Shooting the Rapids!

by Mary Joyce Capps

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    “I’ve warned you kids for the last time,” the guard shouted. “You’re not getting in to see Buck Thomas. We’re trying to make a movie here, and if you come around again, I’ll call the sheriff!”

    “Yes, sir,” Miguel and Maria gulped together as they raced away.

    “It’s not fair,” Maria grumbled when they reached the old logging trail. “They’re using Grandfather’s land to film their river scenes, so why can’t we see Buck Thomas just once?”

    “I guess big movie stars have lots of trouble with fans,” Miguel said, trying to be fair. “They probably think we’d ruin a scene by rushing up to ask him for his autograph.”

    “Well, he’s not my favorite actor anymore,” Maria snapped. “He probably doesn’t even know how to ride a horse!”

    Miguel shook his head, but then suddenly his eyes brightened. “I know what we can do,” he said. “Our swimming hole is just up the river and around the bend. Let’s get our inner tubes, and maybe we can watch Buck from the trees on the other side.”

    Almost as soon as Maria and Miguel were well hidden behind the trees, they saw Buck Thomas and a man dressed like an Indian come down the river in a long birch canoe.

    “They’re going to hit that boulder and turn over!” Miguel whispered to Maria. “Can’t they see that the current swings to this side?”

    “Well, you have to admire Buck’s courage,” Maria admitted. “I always thought he had a stunt man do all the dangerous parts.”

    “They may be experts at making movies, but they sure don’t know much about rivers,” Miguel said in disgust. “Why don’t they ask someone who lives around here how to cross the river safely?”

    Miguel and Maria had grown up swimming in the river, and they both knew how dangerous it could be if someone didn’t understand the current. They held their breath as the canoe raced down through the white angry water in front of the big cameras on the opposite bank. The two men were paddling furiously.

    Just when Miguel and Maria thought the men might make it, the canoe suddenly turned broadside. It split open like an egg against a large boulder, throwing the men free.

    “Buck’s hurt!” Miguel shouted. “He keeps going under!”

    Racing from their hiding place, he dove into the rolling water as Buck’s head surfaced again.

    Miguel could see that the actor had a gash across his forehead and was blinded by the blood.

    “This way, Mr. Thomas,” Miguel cried, carefully staying out of reach of the powerful flailing arms.

    Following Miguel’s voice, the man soon hit shallow water and waded up the clay bank.

    “Thanks, son,” he gasped as he sat down.

    Miguel quickly took off his wet shirt and pressed it over Buck’s wound. By the time the frantic director and crew reached them, Miguel had explained to Buck that their approach to shooting the rapids was all wrong.

    Later when Buck had been treated and makeup was applied to hide the wound, he refused to attempt the same shot again.

    “This boy says he can show me a safe way through those rapids, and I’m tired of risking my life and never making it past the cameras.”

    The director was hesitant, but finally he agreed to listen to Miguel.

    They all followed Miguel to the inner tubes. Miguel pointed out how the canoe could be launched from there and swung slightly toward the left bank just before reaching the first large boulders, safely bypassing the jutting rocks and shallow water.

    “I think he’s right,” Buck said thoughtfully. “The cameras will be shooting across the rapids, so it will look as dangerous as if we were going down the center. That water is deep but still plenty wild, so the boat will be bucking like a wild horse without smashing into a boulder!”

    “It still seems too dangerous,” the director insisted. “I don’t think we can risk it again.”

    “I’ll have to show them it can be done,” Miguel whispered to Maria, tossing the inner tube into the water and diving in after it. He and Maria had shot the rapids on their tubes many times before.

    Timing himself, Miguel paid no attention to the frantic shouts of the men racing along the shore. The wild current was like a path through a forest—safe and easy if you just followed it. The only tricky part was bearing left at the first mass of rocks.

    The men soon fell silent, watching Miguel on top of the plunging tube. They sighed with relief as the rubber float swung into the boulder-free channel. They cheered wildly as he hit the large pool of still water, paddled his inner tube to the bank, and waved triumphantly.

    Later Maria and Miguel had ringside seats behind the cameras as the canoe was released again from the spot where Miguel had earlier begun. The canoe swung to the left at just the right moment, and the frail craft looked as if it would go under as it plunged up and down.

    But Buck and his companion finally landed safely near the point. The weary movie people shouted, jumped up and down, laughed, and slapped each other on the back.

    When they had finished for the day, Buck autographed pictures for Maria and Miguel. As they turned to leave, Buck invited them to come back often. “In fact,” he said smiling, “we just might need some more of your special advice. I’m mighty glad you were around today!”

    Illustrated by Jerry Harston