The (mis)adventures of Riverkeeper and Moonpie

Published 11:33 am Saturday, October 4, 2014

Ever since Jeff Turner started writing his Riverkeeper report around the year 2000, friends, and most notably his parents, have been on him about turning it into a book.

Turner always wondered how a book would logically flow if he is still on the Blackwater and Nottoway rivers having adventures?

“They eventually got on me enough about it, and I had the time to do it, so, I just decided I would get to it,” he said. “It wasn’t that hard to do because the stories were already pretty much written.

“Now, for some of the older stories, before I started putting them on paper, I had to do the memory thing on a few of them.”

Riverkeeper Jeff Turner has just published a book of stories about life with Moonpie on the Blackwater and Nottoway rivers. -- SUBMITTED

Riverkeeper Jeff Turner has just published a book of stories about life with Moonpie on the Blackwater and Nottoway rivers. — SUBMITTED

The book begins in 1993 when Turner met his river companion, Moonpie, and it goes up to early 2014, with Spirit of Moonpie still in attendance.

Before Turner got Moonpie, he had a dog named Pigface that went on the river with him. But when Pigface died, he decided he didn’t want another dog because of how tough it was going through the death.

But one afternoon his parents tricked him.

“That was kind of a sneaky thing my folks did,” Turner said. “They took me out on the premise that we were going to eat that day. And then we drove up to somebody’s house, and they had a bunch of puppies.

“Once I had puppies jumping all over me in the yard, I was like, ‘Oh, man. I’ve been had.’ But that worked out good.”

Unfortunately, getting her on the river wasn’t as easy as one might have assumed after seeing Turner and Moonpie zip around the river with her in the back seat of the Riverkeeper boat.

“Within 3-4 months, I started taking her on the river and getting her acclimated to being a river dog, and all of the fun things that come along with training a new dog,” he said. “People just assumed that Moonpie came into the world and was the perfect river dog. But it was just like a child or anything. They have to be taught to do stuff, and some of those early years were not pleasant.”

But it was still well worth it to train her, Turner said.

“She was a good companion,” he said. “It was also a good early warning thing at night, when I am doing shore camping.

“And she became such an icon around here, by people reading the stories or seeing her out there with me.”

Turner said Moonpie became what you might call a local celebrity.

“When people would see me in the grocery store, or when I was giving presentations, that was the first thing they’d say to me, ‘Where is Moonpie?’ We even made up a bunch of T-shirts,” he said. “She became quite the Riverkeeper program’s mascot out there.”

And so, he thought it was natural to focus on the Moonpie years, which continue, he said. He has self-published the book, “Tails of Moonpie and The Riverkeeper,” and it is on sale at the Peanut Patch. On Saturday, Oct. 11, Turner will be present from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. to sign books, which are selling for $15.

Turner printed 200 copies for this first run, and he doesn’t see himself making any money on it. But once he sees how these do, he’ll figure up for another run and maybe see about selling it on a national level.

“I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself on that,” he said. “I’ll see what does locally, and take it from there.”

Now was a good time because some of those old stories were not on paper.

“Every year that goes by, that stuff gets a little more faded,” Turner said. “And my folks are getting on up there in age, so I just figured it was a good time to do it.”

He did have activity logs, however, so that helped him keep the dates straight, and that also helped with recalling some of the pre-Riverkeeper stuff. This wasn’t the hardest part, though.

“Going through the death stuff and having to relive that was right rough,” he said. “It was rough on me, especially when you have had one for 16 years. I had to take some breaks and get up and shake it off.

“But I did some unique stuff with that because it goes from Moonpie to Spirit of Moonpie. I think the public will like that.”

Then there are the stories. They range from fantastic:

“There was the time that me and daddy and her were out there on the river, and we hadn’t caught enough fish to take home to eat. We needed a fish,” he said. “So I said, ‘We might as well just let these go because we ain’t got enough to take home and eat. If only we had just one more fish.’

“And then, splash, a fish hit the water, and I was like, ‘Ha. Really?’”

Looking at the fish, which had been dropped by an osprey, there was nothing wrong with it except a missing eyeball, and his father, Bobby Turner, convinced him to throw him into the live-well.

“Daddy said, ‘You asked the River Spirits for a fish, and there it is.’ That was pretty wild,” Turner added. “It was like 10 seconds later.”

Some of the stories are even scary, such as one that happened on the Nottoway during a paddle trip:

“We got into a big lightning storm, and it was raining so hard and so fast and the water was so shallow that the boat was grounded out. It had basically sunk,” he said. “And the lightning was flying.”

So he got out of the boat, grabbed Moonpie, and ran up to a bank he could stand under.

“There was a hole in there. I don’t know what lived in it, but I stuffed her in that,” Turner said. “I just sat flat against the bank, figuring that this was as good as I was going to get.

“And then, like 50 feet away, lightning hit a tree and it fell into the river. I thought I was going to get suntanned from it — that’s how bright it was. I could feel the heat from it, and it had this weird smell, like burnt ozone. It was a real clean smell.”

Then there is the even scarier story of what may have been a bear. Turner said it was the only time he ever abandoned a camp:

“I thought I was going to get eaten that night,” he said. “It was growling and roaring, and here I was just laying in the sleeping bag with a .44 magnum across my chest. It sounded like a lion, but I know we don’t have lions, so I figured, maybe a bear?”

Once he heard a tree go down, he and the dog got in the boat and were off. It had rained during the night, so coming back the next day he wasn’t able to tell what it was.

And there are stories about just being on the river that make it all worth it:

“We still like going out there,” Turner said. “You notice that I said we. She’s still with me.

“We just love being out there with the wildness. It’s always a challenge. I know I won’t be able to do it forever, and it’s getting harder and harder, but I’m going to go as long as I can. We enjoy ourselves when we are out there, and we make a difference too.”