Episode 7 – The Fish Grove – Part 1

By: Sarah Bodine

Volume 19, Issue 5, May 2024

See Introduction: Roscoe Fish Stories, January 2024

  1. Episode 1: Roscoe Fish Goes "Boying"!  January 2024
  2. Episode 2: How Roscoe Fish Got His Name, February 2024
  3. Episode 3: The Journey Downriver, March 2024
  4. Episode 4: The Perilous Escape, March 2024
  5. Episode 5: Boying, The Lost Bait Can
  6. Episode 6: Boying - Of Storms and Shoals

Roscoe Gets in a Tangle

One Friday evening in the middle of July, Roscoe was sitting at the Minnow Bar, idly sipping a foam shake, when Rose darted by and hurriedly whispered, "Have you heard of the new amusement park over by Wellesley Island? It opens tomorrow morning.” She dashed off to deliver slime balls to the front table and skidded back to his stool. “I have the morning off,” she continued, blowing a few excited bubbles. “Would you like to come along? I want to go early to be the first in line.” "OK," said Roscoe eagerly. He was always ready for an adventure with Rose. "When?" "Before first light," said Rose, swivelling her eyes to make sure that no one at the bar was listening.

"Wow, that's early," Roscoe gasped. "How will I get up before the sun?”

"Don't set an alarm, because you'll wake the other fish," Rose warned. "Here’s my plan: Tie a piece of monofilament to your tail fin and attach it to a bobber. Let the bobber float up to the surface above your cave. I'll come by in the morning and pull on the bobber to wake you up." Rose dashed off to wait on a pickerel who had just slid onto a rock at the other end of the bar.

On his way out, Roscoe borrowed a bobber from the diner’s storeroom, and when he got home, he tied it to a length of monofilament. He had a drawer full of monofilament, so-called “fishing line,” which he had been scavenging from the river bottom for years. He measured out a piece long enough to allow the bobber to reach the surface, tied it through the hole in the bobber’s top, and looped the other end around his tail fin, securing it with a couple of half-hitch knots that he had learned in his Boying Guide course. The night was windless, so, as he released the bobber, he could see it drift up slowly, pulling the monofilament in a straight, taut line to the surface just above his cave. “Done,” he thought to himself, sliding onto his rock-shelf and drifting immediately into a peaceful sleep.

The cliff above Roscoe's Cave. Illustration by Sarah Bodine, ©2024

The next morning, the River still pitch black, Rose made her way over to Roscoe’s cave. She could see the bright-red bobber floating on the calm surface from quite a distance away. Noiselessly, she swam up beside it, took the line in her teeth and gave it a gentle tug. She waited a minute, but there was no sound below. So, she pulled the line again, this time a little harder, and waited to feel the vibration of Roscoe rising from his bed. Still nothing. Impatient now, she grabbed the bobber in her teeth and took off towards Pine Island at full speed.

Roscoe let out a howl as he was yanked upside down to the surface. Wildly thrashing, he had to bend almost in two in order to untangle the monofilament. Finally, with a whip of his tail, he managed to free the line. To his dismay, as he righted himself, he noticed a sleepy school of small fry had risen to the surface to see what was causing the early-morning fuss. Then he spotted Rose, a short distance away, doubled over with laughter.

Roscoe was embarrassed but unharmed. The curious small fry began to beat the water to froth, wanting to know where Rose and Roscoe were going so early in the morning. Roscoe turned a pleading look at Rose, and she confessed that they were headed to the new amusement park. In response, a great cry went up -– the water’s surface roiled with the clapping of fins. Rose was already having so much fun that she happily invited everyone to come along.

Fairyland Island and Broomstick Castle

Rose and Roscoe led the way up past the head of Pine Island, across the deep Canadian channel where the tour boats run, towards the reedy shallows of Wellesley Island. Their destination was Fairyland Island and the entrance to the new underwater amusement park called The Fish Grove.

Map with the location of Fairyland Island. Illustration by Sarah Bodine, ©2024

From above, Fairyland Island looks like the outline of a fish swimming downstream, its belly turned towards Mary Island State Park and the Canadian side of the River. The water between the islands is very shallow, only two to three feet deep, sheltered, and secluded –- an ideal place for a fish playground.

At the “tail” end, or foot, of the island, a pile of rocks hid the shiny underwater gates that marked the entrance to the new park. The gates, still closed at this early hour, led to a narrow sluiceway; down this sluiceway lay a magical aquarium of attractions, including rides, games, sideshows, and natural wonders.

A pile of rocks hid the shiny underwater gates that marked the entrance to the new park. Illustration by Sarah Bodine, ©2024. 

Rose made sure that the small fry were packed together in a tight group, and, with Roscoe bringing up the rear, they zipped across the channel from Pine Island to Fairyland. Indeed, as Rose had hoped, they were the first in line just as the park’s twinkling gates opened to reveal the dark sluiceway. One by one, they squeezed in and whooshed downwards on a lively current.

The current dumped them onto a sandy entrance plaza. On one side of the plaza stood a gigantic chart of the Fish Grove, which mapped out the various rides and attractions, such as the Estrallita Wheel, Wild Muskrat, Slime Slide, and the Plein Air Chute. Roscoe pointed out the squiggly blue line that snaked around the park, highlighting a maze of narrow passages that led from rides to sideshows to food vendors. A staff of adolescent pike had worked all night with their razor-sharp teeth to maintain the seaweed walls of this maze trail.

While Roscoe studied the map, Rose made her way to the front of the plaza to the ticket booths. These booths were made out of the cabs of Model T Ford cars that had fallen through the ice during treacherous winter crossings long ago. In each booth, a frog attendant, dressed in a green-and-black-spotted waistcoat with the Fairyland Park insignia, dispensed park passes in reel sizes: casting, spinning, or trolling. Rose bought an extra-large trolling reel of tickets. The frog also handed her a miniature map of the grounds, printed on a seaweed scroll, which she gave to Roscoe for safekeeping. Rose tucked a few tickets under the fin of each of the small fry, who churned up the water in their haste to race along the maze towards the rides.

Rose grinned at Roscoe, delighted by the enthusiasm of the small fry, but relieved that they had taken off on their own. Rose was intrigued by the story of the making of the park and its enchanted castle. “I’ve heard about a curious little building called the Folly at Broomstick Castle,” she said. “Shall we go there first?”

Although keen to sample the rides, and also a bit hungry, Roscoe nodded and started to unroll the seaweed scroll map to locate the castle. But Rose already had spotted a small salamander tour guide in a bright red body suit gliding towards them. “Let’s ask her for directions,” said Rose, captivated by the colorful creature. “Oh,” chortled the salamander. “I would be happy to take you there myself. Swim this way, please.” She slid on her belly down the maze and through a shimmering seaweed arch, where lights blinked: “Welcome to Broomstick Castle.”

Rose and Roscoe dashed to keep up, hurtling through the arch and down a slippery rock slide that twisted and turned and dumped them out in front of the castle’s impenetrable moat. The salamander bounced on a lever in the moat’s wall, and a hatch swung open. She gestured them into the dark reaches, which to her dismay, reminded Rose of the eerie entrance to the cave of Quin, the muskellunge.

Unaware of Rose’s hesitancy, the salamander twirled into a cylindrical room with an overhead chandelier and began the tour: “The Fish Grove was developed on Fairyland Island because of this Folly,” she said. “This room once was part of a larger castle, built over a century ago, in what is now called the Golden Age of the Thousand Islands. Work on the Folly alone took 10 years and the labor of over l,000 fish, who dragged boulders, river pebbles, and rough-hewn timber to this place. A wealthy sturgeon from the West named Hayden had the Folly built for his ailing daughter. She spent one summer here taking the cure in the cool, clear, waters of the St Lawrence River, never leaving the rock moat that protects the building. Her health and strength improved so much that, at summer’s end, she was able to swim home to Ohio, through the Great Lakes, with her family.”

“The turret up there,” said the salamander, pointing with a long brown cattail, “the one lined with water lilies, was her sleeping room.” The salamander guided them inside a labyrinth of cool, dark rooms. There were stairs that ascended merely for the joy of descending by a slide down the other side. A floor revolved on an axis, which sent them spinning past a number of roped-off areas, including the water-lily-lined bedchamber of Hayden’s daughter. They twirled past the etched-glass porthole of the famous Helgrammite Library, housing Hayden’s large collection of scholarly works about metamorphosis on the River.

After winding and turning through a dizzying series of connected passageways, suddenly they dropped through a trap door into what seemed like a bottomless abyss. They splashed down outside, to a pebble-lined belvedere, the Folly’s outdoor terrace, with its fish-eye view of the horizon over to Alexandria Bay, NY, on the other side of the River.

“Adieu,” the salamander called, waving sweetly. “Relax. Stay here as long as you like.”

She scurried away, disappearing down a back-door chute, to greet a new tour group.

Roscoe had jumped into a knotted-rope hammock on the belvedere and was swinging up and down, thinking about the tour.

“You know, Rose,” he said. “I wonder what kind of fish helped build this castle. They must have been mighty big, and the biggest fish I know in this river is the Muskellunge.” Rose remembered her misgiving upon entering the Folly. “Yes, Roscoe,” she agreed. “I wonder whether any Muskellunge made a home here, because of the long time it took to work on this project?”

It was just then that Roscoe noticed a plaque on the floor of the belvedere. Peering through the hammock knotting, he read the inscription out loud: “Thanks to the Quin family for years of service in the construction of Broomstick Castle and its Folly.”

Attached to the plaque was a sign:

OPENING CEREMONY TODAY AT THE GRANDSTAND
TIME: JUST AFTER SUNSET
AWARDS WILL BE GIVEN TO ALL MUSKELLUNGE FAMILY MEMBERS PRESENT

“Oh, no,” whispered Rose. “If Quin is here and sees us, he’ll surely want revenge for our escape! What shall we do? Where can we hide? How do we get out of here?” Rose was shaking so hard that her scales started to rattle.

Stay tuned, as Roscoe and Rose figure out what to do next . . .

By Sarah Bodine

Sarah Bodine is a writer, editor, designer and book artist. She spent the summers of her childhood at her great-grandfather’s house, known as Cliff Cottage, on the Ontario side of the St Lawrence River near Rockport. The three Keats children were her cousins, and she often ran an outboard across the Canadian channel to spend the night on Pine Island. John Keats, fondly known as JK, made Roscoe Fish the main character in his bedtime stories, which were loved by all the children. To this day, the next island generation is forever looking for Roscoe under the boats in the slip.


Those of us who read JK's (John Keats, "Of Time and an Island," 1974) books will smile and thank them for the opportunity to read more - even if in the imagination of Sarah and her cousins. Authors and readers will know that our TI Life articles are usually limited to 1,200-1,500 words - but this series of short stories about Roscoe are longer - long enough for all young River Rats to want more! The good news is there will be several more Episodes!]

[From the Editor: In May we present Episode 7 in three parts.  Why? Well if you are like me, you would not be pleased if you had to wait a full month before discovering what mischief Rose and Roscoe will get into - and so we gave you all three parts in one issue.  Enjoy and promise me you will read these aloud to a young member of the family.]

Posted in: Volume 19, Issue 5, May 2024, Fiction, Current


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