To the Editor:
I had to chuckle when I read Stranger’s recent column on canoeing the Allegheny River. I loved it.
That’s because it brought back cherished memories of the exact same spot he describes. It’s where we used to play on inner tubes as kids. And many thanks for publicizing the new location of Allegheny Outfitters at the end of Liberty Street downtown. I am totally biased when it comes to Allegheny Outfitters.
Let me explain.
Growing up on Warren’s East Side, the river became our playground when the thermometer hit above 80 degrees. That’s when we would go down to Punsky’s Junkyard and fish out oversized inner tubes, patch them up, inflate them, and head for the water at United Refining. Yeah, we just walked right in. Those were the days before terrorism had taken over the world, remember that? We even used to fish at night by the light of the “torch” at the mouth of Glade Run. Caught a nice bass there once. From my peers I learned to tie some intricate knots with fishing line in addition to learning fish anatomy, which turned out to be useful years later in medical school during surgery rotations. Cleaning fish is an experience every child would enjoy learning. A real-life hands on experience. Drop the smart phone and pick up a fish. You’ll be glad you did.
Anyway, just at the spot described by Stranger in your paper, we would float down the river alongside a long island that runs in the middle of the water, then walk back on the island and do it again. Sounds repetitious but along the way we uncovered some humongous flat-backed turtles, about a million crayfish, innumerable clams, and once in a while sight a great blue heron fishing for lunch or one of us would find a mud puppy. That’s what we called hellbenders, which is now the official state amphibian, which is gratifying.
It seemed nobody canoed the river then and we had the whole place to ourselves. We could yell and splash, skip huge rocks, and fish with no one telling us what to do, playing Huckleberry Finn or Davy Crockett or Daniel Boone. We felt like we were taming the river, using only the courage and savvy perhaps innate in a bunch of 12-year-olds. Nothing costs less or is worth more than a good memory. The cost? A buck for an old inner tube.
Today, every time I see canoes and kayaks floating down the river I vicariously relive those good times and am thankful for the work of Allegheny Outfitters for bringing this experience to others and perhaps for validating my own childhood because I see that other people enjoy it too. The Allegheny River has been described as one of the best flatwater canoeing venues in the country and its popularity should increase. It’s a national treasure that benefits us all. With or without inner tubes.
Our faith teaches us that God’s gifts are unlimited, which sounds grandiose, but give it a try and you might agree. Not in dollars and cents but more on a spiritual level, which may turn out to be more practical in the long run. The problem isn’t so much the supply of gifts. The problem is what we do with the gifts. In other words, how resourceful are we? Striking out on our own onto the river in inner tubes we learned how to be resourceful, an important coming-of-age milestone. I am biased toward an organization like Allegheny Outfitters because they exude the resourcefulness I am talking about. I wish I could get me some more of that. I am not kidding. Give them lemons and they will make you lemonade.
But the part of the river where I grew up is just one spot and there are many more. Take a ride up Kinzua Road to the park at Kinzua Dam and gaze out at the river canyon formed at Big Bend and maybe you’ll see the bald eagles fishing in the Allegheny. You may get the feeling you are at church because it is a peaceful place.
Christopher Lareau, D.O