Me and Faraji on the Kaw



Where I grew up in Southwest Missouri, a summer float trip on an Ozark stream was a normal activity in the summertime. My first float experiences started when I was seven or eight.  I was usually in a johnboat, fishing from sun-up to mid-day for smallmouth bass with my Dad and my Uncle Jerry.

As an adolescent and teenager, many carefree summer afternoons were spent floating downstream on patched rubber inner tubes – the big ones taken from truck or tractor tires.  We started by jumping from a popular low water bridge and ended our float at a sun-drenched rocky beach a few miles downstream.  There was always a rope-swing somewhere along the route for Tarzan-like feats and yells. As a boy scout, I mastered the key canoe safety and maneuvering skills (with the merit badge to prove it). One memorable summer a scout friend brought his homemade two-man kayak to our summer campouts along the Elk River.  

A few weeks ago, me and Faraji paddled my Coleman canoe on the FOK (Friends of the Kaw) float trip from Cedar Creek, near De Soto, to Mill Creek in Shawnee Park (Wilder Road Access). Faraji is my ten-year-old friend that I have been introducing to the joys of outdoor adventures. We have been biking, hiking, camping, fishing and canoeing together for the past year.  I have found that sharing my outdoor experiences with a youngster is a great excuse to leave the office and chores behind and to relax and rediscover some of the simple joys of outdoor fun.

This was Faraji’s first trip down the Kaw. Everything was new and interesting to him.  As we prepared for the launch, he explored the rocky slopes of the access ramp, discovering an old dried -up catfish tail. He patiently waited in our canoe as I assisted the launch efforts of nearly 30 canoes and kayaks. We launched at the end of the Armada, and I emphasized to him the paddling instructions from Mike Calwell – “rear steer and front grunt.” I could tell that he did not want to believe me when I said he would do all the hard work, while I would just relax and steer by using my paddle as a rudder. As we exited Cedar Creek and merged into the current of the Kaw, he challenged me by pointing out that I was paddling more strokes than he was!  

I know Faraji enjoyed his day.  The smile on his face was a sure sign. But he did voice some disappointment when I answered his question about “rapids.”  When I picked him up that morning he asked me if we would canoe over any rapids. I told him it was unlikely to encounter true rapids on the Kaw.  Shortly after we launched he asked me again about rapids and I told him there were not any here. But at one of our group sandbar stops, Mike Calwell told the group the we would navigate some rapids a bit downstream.  Faraji’s head quickly swung around and he looked at me, seeking confirmation or rebuttal.  I simply shrugged and told him that they probably would not be anything serious.  

We left the beach and pretty soon we floated through a river channel where the current appeared to be swifter, a few tree stick-ups and river obstructions broke the surface, and the water surface was slightly choppy.  About a half-mile downstream from that place, Faraji turned to me and asked “When are we going to see the rapids?” I tried to explain to him that we had already experienced the rapids and pointed back over my shoulder, but I don’t think he believed me.

At our lunch stop, and later when we stopped for an educational discussion of sand dredging and adverse impacts on river conditions, Faraji combed the sandbar with me.  We found a couple of large bones (probably deer or cow) and a very old, small bottle filled with sand. The neck of the bottle was not threaded for a cap, but was the type that required a cork.  The raised letters on the side of the bottle said “Listerine.”  It now sits on the windowsill above my sink.  

Later, as we both grew weary of paddling, I showed Faraji how to hold the handle of his paddle near the water’s surface and allow the blade to fall and slap against the water, making a popping sound like a beaver’s tail. I made the mistake of showing him how to chop the blade of the paddle in the water and splash another canoeist.  Very soon we were both quite wet from a brief splash-battle and this activity was repeated often as the afternoon wore on.

At one point, Faraji slipped off his sandals and hung his legs over the side with his bare feet in the water.  This slowed the progress of our boat and I was forced to paddle harder, but I resisted the urge to order him to stow his feet on board because he was obviously enjoying it a great deal. Also, I was remembering the joy of doing the same when I was a boy in the Ozarks. So I just leaned back, rested and floated a while, soaking up the sun and fresh air.  At that point, I realized I needed to follow Faraji’s example, not vice versa.  So I slipped off my own sandals and plopped my bare feet over the side!  

Cool river water slipping past large, bare feet
between the toes, 
over the arches, 
under the heels,
outdoor life is good
Go float the Kaw! 

By Stephen Garlow


Story originally published in a Kansas Trails Council newsletter, 2004

Author’s Note: When I was a kid, two of my favorite books were Me and Caleb and Me and Caleb Again, by Ozark’s author Franklyn E. Meyer. Meyer wrote a collection of tales about childhood and the adventures of two boys in a small town at the edge of the Ozarks. From 2004 until the present, me and Faraji have continued to share many outdoor adventures in Kansas and elsewhere. We've paddled the Kaw together three times, we've paddled Buffalo National River, and In 2012 we rafted real whitewater rapids on the Arkansas River in Colorado.

jenna goodman