The Rest of the Story

Doug Harrell

Back in the day!  When Clint and I first met we were in the corporate world and that is a fer piece from where we ended up on the farm.  As you can see, Clint’s adventures did not just start here on the farm, but were preceded by his antics in the corporate world as well.  He just continued the tradition of screwing up on the farm, in reality, he was one of the smartest and most intellectual men I have ever known and worked with.  Long live the adventures!

 

Farmer Clint’s Near Death Experience

Farmer Clint

 

Dear friends,

“Back in the day” I was a corporate hotshot…or so I thoughtJ. I tell you this only to explain how and why I commandeered a Cessna Citation jet from Dallas, TX to Anchorage, AK.

As Vice President of Marketing for GTE Directories, I was responsible for business development, or simply making certain our key customers were happy campers. My domain was worldwide as we had a range of customers from Alaska to Hawaii, from Hong Kong to Malaysia, and from Belgium to Austria. Anyway, I was asked to visit our customer friends in Alaska so I scheduled the corporate jet and invited members of my marketing staff to go along.

A County Boy Makes Good!

Please understand, I am a country boy; I grew up traveling on Greyhound Bus Lines. (Mostly I moved about in the back of my dad’s 1956 Chevy station wagon – along with my six brothers and sisters. Funny to think back, no seat belts, frolicking in the back of the car, sticking my arms out the windows, etc.)

My dad was a hardworking man but we barely got by from paycheck to paycheck. I mowed lawns as a kid, I sold greeting cards from Boy’s Life magazine to make money; I gave my earnings to daddy to help with household bills.

So the very idea of having personal access to a jet airplane was a novelty I never dreamed! Heck, I didn’t know companies had airplanes. Oftentimes during my corporate life, when I had amazing experiences and glimpses into “the lifestyles of the rich and famous” – like the night I was invited to dinner with First Lady Nancy Reagan at the Waldorf Astoria in NYC – I looked to heaven and spoke to my departed dad, “Look at me daddy! Who could have guessed I would do this?”

  

Bound For The Last Frontier

I decided to do something different on this trip; to have some one-on-one time with three of our clients. (Most meetings occur in sterile corporate board rooms or hotel meeting rooms). I arranged for a full-day trip of King Salmon fishing on the Kenai River. My customers, all native Alaskans, were thrilled and I was excited that we would have “bonding” time away from the day-to-day pressures of big business. And, being an ardent fisherman, I couldn’t wait to “tie into” a King Salmon. Wow!

We arrived at the Kenai River where our guide was ready with all the gear we’d need for a memorable trip. It was early May, as I recall, only a month after the “breakup”, when the icebound river gives way to spring temperatures and massive ice flows exit for the ocean. My point – the water was cold, very very cold.

Fish On!

It was a beautiful, sunny day as we climbed aboard the metal boat there were six of us in all. The temperature was about 40 degrees so were dressed in long johns, sweaters, heavy coats and gloves. I had slipped on chest waders over my clothing in case we did any wading along the shore. The guide told us the King Salmon were running fast and furious; they had caught three large Kings earlier in the week.

A couple of my client friends caught fish…it’s always a good idea to let the customers enjoy success FIRST J. Their catch averaged about 20 pounds, very nice sized King Salmon and the first I’d ever seen! I had no strikes and wondered, to myself, if I would catch one…I think I can, I think I can, I think I can J!

Late afternoon I cast a silver spoon near the bank; it barely hit the water’s surface when the BIGGEST FISH I’d ever seen exploded to the top of the river swallowing my lure. That fish nearly stripped all the line off my pole before the guide was able to maneuver the boat close enough to get him turned. I reeled and reeled, struggling to get the monster close to the boat. Some 20-25 minutes later I landed an EIGHTY FIVE POUND King Salmon. I was so excited that I nearly fell overboard…but not yet!

 

Time Running Out

We didn’t catch any more fish that afternoon, possibly because we were caught up in admiring my earlier catch. Also, there were many anglers on the river now, both guided trips and along the shore. Our guide explained that there is an early evening curfew on the Kenai River, a time when all fishermen must be off the river and no fishing is allowed. So he wanted to move upstream and try our luck in a tributary or two.

I was sitting on the bow, heavy laden in my waders and other gear, and holding my fishing rod as the boat moved rapidly up-river. I turned around to say something to one of my friends when the guide made a sharp left turn into a smaller stream.

Man Overboard!

As our boat veered left my body went straight…rod, waders, boots and all I landed in the Kenai River.

Two of our folks witnessed my plunge, screamed at the pilot/guide and pandemonium broke out topside. As I was helplessly sinking to the bottom of the river, I felt the force of a heavy metal object glance off of my skull – out of desperation and not knowing what else to do, my friend Todd had thrown the anchor overboard in hopes of stopping the boat.

Memories From The Deep

At some point in my descent I felt the bow of the boat pass over my face; I kicked at the bottom knowing that the prop could be the next object I would encounter. I literally felt the swirling current from the screw as it passed overhead.

I remember thinking to myself, “I am going to die”; but I did not panic, nor did I take on water. The very next memory was a vision of my body, fully awake floating in what looked like a field of cotton. The sun was warm, the surface was soft, I was comfortable and happy…very happy.

Popping Up Out Of The Water

At some point, obviously, I surfaced in that raging river. My friend, Cheryl, said it looked like I was just standing there as the river rushed on both sides. She described the scene as, “You looked like a bobber, just bouncing on the water; as if someone were holding you up!”

The guide moved alongside and several of the men hauled me into the boat. I awakened to someone pounding on my chest and hearing the words, “Hypothermia, hypothermia,” from my friend Tom. When a person is immersed in cold water, their skin and nearby tissues cool rapidly. When the core temperature drops below 90° F serious complications begin to develop. Death may occur at about 80° F; however, a person may drown at a higher temperature due to loss of consciousness or inability to use the arms and legs. I screamed back at him, “Stop beating on me, I am fine!” And I was.

Back On Shore

The guide motored quickly back to the shore as the others removed ALL my clothes and covered me with a tarp; one even laid on top of me to provide a modicum of warmth. As I sat on the bank, trying to squeeze my fat self into some skinny clothes, bearded men came up and began touching my shoulders, one said, “Man, you ain’t ‘sposed to be here. I saw the whole thing and you shouldn’t be alive. Nobody survives a fall into the Kenai River!” Again my friend Cheryl spoke up, “I timed it, you were underwater more than 8 minutes…you should be dead, Clint.” About that time my friend Todd apologized for hitting me on the head with the anchor!

For the next several weeks I was literally disappointed that I had “come back.” Although I did not want to be absent from my family, the sensation I had in that cotton field was unlike anything I can even describe. The only term that comes to mind is heavenly.

A Changed Life For Farmer Clint

That experience fueled an intense fire within me to better understand God’s purpose for my life. I sat in church whenever the doors were opened; I developed a voracious appetite for Scripture; I literally sought out missionaries and ministries which I could and would support. I gave my life over to Jesus Christ in a whole new way.

Looking Back And Looking Up

My trip and death in the Kenai River occurred in early May, 1990…nearly 25 years ago. Since that time God has shown me His glory; He has demonstrated His power; He has led me on incredible missions; He has broken my heart for the sad, lonely and broken people in this world; and He has delivered me from the very depths of despair and death.

This Farmer Clint, the one whom you have come to know as the klutz of Mitchell County…the man who screws up more than he straightens up…the fellow who doesn’t know a back-hoe from a road grader…your goofy neighbor who screamed like a girl when face-to-face with a groundhog…This Farmer Clint loves the Lord God with all his heart, strength, soul and mind.

Still humbled in the hills,

 

Farmer Clint