I was watching my daughter play in the river by the house the other day and I started thinking, how wonderful a river is for a child. There is always something to do, so many different things to catch their eye with a sense of wonder, and a mystery around every corner and under every rock. Through the eyes of a child, everything is an adventure waiting to happen, whether it is something as mundane as watching tadpoles trapped in a pool or something as exciting as riding a raft or tube down the rapids, there is always something going on.
My daughter is five years old now and completely fascinated with rivers and all the things that come with them. Swimming, of course is her favorite thing to do, she would spend all day in the water if she could, playing different games and creating various scenarios to play out in the water. Her latest game is the monster and the mermaid in which Jade is the mermaid princess where she rules over the entire swimming hole and everything in it and she must protect her loyal subjects (our dogs) from the terrible sea monster, played by yours truly.
Once I come out from my lair beneath the canopy of trees on the far bank, she slays me with several well placed splashes and a giant power splash from her princess mermaid tail which of course sends the monster to the depths where he retreats to his hidden lair. Then the fair mermaid princess ascends the boulder in the middle of the hole that is the throne where she accepts congratulations for saving the Kingdom from the loathsome sea monster. Swimming pools are great but swimming holes with all the different shadows, rocks and varying depths tend to give more credibility to this type of adventure than some old cement pond.
When we don't feel like swimming we will sometimes take a raft or tube down the river, she is not quite ready for serious whitewater rafting. but at five years old, a few hundred yards of sliding over the gentle riffles in front of the house must be like a class V excursion down the New or Gauley River. At least that is how it sounds from the screams of delight and apprehension as we plunge from one "big rapid" to the next bouncing off the rocks as we make our way to the bottom of the "rapid". We pull out on the beach and lay there on the sand to reflect on the big journey and Jade recounts the rapids that thrilled her and how they made butterflies in her belly (whitewater junkie in training talk if I ever heard it).
Of course you cannot overlook all the fun that is available on the rivers edge, Jade and I discover all sorts of things, the pretty flowers, rocks, and anything else she finds appealing end up filling my pockets and if it doesn't go in my pockets it is skipped across the surface or thrown for the dogs to check out. The wildlife we find is the most enjoyable for her, there are many creepy crawly things found among the rocks and we must investigate every single one, I mean every snake, frog, worm, bug, turtle, salamander, everything. By investigate I mean she stands over it scared to death (I think she is really pretending) urging me to pickup and control whatever critter has caught her eye so she can touch it or just get a better look while I pretend not to be terrified of the slithering, slimy thing that is seriously creeping me out.
Kids are so inquisitive and need to know everything about everything and that is what I love the most about hanging out on the river with Jade. The endless questions I must answer and the stories and scenarios Jade designs with the information I provide are hilarious. One day she found a small snake under a rock and proceeded to alert every one within a mile of its presence with a blood-curdling scream. Once I had it firmly by the tip of its tail (I had to capture it to investigate properly), I calmly explained (as calmly as possible while holding a snake) it was a ring neck snake and not poisonous (does not detract from creepiness when in your hand).
She decided that it must be a special snake from the mermaids Kingdom since it had a ring around it neck and glistened in the sun, and therefore nice and we should not be afraid (I was still the one holding the snake).
As I get older, I forget just how much fun a river can be, but as I watch Jade now I remember, just how cool everything around a river is to a kid, and how mysterious. It helps me appreciate everything a river has to offer, too often I think of a river as just a place to fish but a river is so much more, it is an ecosystem teaming with many different forms of life and a beauty all it's own to behold and enjoy. I remember when I would spend the whole day along the river, just enjoying its beauty and all the wonders it held for me as a young boy. I was lucky enough to grow up next to a river and I love sharing the river's secrets with my daughter and all the fascinating things I remember from my youth, with hopes she can do the same with her children, after all, what fun would a summer be without a river?