A Twice Told Tale
michael miller

My sister married in the summer of 1969 less than a week after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. I watched Neil's hop in a bar in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, and the next day I thumbed to Cincinnati. The following afternoon Joan and Paul were joined in holy matrimony by a white-robed Universal Life minister in someone’s living room, and that evening I watched their friend, John Percy, exhibit his mountain climbing slides. John enthralled us all with his images of independence and daring, and his understated narrative.  At one point, after describing a risky back-country hike, he turned to me and said, “You know how the wilderness can bring out the worst in people, even friends?” Though I had no real world experience, I was led by the force of his personality to agree.

After twenty camping trips with my friends in Maine, I can tell a different story.

Mark Schreiber missed our Henderson Pond trip in 2000 when he decided to stay home and tend to his wife, Ginger, who faced breast cancer surgery. Even then, ever hopeful he'd join us later in the week, we arranged a late arrival, fly from Boston to Bangor to Henderson scheme. How ridiculous. This year Mark had early work commitments and we hoped enough free time to catch the end of our trip . He seemed determined to join us and I promised a Saturday night call if we camped in cell phone range. We were on the edge, but with a dead battery, I would need to paddle back to my truck.

My nighttime Frisbee chase with  Mark Schreiber many years ago taught me never to canoe at night. Eyeballs, paddles and daylight work in harmonious conjunction. Adam knows this, I know it and on some reptilian level Mark Queijo knows it though he’ll volunteer for anything. Unfortunately, I didn’t think about the other Mark until after dinner, after many bottles of wine, and after the sunset.

 “Look, I gotta  call Schreib. I said I would.”

“You’d have to paddle back to the truck to use your phone. It’s late, it’s dark – forget it.” Adam replied.

“I’ll go with you,” Mark offered.

I followed Mark to the edge of the water where we flipped the blue canoe and slipped it into the water. I remember dark not Adam's dusk.  Yes, the moon imitated a bank of lights at Fenway Park, but we should have stayed put - submerged rocks are almost impossible to see in broad daylight.

“You forget your Frisbee chase with Schreib?” Adam tried to slow us down.

Mark picked up both paddles and flipped one to me. 

“You guys can’t learn anything, can you?”

Mark climbed into the stern and I crouched down to give the canoe a shove.

 “Only an idiot would paddle out there,” Adam said, forcing us once more to follow his gaze over the dark waters. “Can I come?”

I know what John Percy said is true. I also know he later disappeared, alone in the mountains, leaving only his car at the trailhead.