Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Flowering trees from a bridge over waves in the rain

On a whim, I invited the dog along for the ride. After she jumped into the back of the Subaru, I buckled Blueberry into her car seat and we headed off in the drizzle towards Boom's school. Twenty til noon, plenty of time to reach the suburbs by the time preschool let out. He was pretty sedate, and Blueberry was pretty chipper, so we took the long way home: across a few side streets, then along Beach Drive, and finally down onto Rock Creek Parkway where we followed the creek along its course.

Nothing stirs a kayaker's blood quite like driving along a river in the rain. Threading along the easy curves prompts a muscle memory of running shuttle before countless whitewater trips. Each bend in the road, each stolen glance through the passenger side at an interesting ripple in the water seems to quicken the blood a little. It's like a muscle memory for my adrenal gland: first the curves, then the boats off the car, then the first few dips of the paddle...then it's anybody's guess. It's a muscle memory more than a mental memory, because (like my pal Chris) I don't tend to remember the actual rapids or river run very clearly: the alive, present, active and reactive engagement of paddling isn't always conducive to analytical detachment. (Yet somehow the stories of this or that mishap on the river can be recollected with beer.)

But I'm not bombing down the road or anything. Nope, a flat 25 mph for me and my brood. Why rush it? Besides, the roads are slippery.

Most of all, I am enjoying the changing view. It's not exactly a river gorge, but the sides of the creek slope distinctly upward to higher ground above. And the foliage is bright green, because the cold, wet spring has delayed the onset of the dense green canopy. The gray sky and light green cover give a shine to everything, especially the dogwoods that still have their white and fuscia flowers.

The kids' windows are rolled down so that their view isn't obscured by running rivulets or fog. This admits a little spray, but it's refreshing. (The dog is a little prissy when it comes to water, and for that matter she gets a little hazy when the car corners so much.)

The creek is definitely up. In fact, we get to a section that is a little boulder garden, with noisy waves and haystack holes that don't materialize in drier weather. That quickens me more, even if the car stays the same speed. So when I notice a pull-out to the side of the road, it's nothing to bank the wheels and stop by the side of the road. Just in front of us, now I see a bridge through the leaves.

"We're going on an adventure," I tell the kids. I get out, unbuckle Boom from the driver's side carseat, help him on with his firetruck raincoat, and help him get down when no cars are hissing by. We come around back and I leash the dog up and let her out, and grab an umbrella. Then I put on the baby carrier -- Blueberry is almost too big for the veteran Ergo now, but I'm going to need free hands to manage the dog and the boy on the bridge -- and strap Blueberry to my front. We walk over some slick mud to a path towards the bridge.

At the apex of the arch, though the broad wooden handrails at my knee and waist, we look back up towards the boulders. It's frothy and splashy and exciting. (Standing over moving water is archetypal anyways: I think that's why vampires can't cross bridges.) Boom does a good job not climbing through the handrails, and Blueberry is agape and engaged. We cross to the other side, to a broader path under some trees.

Then we clamber down a little towards some wide, flat rocks at the edge of the quick creek. I reitierate to Boom how important it is to keep a safe distance from the water. (From the road, I had already contemplated what a pain it would be to need to rescue boy, dog, umbrella, or self from the current -- but like a kayaker who has seen and participated in many a river mishap, I had thought through courses of action for each eventuality.) Boom slips and slaloms down through the mud, with only my grip on one wrist keeping him up. We throw a few sticks into the river, to illustrate river speed and dunking potential, and because it's fun. (Because of my foresight, I remembered to grip the dog's collar before throwing the sticks: even my best dog rescue plan was probably going to be a fiasco.)

The rain was falling pretty steadily, and the kids still hadn't eaten lunch. And I wanted to leave them with a rushy feeling, not a drab and damp one. So we started back. But at the middle of the bridge, we pause again.


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