Emma McConnaughey — Best overall FSPW Scholarship essay 2014

A Life Saving Event

We were almost there.  After hours of driving along steep mountain roads and deep ravines our destination was in sight: Callahan Creek.  My friend Lizzie and I had been waiting all summer for this trip.  For the first time we were going camping together.  We had everything planned; we would sleep in our own tent away from my family; we would fish, explore, stalk “prey,” and maybe go for a swim.

Setting up camp was simple.  My parents and I had been there to scope out the site just a couple weeks before, so we already had everything planned.  Tents went up, fires were made, and dinner was cooking.  Hotdogs and marshmallows roasted beside each other on separate branches of the same stick.  A night well spent.

Our one whole day there began with a hot cup of coffee.  Let’s face it.  You can’t start the day without coffee, even while camping.  After coffee was fishing.  Lizzie and I assembled our poles, picked our hand-made flies, and cast off.  No luck.  We moved farther downstream, but there were too many rapids for any decent sized fish, so we tried upstream, but now the water was too calm and did not have enough cover.

We returned to our original place, but as we cast once again, a flurry of feathers caught our attention.  A young swallow was just learning to fly and had fallen right into the middle of the river.  Of course we tossed aside our poles and rushed to its aid.  After seizing our newfound friend from the uncaring clutches of the near-freezing water, Lizzie and I ran back to our camp as fast as our gangly teenage legs would carry us.  We caught bugs and gathered seeds and breadcrumbs (a motley collection seeing as how at the time we had no idea what a swallow would eat) and filled a medicine cup with water.  We sat with the bird and kept it company until its feathers were dry.

Once the bird was acting perky again, we carried it to a spot on the rocky shore near where we had first found it and placed it on a boulder.  Shrieks of terror!  Lizzie and I both fell back as the bird jumped and flew up between us to a tree branch above our heads and started chirping and squealing for its mother.  We assumed that if the bird was rude enough to scare us it obviously must be feeling well enough to be left alone.

I retrieved my fishing pole from where it had fallen and cast off again.  No luck whatsoever.  Lizzie cast.  No fish.  I could see them, just a few feet away, and cast again.  My fly landed just above two fish between two rocks.  Yes!  This time for sure.  There was no way they could pass this up.  And yet they did.  Blood rushed to my face and my eyes blazed.  That was it.  No more nice fishing.  I threw aside my pole, (nearly hitting Lizzie in the face in the process,) and dove.  Score!  I stood, dripping, scratched, and bruised, with a fish in my hands.  I proudly carried my prize to the other side of the creek.  Just as I was stepping out of the water—oh, horror!—I lost my footing and slipped.  The fish went flying.  I jumped up the moment I slammed into the ground.  There he was, flopping frantically in a shallow pool.  I snatched him up again and, pride forgotten, carried him to our camp.

After depositing the fish into my mother’s care, I returned to the water, gathered my fishing gear, and promptly caught a second fish my hands.  This one I lost, but he was too small anyways.  Lizzie and I carried our supplies to our tent and settled down for a dinner of fresh caught fish and more hotdogs under a glorious sunset.

Sometimes I still wonder, “Whatever happened to that swallow?”  Did he make it?  Did his mother accept him after being handled by humans?  I don’t know.  I never will.  All I know is that I didn’t let him drown, and I can be proud of that.

Emma attends Forrest Bird Charter School in Sandpoint, Idaho. 


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Categories: Blog
About The Author:

Sandy Compton has been program coordinator for Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness since 2009. He is also a storyteller and author of both fiction and non-fiction books, and the publisher at bluecreekpress.com.

In addition to his other duties, he runs the FSPW All Star Trail Team (www.scotchmanpeaks.org/trails), which works on Forest Service trails in the Scotchman Peaks. He is a trail surveyor as well, and a C-Certified Crosscut Bucker/Feller and USFS National Saw Policy OHLEC instructor.

Sandy grew up on a small farm/woodlot at the south end of the proposed wilderness and lives there still. He is also board member of the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance and a planning team member for the Northern Rockies Wilderness Skills Institute.

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