Today we employed a genius method for keeping cool in some of our highest temperatures yet this year – a little lo-fi technology I like to call a river. The Humptulips River, to be precise. I’m not sure if I’d been there since over a decade ago when my friends and I would get up to 80% good old-fashioned fun and 20% debauchery (I remember hard cider being involved at least once, accompanied by daring a young man to crawl, nude, across the river’s expense – the hell of the thing was the guy complied). The river was basically the same – to wit, pristine, a lovely temperature, with the perfect deep and placid pools to paddle about in. We crossed the river twice in order to get to our perfect spot, away from others. The kids and I hauled our basket with water and food and towels and clothes and by the time we set up we were beyond ready to jump in.
I had two inexperienced swimmers in my care. Sophie is an impressive pool athlete but unused to strong currents and a bit dismayed by the tiny rock crabs; Nels can’t swim at all. It occurred to me as we traversed to our spot, then went in and out and in and out of the water, and found little trails, and crossed mini-rapids, that the best way for children to get used to river currents is not to prohibit them from venturing in, or throw life jackets on them, or hold their hand tightly, but allow them to explore at their own comfort, a competent adult swimmer nearby.
Despite my best intentions, the several hours we played (we left well after six PM) were besmirched by precisely two unhappy incidents: the first being my son deliberately disobeying my instructions and trying to body-surf a rapid. He was rewarded by being sucked underwater for a few horrifying seconds – have I mentioned I have a creepy paralyzing fear of my children drowning? I always have, despite living by and visiting water frequently – as his sister cried out and immediately came to his rescue, hauling his body, near the size of her own, to bring his head above water as I crossed to him swiftly and grabbed both him and the shoe he’d kicked off (in that order). Both kids were extremely upset by this and cried. I was (outwardly) calm and sweet – within seconds their fearlessness had been restored, leaving me to feel low-grade nausea for several minutes, the image of his blond head disappearing etched in my eyeballs.
The second sad incident involved my kids playing with a few teenagers – boys who made colossal, impossible jumps from a cliff face into the water, including flips – when my daughter happily talking to them and swishing her hands about in a stagnant little pool came out fettered with a leech on her thumb. A leech. It was small, but tenacious. She was terrified – terrified. Slippery rocks made it impossible for me to dart to her side; the young men looked on and advised her on removal technique while she screamed and cried. Again, although I kept my movements and voice calm, I felt complete and utter abject horror. Was it her upset I felt or my own at the thought of such a gross violation? She removed the creature by rubbing her hands several times against the cliffside and afterwards I held her while she cried and cried. A few minutes later, again, and she and Nels were playing some sort of Murder Mystery / Leech game, splashing about in the shallows and seemingly undisturbed.
Off and on through our exploits I returned to our little camp by the river to handsew a few pockets on a jacket, a project I’d assigned myself and was determined to finish. By the time we’d re-packed and bundled up and crossed back over and walked up the trail my son was dragging. He fell asleep in the car almost immediately. Sophie, for her part, sang with me in the car and began making more and more urgent requests for food (the ham sandwiches, fruit, chips and water we’d packed had been consumed and their fuel value spent). We were home at seven to a house that had been kept moderately cool by our use of “shanty curtains” – blankets we hang from our windows to keep the sun’s rays out.
Tonight the kids went on and on about the fun of our adventure. After Nels’ miniature nap he seemed entirely restored and here, just past midnight, the kids are still gaily going about their self-directed arts and crafts, dress-up, and micheivous popsicle raids from the freezer.