• Jenny Dunaway

"Sit down, Charlie Brown!"

Updated: Jul 1

"The river delights to lift us free,if only we dare to let go. Our true work is this voyage, this adventure." Richard Bach

(NOTE: I have been reading what to do and NOT to do when writing a children's book. I broke a few "rules" here. I'm just practicing...

Excerpt from Cattail Express (a children's book from the prospective of our canoe)...



It was one of those rare perfect days in summer--not too hot, not too humid, and sunny. The sky was almost an iridescent blue that shimmered on the river reflecting light. The Rappahannock glistened, alive with life and movement. It called to me and I smiled. I knew my boys would take me out today. The tide was going down which meant we would be able to go under the bridge at Oyster Creek. The white sand of Burke's Beach was just a few minutes of paddling away. We had been there yesterday and ran into Mrs. Burke. She was walking her beach as she faithfully did twice a day. The boys and Mom showed her the remains of a loggerhead turtle's carapace. She suggested that they bury it with sand and mark the site.


"It won't take long for it to decompose," she said. "Then you can have the ribs and they won't smell so bad." She was right--the stench was foul, indeed. Mom said she'd report it to the Virginia Institute of Marine Science since it was endangered. She didn't think there was enough of it left to determine how it died. Mom reminded the boys of the time a few years before when she had climbed down onto riprap along Little Bay to pick up a Mylar balloon. She was trying to prevent a turtle from confusing it with a jellyfish, one of their favorite foods. Consuming a mylar balloon would certainly kill a turtle. She did grab the balloon right before she slipped and broke her leg. I remember six weeks in that purple cast put a damper on our adventures.

"I might have saved a turtle so I suppose I'd do it again but I'd be more careful the next time."

I thought of Miniak and dismissed the likelihood it was him, No, I saw him on the river side of Windmill Point--not the bay side, just yesterday. I wondered what had happened to the huge turtle. Perhaps it was old or sick. Perhaps it had gotten caught in a pound net and drown. It saddened all of us. Miniak told me of the Powhatan tribe who lived on this beach hundreds of years ago. They believed that turtles, his great, great grandfathers, walked a peaceful path in life. Turtles are my friends. They can teach humans much about patience and being in harmony with heaven and earth. I said a prayer for the turtle buried under the sand.

From my perch on the dune, I watched Mrs. Burke walk away. She was in her 80's but it was as if she floated over the sand. Her hair was white and her face tanned with many lines that had stories to tell. This place was part of her and she was a part of it.

I wondered if the two could exist without each other. Perhaps the beach could survive if she were gone but I don't think it would be quite as happy. She had invited Mom and the boys to walk or camp on the beach whenever they could. Mrs. Burke treasured her beach and realized that there others who held it sacred, as well. I know they were thrilled she had given the invitation.

The boys had heard Mrs. Burke's offer. "Mom, can we spend the night tonight?" Zach, the eldest boy asked. Seth and Jake chimed in, "Please, Mom, come on, please."

"No, not tonight but maybe tomorrow, depending on the weather. We have lots to do if we're going to camp." The possibility of camping on Burke's Beach would take some preparation Mom knew. I'm sure she was wondering if she could get a cooler, a tent, sleeping bags, three boys, Charlie Brown, and herself into me. She smiled as she watched the boys throwing a piece of driftwood out in the water for Charlie Brown, their coon-hound-lab mix.

He blissfully swam out to retrieve the stick and return it to the boys on the beach. He could have played stick all afternoon but the boys' attention turned to exploring the beach, instead. After a few barks, Charlie Brown realized they were investigating around the bend where the loblolly trees grew. He joined them joyfully wagging his tail.



Charlie Brown is a good-natured dog but a little excitable. I always remind him to be good on our excursions so he'll be able to continue to come with us. I'll be good, Cattail, I will!" he promised. I do believe he meant it at the time. Sometimes he would try to scratch himself while we were enroute. His shift of weight caused me to list and come close to flipping. Mom would fuss, "Sit down, Charlie Brown!" and he would...for a few minutes. He didn't have fleas--he just loved to scratch himself. On the way home yesterday Charlie Brown stood up and started shaking. The sand and the water went everywhere. Mom and Zach shouted, "Sit down, Charlie Brown!" He did, looking a wee bit remorseful. But, he couldn't help himself. As we were in the deepest part of Oyster Creek, he started to scratch frantically. Mom was steering in the back and quickly altered our path, Zach was paddling from my bow, digging in deep with each stroke of the paddle, Seth and Jake tried to balance their weight to accommodate for the dog's movement. We almost capsized and everyone shouted in unison, "Sit down, Charlie Brown!" He didn't move anymore until we beached my bow. Somehow, we made it back to the marsh at the end of our road where they tie me up. They all piled out of me and headed home. It's not easy taking three boys and an active dog on a voyage. I hope Mom doesn't reconsider about camping tonight...




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