Summer on the river
DescriptionSwimming in the river as a boy
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Summer days were made for boys to go swimming, and I was blessed as a child to have a river cut a broad swath right through the middle of our city. In the summer a few friends and I would spend the better part of the day in that river. It should be noted that my mother strictly forbid me from going anywhere near that river. Along the bank of the river stood a very large stark looking coal fired electrical power plant. The plant met the river with a concrete wall that maintained a height of around ten feet above the water line. Half way up the wall was bolted a wooden plank that was a foot thick, and a foot wide. Five feet above the plank was a chain link fence that bordered the grounds of the power plant. We would walk that wooden plank pushing our fingers through the fence to hold ourselves up. Our destination was an opening in the wall from which a heavy flow of warm water emerged. The opening was about ten feet across, and about five feet from the surface of the water. How far the opening went beneath the water was unknown. The water was slightly warm because it was used to cool the turbines in the power plant, or so we were told. The water would flow out of the opening like a rapidly flowing river. Before I was old enough to know of this place it was given the name “The swisher” Some of the men who worked at the plant used to swim in this thing when they were boys, and like the men before them they would tie heavy ropes to the fence. The ropes would hang down into the flow of water for about twenty feet. Below the heavy plank we walked out on was another similar plank. This plank was slightly under water, right next to the outlet, and about ten feet long. Four or five of us might sit on this plank, while two or three others were out in the swisher hanging on to the ropes. To return to the wall all one had to do was extend an arm in that direction, and the current would whisk them over to the side. At which time one or two of us might take the rope and launch out into it ourselves. It was much like being in a giant Jacuzzi, even though we had never heard of such a thing. This swisher was the exact reason why my mother did not want me swimming in the river. The warm water felt good as it pounded me from side to side. I held firmly to the rope because I was told that the swisher generated a large whirlpool beneath the water, and it had sucked others to the bottom of the river where a strong undercurrent would take them away. The image of me tumbling along the river bottom unable to escape kept my hands tightly clenching the rope. All that was left to do was to roll around in this pounding gush, and enjoy it as long as my hand would hold out. To return to the wall all I had to do extend my right arm, but sometimes I would extent my left arm and the current would sweep me up stream of the swisher. With a bit of swimming I could escape its pull and make my way to a sandbar. Very soon my feet would begin to reach for the river bottom when I felt it was near. If I didn’t feel it I would swim a little further and try again. All I could usually plant was the tips of my toes, or the front of my extended feet, but it helped me make it over to one of the two large islands in the middle of the river. My friends would be behind me asking if I had found the sandbar yet. With my lower lip just barely above the surface of the water I would shout back to them that I was on it. Slowly we would dance along the river bottom until we reached the shore of the island where a host of other adventures awaited us. Between the two islands was a shallow pool about two feet deep. The water had a chance to be slightly warmed by the sun, and the sandy bottom was gentle on our feet. The current of the river was gentle, and we used this to relax from all the swimming. It was always a thrill to see a barge coming down the other side of the river, and its wake would afford us our own wave pool. I loved most of all to dive into the waves as they came to met me in this little lagoon of ours. If diving into deeper water was on my heart there was a spot on the shore line that had a stark drop off. I enjoyed running as fast as I could, and pouring head first off the edge into water that I could never find the bottom of. I tried sometimes to swim down as deep as I could to find bottom, but my ears would begin to hurt, and I would run out of breath. After we all had our fill of this adventure someone would start off toward the trees, and the rest of us would follow. Somebody had tied a rope high in a tree, and we were always eager to try outdoing each other on it. The trip was a difficult one as we encountered rocks, sharp sticks, thorny plants, and fallen trees. Once there we had a free for all swinging out over the water, and dropping in on our butts. I always found it necessary to take the rope into a tree in hopes of getting a longer swing out of it, and of course everyone had to see if they could do the same or better. When our enthusiasm for the rope swing had run its course we headed toward a sandbar we knew of in that area that would take us about halfway across the river. From there we made a swim for it to shore. If by chance I encountered my mother when I came home. And if by chance she asked me if I was in the river that day, I would neither confirm nor deny it, but she could tell by looking at me where I was. To confirm to me that she knew she would feel my skin, she knew from experience that the long swims in the river left my skin clean, and soft. Years later, and many miles from home I found a spot similar to that of the swisher. A river nearby went under a train trestle. In order to flow around the foundation the water had to rush to one side with tremendous force. The river, which was already very swift, now formed a turbulent edge that was much like that of the swisher. I was able to attach a rope to a pipe that was bolted to the foundation. All that was left to do now was to throw myself into this deep, pounding rush, and hang on as long as my hands would hold out. In the same way I found that if I extended my arm, then the current would place me gently on a concrete ledge to the side. As often as I could on the hot summer days I would visit this spot, and just like the river I swam in as a boy the water would leave my skin very clean, and soft. The memory of my mom would return to me, and I would smile and softly say to myself, what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.