Our Story: Support when you need it

Big SpringOver Labor Day weekend, we experienced an emergency situation. Fortunately, support was there when we needed it.

Ozark NSR

In our family’s on-going quest to visit as many National Parks Service sites as possible, and to visit all of Missouri’s in 2017, we visited Ozark National Scenic Riverways in southeastern Missouri. The Ozark NSR was established in an effort to stem America’s “dam crazy” mentality.

You see, leading up to the 1960’s, communities across the nation were damming up rivers to get relatively cheap hydroelectric power, as well as provide for flood control and recreational lakes. Once a river is dammed, it never returns to its natural state. Congress enacted measures to preserve free-flowing rivers in their natural form. The Ozark NSR was the first river system to receive the designation.

Ozark NSR is comprised of actually two rivers: the Current River and Jacks Fork River (which flows into the Current). While both rivers are fed by run off from the various creeks and watersheds of the Ozark hills, a main source for the flow for these two rivers is groundwater fed springs.

Alley Spring Mill

Alley Spring Mill

We camped at Round Spring, where 25+ million gallons of water flow forth daily. On Saturday, we visited Alley Spring Mill, where the 85+ million gallons of daily flow had been harnessed to grind grain into flour (and is featured on the 2017 “America the Beautiful” quarter). We began our trip visiting Big Spring, where an astonishing 286+ million gallons of water flows on a daily basis–enough to fill a football stadium every day.

Canoe trip emergency

Some readers may recall our canoe trip in 2016 through the Red River Gorge. Sunday, we rented a canoe to travel down the Current River.

Much like the Red River trip, initially, the canoeing was uneventful. We dipped our hands in the river as we rowed along, enjoying its cool 50-degree temperature. After about 90 minutes of paddling, we banked on a gravelbar that caused a bend in the river to eat lunch.

Building the fire went well and we were soon joined by about 20 others who were making their way down river. After bagging up our trash, we loaded the canoe with our fishing poles, backpack, and trashbag to put in and continue our trip down river. Before getting in, I thought, “I don’t have a photo of the kids from my vantage point at the back of the canoe.” James’ long hair spilling out of his hat made him look like a natural outfitter. So, I removed my iPhone from the backpack, keeping it in its waterproof case.

Big Spring

Big Spring

We pushed out into the river, I hopped in, and nearly immediately it was made clear how this river got its name. We were caught in a current heading around the bend through a Class II rapid. A felled tree laid perpendicular to the path of the river, with two limbs sticking up like goalposts. There was not enough room to pass on the inside of the near goalpost and the gravelbar and threading the needle through the two goalposts seemed unlikely. I rowed hard to try to get us beyond the far goalpost where there was plenty of water.

But not hard enough.

“HOLD ON,” I shouted.


The nose of our canoe slammed into the far goalpost. The river’s current pushed us sideways against the other goalpost, making our canoe a mini-dam. The water continued to rush against the side of the canoe. I hollered for James to use his paddle to push off the front limb. He shifted his weight ever so slightly down river and, coupled with the driving current into the upriver side of the canoe, …

We capsized.

The river was about five feet deep at the tree limb, so it was mid-chest on me. Fortunately, both Juliet and James were wearing their life jackets. I quickly righted the canoe and told the kids to hop back in as I held it steady. Instead, the river grabbed the upriver side and capsized it the other way. Now the canoe was filling with water as it rushed in.

Worse. It was pinning Juliet against the near goalpost.

Adrenaline surging, I pushed the canoe down into the river with my left hand, grabbed Juliet by the collar of her life jacket with my right arm, and swung her over the canoe and around to my left side.

James, fortunately, had floated free and was standing just down river in shallower water. Out of my peripheral vision, I saw two women wading out, helping to bring Juliet into the gravelbar.

Now, my focus was on gathering the things from the canoe. But, as I placed the backpack and even the trashbag into the canoe (the fishing poles were lodged against the seats and never moved), the canoe was starting to sink from the water rushing into it. Seeing that the kids were safe, my strength left me as the cold water pulled it from me.

Then, three college-aged guys appeared and helped me bring the canoe in. They said, “here, let us help you empty it,” and I took the word “help” to mean, “ok, you guys go ahead and do that all on your own.”

I was spent and, with all being accounted for, going into a mini-state of shock thinking of the worse that could have happened.

We rested on the gravel bar. I took an accounting of what was still there and what was missing. One of Juliet’s pink crocs had escaped, but another riverrat had gathered that for us. I had kept the backpack in the canoe, though it was completely soaked. Even the bag of our trash from lunch was back in the canoe. The only thing that went missing was my iPhone.

We rested for about 5 or 10 minutes and then got back in the canoe to finish the trip. To illustrate the pace of the water as compared to Red River: with the Red River, we took 6 hours to canoe 8 miles; with the Current, we canoed 11 miles in just 4 hours–traveling almost 50% further in 2/3 the time.

The remainder of the canoe trip was uneventful–thank goodness. But the whole experience had drained us and we were glad when we finally arrived at the pull out site. We all slept soundly that night.

Support when you need it

Given the focus of this blog, I try, even if it is a bit shoehorned, to relate these experiences of ours to the moment of being told the usually unexpected news that your child has Down syndrome. Most describe this as a shocking moment, but one where time slows down, with precise recollection of the moment.

That “slowing down of time” was what I experienced as I watched the step-by-step, development-by-development, of the sequence of events: the shock of falling over into the cold water; seeing where both Juliet and James were; watching the water fill the canoe; realizing I needed to quickly free Juliet or else she could be injured.

The other aspect of our river emergency was the arrival of support from unexpected places.

In the river, it was the two ladies who helped Juliet (one of whom, James overheard tell the other that she had a daughter with Down syndrome). It was the three college guys pulling our canoe to shore.

When Juliet was born, the unexpected support rolled in like a river: my twin brother’s classmate in Physical Therapy school would be at our house two days after Juliet was born for her first PT visit; members of our church would arrive at the hospital and show us love and support, sharing for the first time with us that their daughter had had Down syndrome; the Thursday after Juliet was born, the executive director from our local support organization and a parent volunteer would be on our front porch, giving us a glimpse of what Juliet’s life could be like.

The support would continue: first step early intervention therapists; a play group at Down syndrome of Louisville connecting parents with similarly-aged children; the Dads Night Out crew offering me a place of respite and fellowship; Juliet’s aides in school and ECE and regular classroom teachers; a parent volunteer beginning a precursor to Special Olympics; friends and even parents of friends (the parents of which I had never met) donating regularly to support Juliet’s walk team; work colleagues helping out with my caseload, bringing us gifts, and even babysitting.

And on and on.

This is not to say that our sole experience is what everyone can expect. That doesn’t hold for anyone’s experience in this life.

But the concern about who will be there to support a child with Down syndrome is ranked as one of the top concerns of new and expectant parents, and is a concern cited by those who choose to terminate after a prenatal test result.

Like those unexpected supporters who were there for us in the river, support can be there; indeed, support is there for families of children with Down syndrome. You may have to seek it out; you will likely have to fill out onerous paperwork and sit through interminable meetings for governmental services; and you may have to overcome a desire to just hunker down so that you push open the double doors to a potluck dinner full of up-to-that point strangers. And, of course, as evidenced by you reading this post, there is support on-line.

The support is there to help you and your child.

Please see the list of resources, including the links to directories of local support organizations at the Prenatal Resources tab.

A postscript to wrap up this post on support: after pulling our canoe out, we went to the outfitter’s office to provide my contact information if, by some miracle, my iPhone turned up. Two hours later, as we were making our fire for our dinner, one of the outfitter‘s staff drove up to our campsite, rolled down his window, and asked, “Are you the one who lost an iPhone?” I nodded in disbelief and he said, “well, here it is.” Someone down river had found it and turned it in. He handed me my iPhone in its water tight case. Opening it, I found it in perfect working order.

Skipping rocks at Big Spring

Skipping rocks at Big Spring


  1. Lorna Sue Pierce says:

    You were spent because, soon, another year will have passed. Glad everyone was safe.

  2. Sounds a lot like life in general, Mark. Thanks for sharing!

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