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Buoyed by an Angel

Pictured here my Brother Zach in 2017 at Messalonskee High School

by Clayton Hoyle

Dunn’s Camps in the early summer. The glistening, glassy still water of Whitney and Hogan Ponds. The sandy, western Maine beach, and the scaly, Norway pines that provided shade from the sunny weather. This family getaway stays with me in vivid images, even when I am not there. My family visits this idyllic getaway every summer. It’s where we can step back and reflect on the past year, or think back even further to draw together and drink in the fond memories we now share. 

Back then, we would join other families, like the Becknells and the Gagnons, to get together and enjoy the times on the water.  “It was the late 2000s, and I must have been like eleven or twelve years old,” said Zach, my older brother, as he began to conjure up a specific memory he holds close to his heart. 

At that time, the Becknell’s, the former pastor’s family of our old church, couldn’t get a cabin on the Whitney side of the pond, so they had to settle for the Hogan side. Whitney had fewer people, a nicer beach, much better fishing, and perfect water for swimming. Hogan was bigger, very crowded, and infested with milfoil. “I was sitting in the Becknell’s cabin and I really wanted to go out in the canoe with Jack, so I was trying to convince him to go out in the canoe with me,” Zach said. After hours of convincing, Jack finally gave in but in the excitement, the two of them forgot their life jackets. They made their way under the culvert toward the area where the turtles and frogs would hangout. It was their favorite place to see the amphibians and reptiles. Under the culvert, water rushed through causing erosion in the area before it. “It must have been like twenty feet deep with that constant flow of water just going through it, but it didn’t look deep at all. We were being dumb, and we turned the boat sideways and it rocked a little which caused the water from the culvert to just start flowing into the boat. I remember we just looked at each other and we were like Oh No! and then it just flipped,” Zach said. Zach didn’t know how to swim at the time and was under the water for around a minute at the least. “I couldn’t see anything, I had no idea where I was or where the boat was. I just remember it was really weird, it’s hard to explain but I felt something like arms picking me up,” he said. Zach then looked over thinking it was Becknell but he was not there. Becknell was about three or four yards away at a post that had a sign warning of the dangerous area, he was using the poll as a place to grab onto as he tried to flip the cone back over. Zach was then able to get back in the boat and he and Becknell were able to get enough of the water out to make it back to the beach. Once they had made it to the shore the boys went back inside, dried off, and went on with their day. 

It wasn’t until later that night when Zach was back on the Whitney side in the Hoyle cabin when the recollection of what happened earlier that day sunk in. The thought had come to him as soon as he noticed Becknell wasn’t nearby and couldn’t have possibly helped him out of the water but with all that was going on it was quickly brushed away until he had the time to think deeper about what had happened. “the only thing that could have helped him out of the water was a guardian angel” he said. He felt if he hadn’t been pulled out of the water he wouldn’t have survived that incident. If you ask Becknell even to this day he denies any involvement in helping Zach out of the water. It took all he had to get himself out of the water and get the boat flipped back over that he had not thought about his friend who was still in the water.

Our time at Dunn’s has changed a lot over the years. Many of us who were once kids can’t make it out to camp any more due to work or other adult obligations. Many of us who were once inseparable now might not even notice each other immediately in passing. Zach has not spoken with Jack Becknell in years. Throughout life we make friends and then the friendship dies off to the point it feels like you never knew the person. We make new friendships but we cherish the memories we have of the old ones because we needed them at the time and without them, we would not be who we are now.    

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