The River

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

My creek spilled into a river, which was wide where we swam. Overhead, huge trees extended their limbs, offering us shade when the sun was straight above and the temperatures hit 100 degrees. It was mysterious, the river, with dark runs that offered no hint of what lay beneath, tempting us to dive toward the bottom. The water was always cold, surprisingly cold, even in the heavy air of summer. But once immersed, our bodies would adjust, and we would devise ways to go deeper. We would start in shallow water where we could see the bottom. From there, using diving masks, we crawled on our bellies along the gravel subsurface. Gradually, we'd ease into the deeper stretches, then emerge quickly, as if we were afraid of what we might find. Big running water held riddles that I found intriguing. As the water passed by, I would wonder how far it had traveled and how far it had to go before it spilled into greater waters. And the river had its own personality.

Some days it moved quietly by us making no sound at all, like the times my mother would sit alone in the living room and read in silence. Other days it coursed loudly, probably because somewhere up north there had been great rains, and the waters from those rains had seeped into the ground, swirling into deep, hidden caverns. When summer brought blinding clear skies, the river became thirsty and shallow. And when the cold of winter kept us from swimming, we'd look through the water--like through a pane of glass--a window with a view to a distant world.

One summer day, feeling braver than ever before, I dove into a deep run and drifted with the current until I found a large rock with which to anchor myself. I was sure that I had gotten to a deeper place in the river than any of the other kids ever had. Holding my breath and with my eyes wide open behind a diving mask, I could see a world completely removed from my own reality. I could feel the passing water move over my body and the debris of life wash away. I could come here alone, if only for a minute, before I had to burst up to the surface toward the light of day. Occasionally, I would see fish swim by or a crawling crayfish and, one time, a beaver swam past me, satisfied that I posed no threat. As I held onto the rock I would look up and, far above, I could see the sunlight beaming down, then muted and deflected through the river's surface. I came to the river in the grip of those hot days with one intention--to dive into a deep run, hold on to the large rock, and just watch the water and its life pass by.

What if I could suddenly breathe through my nose underwater? I could just stay there and be in my own sanctuary, safe from all that confused me. If I could just keep holding on to that rock, maybe I could become part of the life in that underwater world, my soul fusing with the flowing water. But I knew that life above the surface called me and that my imagination, no matter how powerful, could not overcome the pull of reality. Letting go of the rock, I swam up for air, took a deep breath and plunged downward again--another trip to the bottom, to safety, to enchantment, to momentary security. Now as I look back, I can see that the water nurtured me. Talking to it did not seem strange. It was prayer. Terry is a published author and enjoys the outdoors. His book is available at:, Barnes and Noble, Barry County Museum and PenUltimate Press. He can be reached at: