April 2018

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Summer #21: Down to the River

Summer #21: Last Saturday, Ann and I went on my longest bike ride since radiation with our friends Renee and Alex. We took the Cedar River trail from Renton and rode about ten miles to a place by the river where Latino families were picknicking in the shade and playing with kids in the shallow water, and teenagers with innertubes disembarked from their ride down the river, generally towing a cooler behind. It was a hot summer day for this area, in the high 80s, but we've just returned from North Carolina's high 90s, so to us it felt beautiful. We had our own picnic in the shade: local cherries, ham from PCC and bread from a local bakery as we watched the families play in the water. I said the scene reminded me of the swimming hole (tanke)  I frequented the summer I lived in Michoacan, Mexico. Alex said it reminded her of Mexico, too. Renee said it reminded her of Pennsylvania. Maybe there's a universal river scene that makes us all nostalgic.

The summer I lived in Michoacan, I lived in a small town with three other Americans volunteering with a program called Amigos de las Americas. On hot weekend days, it seemed that everyone in the town went to the tanke to picnic in the shade and rest or play in the water. In the shade, families built smoky fires and snacked their treats. We were more interested in the water. We watched the scene for a while and then slipped, unobtrusively, we thought, into the water. The sixty or so people in the water, unaccustomed to white people in their tanke, moved immediately to the edge, sat on the rocks and, silently, watched us. Fortunately, Juan, whose parents were originally from Mexico, had foreseen this possibility and had brought a football and a frisbee, and finally the kids slipped back into the water, coaxed by the fun of play.

As a teenager, I spent my summers first as a camper and then as a counselor at a sailing and waterskiing camp on the Neuse River, near North Carolina's coast. I love being outside, getting such fun exercise in the sun and heat. Many campers' best loved "jeep rides" where campers would pile into trailers at the back of jeeps and go off-roading, generally getting wet and muddy in the process and in the end eating an ice-cream treat. Despite the temptation to ice-cream, I loved this time best because much of the camp would empty and I could sail or waterski or shoot at the shooting range without waiting in line. From a cabin in the river's bank, I watched the most beautiful lightening storm I have ever witnessed. the lighting fell onto the water as counselors, sillouettes against the night sky,  pulled their sailboats to safety. I wondered about their safety, especially when lightening struck the nearby boathouse when such a loud bang that, after checking to see that the sillouettes were still there, I abandoned the dance of light and storm and went back in to my own caccoon.

One tradition in our church's delegations to a sister community in Chaletenango, El Salvador, is a trip with our hosts to the Rio Sumpul. Though the scene of a massacre during their "civil war" in the 1980s and 1990s, it's now a beautiful spot again, and our hosts pack up tortillas and chicken and such and we spend the day celebraing in the river together. On one trip, an American teenager named Graham and his Salvadoran friend Mario swam to a large rock, climbed onto the rock, and talked in the sun for hours. At the time, Graham didn't speak Spanish and Mario didn't speak English, but somehow they managed quite an extensive conversation.

So, as Allison Kraus sings, "Let's go down to the river to pray," which might look a lot like play. Mary

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