease. Obviously, this was not as successful of a camping trip as we had hoped.

The consensus was that I should be immediately taken to the hospital, as it appeared I required stitches. The only dissenting vote was the only one that mattered……mine. There was no way in hell I was going to be someone’s emergency room story. After everyone had a look at it, they bandaged it up as best they could and I had a lie-down. As a reminder of that 4th of July, I have a permanent scar that few have ever, or will ever, see.