It’s interesting how you can be frightened of what you love. I grew up next to a gorgeous river. The South Yuba is a playground of smooth white granite, almost too hot to sit on during summer afternoons, but sizzlingly delicious when you come out of the water wet and dripping. The pools are turquoise-green, and the currents are smooth, strong, and loving. When I was younger, we stayed on the sandy beach, swam out to where the water was just above our heads, and quickly came back. As I got older I allowed my friends to convince me to venture further upstream, fighting rapids, clinging to rocky corners to catch my breath, standing on smooth, tall underwater boulders that we knew about only because we swam it so much. Carefully, we’d edge into the full wash of waterfalls, find a place to wedge ourselves, and pretend it was a particularly ferociously jetted tub.
Jeff and I camped on our honeymoon. We chose a few cheap, spartan tent-sites around Monterey Bay and followed a line along the coast up into the giant forests of Northern California. One of the places we made camp in Monterey was a mile walk from the beach. I remember hiking along a narrow trail through grassy fields overarched by eucalyptus trees. There were a lot of butterflies, particularly swallowtails. We picked some fennel that grew along the path and tasted it. The bay, when we got there, was beautiful--blue, warm and sunny,with a giant rocky arm stretching around to the North. Bodysurfers were using it to launch themselves into the waves. I waited on shore, sitting among piles of bleached white branches that lined the beach, and allowed the water to bury my ankles while Skywalker ventured further out. I tried not to think about giant tidal waves. I was glad when he returned.
We went whale watching. I enjoyed standing on the prow of the boat, but was relieved when we got back to shore. And while they were great memories, I was even more glad when we left the ocean and ventured into the redwoods.
My worst nightmares involve tidal waves. I actually dreamed of one the night before the Indonesian Tsunami. Sometimes they’re giant walls of water that send streams of vapor stretching into the sky as far as I can see. Sometimes they’re boiling masses of grey, rising up against a cliff or ledge where I am standing with my family.
The river I live close to now is mostly shallow, wide, and full of bright trout. The rocks on the bottom glow in jewel tones when the sun hits them just right. Grassy islands and trestle bridges, mysterious hollows and miniature forests make me think of some of the darker fairytales. Giant, white-winged birds squat in the middle to fish. In the summer, it is dark green. In the winter, it is an icy jade color. There is a spot at the city park where I can walk out onto a volcanic ledge and watch a terrible descent of rapids pour over jutting rocks, ricocheting out in spray patterns that remind me of feathered headdresses. One of my friends is convinced that the spirit of an Indian chief lives on the island just a stone’s throw from her front porch.
We have a pond in our backyard. I promised myself I’d take my kids out there every day this summer and teach them to swim. I don’t feel comfortable living around water. I worry, and sometimes dream of terrible things happening. But the odd thing is, sitting there right next to what could be (in my mind) instantaneous death can bring a sort of roaring peace. I don't know if it's the calm of sitting just next to ferocity, or the sound of rushing water itself filling the senses entirely so there's no room for anything else, but I am grateful for my rivers.