Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling on the River

What can make a perfect day even more perfect? Just add water.

For starters, Fourth of July weekend was a flurry of happy activity, though it wasn’t overly patriotic, I’m embarrassed to say. I never found the time to unwrap my fading “Old Glory” from its tightly wound state on the front porch flagpole. I didn’t buy a cute banner to festoon my mailbox.

I bought matching Fourth of July outfits for the kids on sale last year, but could only find my daughter’s. (It turns out that the boy’s outfit was funkified in the back of the minivan. Apparently, he’d yakked on it the one time I let him wear it prior to the Fourth.) The Day of Independence went on nonetheless-- I sent the lad out into the world in his red, white and blue baseball pajamas. At least my disaster recovery skills are pretty sharp.

Thanks to our neighbors, we know the best fireworks-viewing spot in town. A number of savvy citizens tailgate in a business park near the State Fairgrounds. There’s plenty of parking lot space to set up your tables and camp chairs, and there’s a huge field for shooting off legal and illegal fireworks. The park is on a hill, so you have an elevated view of the Fairground fireworks display later in the evening. Best of all, you are avoiding the Fairground traffic. We had our exhausted bairns in bed before the Fairground suckers even got to the main roads. A festive Fourth was had by all.

Since the Fourth was on a Sunday this year, having Monday off was extra icing on the cake. The morning began with blissful sleep until 8:30a.m. (Sleeping until eight-thirty with kids is equivalent to lounging in bed until noon *without kids.) Little did we know that we’d spend more energy on our “recovery Monday” than we did the entire weekend.

We produced a hearty breakfast in record time; in less than an hour we cooked and consumed waffles, eggs and bacon. We were in the van and off to Fred’s house by 10:00a.m. (Fred is one of my ex-zookeeper buddies from the Primate Center.) We picked him up and drove to the Eno River, a beautiful glorified creek flanked by meandering forests with hiking trails. Turtles laze on mossy logs in this river, red-eye bass lurk in stony pools, and raccoons leave emptied freshwater clamshells as proof that the water is clean. The Eno gets wide enough and deep enough in areas to attract canoers, kayakers and swimmers.

We were headed to “Bobbit’s Hole” to show the kids the wonders of playing and swimming in chlorine-free water. “Isn’t it pretty far to the swimming hole?” queried my husband as we extricated the baby-carrier backpack and bottles of water from the minivan. “Nah, it’s about a twenty-minute hike,” I countered. Fred packed his signature bread baguette in a canvas tote bag for a snack, and we were off to the trailhead.

The first fifteen minutes were filled with wonder and discovery. We saw scads of sunning turtles, examined beaver-chewed stumps, and played with the tiny toads criss-crossing the forest trail. Fred cast a fishing lure into the murky depths now and then, but the river nymphs entangled his lines rather than giving up their fishy wards. The boy giggled as he bobbed up and down on Daddy’s back, while the girl held my hand tightly as we traversed rocky terrain and Eagle Scout engineered bridges. “Mommy, where are we going?” she asked as I helped her over a tangle of tree roots. “To a swimming hole,” I replied, explaining that we were going to a place where people had been swimming for generations. “Grandpa probably went swimming in a place like this when he was a little boy,” I added.

Well I want to go to the pool today,” she sniffed haughtily. I thought back to the advice I’d read in a book on family hiking and camping that recommends diversionary tactics when young’uns get bored on the trail. “Hey, look!” Daddy called just in time. “Here’s a big spider’s web!”

Ewww. I don’t like spiders!” came Nature Hater’s reply. “Mommy, why did Daddy show us a spider’s web?”

Because normal kids think they’re cool, I thought hotly to myself. Chapter something-or-other in my hiking book eventually came to mind; kids are not adults, so don’t expect them to act like adults on the trail. “Daddy just probably thought you’d be interested in the patterns in the spider’s web,” I offered. “I hate spider’s webs,” she whined. “Tell Daddy not to show me another one.” I sighed and racked my brain for ways to keep her occupied for the rest of the hike. Alas, it was too late; a rat-a-tat of kinder brain spew soon erupted: “It’s hot.” “I’m thirsty.” “I’m hungry.” “Can we stop?” The book had now become my survival guide, and it suggests frequent rest stops for children. So I opted to stop for fuel and water, hoping it would break the cycle of negative attitude. “See the fish down there?” I asked and pointed at a finned shadow hovering beneath the water’s surface. “I want to watch TV,” she pouted, as she munched on pretzels and sipped water.

Daddy and Fred somehow remained strategically out of sight during most of this duel. I was left to my own devices and my own exasperation. I had definitely over-estimated the length of the hike, and now I was paying for it.
[Editor's Note:
This set-up sounds waaaay too coincidental. Daddy, Fred, did you strand me with the whiny one to teach me a lesson about dragging kids on lengthy hikes? Burning bamboo spikes under the fingernails will soon divulge the truth…]

After the break, we continued down the trail in search of watery paradise. Soon the protests returned: “I hate this.”

We don’t use the word ‘hate’—that’s not nice.”

I *really don’t like this. I want to go to the pool, NOW!”

I screeched the procession to a halt. “We might go to the pool this evening, if you can behave. For now, we are going to the swimming hole. There’s even a beach with round river stones that you can play with.”

Thank goodness that comment bought me a little more time. Of course, I had to answer twenty questions about the rocks; what size were the rocks, what color were the rocks, and many more rock-y questions. It was worth it. Like the Fountain of Youth revealed for the first time to Ponce De Leon, we rounded the corner to a serene lagoon complete with miniature waterfall. We had finally reached Bobbit’s hole!

Fred and Daddy had appeared by now, and spirits lifted. Children’s laugher filled the air. “There’s kids here!” my young explorer exclaimed. “I want to play with them!” Hallelujah. We had survived the hike and lived to tell about it.

The next few hours were filled with a bliss I have not known since I was a kid on the James River in Richmond, Virginia. I drifted on my back and watched the birch leaves sway and twirl in the trees above. I savored the chilly cool of river water beneath, while the shimmering sun tried to bake me in vain. (Viva the miracle that is sunscreen!) We floated, we waded, we threw rocks and watched Fred fish.

Little brother Bo-Bo found fascination with paddling around in a life jacket. His legs splayed out behind him in imitation of the little trail frogs we'd seen earlier. He drank a few cups of river water, but no worries; the Eno is one well-loved and protected watershed.

Big sister flitted between the small pebbled beach and the river boulders along the falls. By the end of the adventure, she was confidently dog paddling in the shallows with her water wings. Fred finally caught a fish that made the trek seem wholly complete. Mission Accomplished. “I don’t waaaaant to go!” arose the mournful wail when I announced it was time to head for home. My citified daughter had become a certified river rat.

The hike back to the car seemed much shorter, somehow. Perhaps it was because both children were silent and dozing, toted along by loving Daddy and dear Fred. When we reached home, Daddy and little brother napped while big sister and I filled up her baby pool. We ended our perfect day lazing in the cool, clear water, looking up at the trees above with a new appreciation.