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August 7, 2012

The longest distance between two places
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 06:41 PM * 113 comments

Lately, I’ve been reading Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I’m still only about halfway through, but it’s a fascinating and complicated set of essays. I can see why it won the Pulitzer Prize.

It’s set in the mountains, and though they’re different mountains than the ones where I spent some important parts of my childhood, I feel very much at home in the landscape. One reason is Dillard’s relationship with water. In the same way that her essays center around Tinker Creek, so many of my early memories involve Cavanaugh Creek. That was where we built dams, set off fireworks, and got drinking water. I was standing on its shore when the rattlesnake crawled over my bare foot. The bucket-and-pulley system with which my parents used to send lunch down the hill from the cabin is mostly rust now, nearly as orange as the Tang it used to carry. That creek (and I unthinkingly pronounce it crick: my last remaining ruralism) was the one true watercourse for me as a child. Everything else existed in comparison to it.

Reading the book makes me realize, once again, how far I’ve come from those days and those mountains. And I realize consciously what I’d noticed unconsciously: how different water is here in the Netherlands. I mean ordinary water—I haven’t been here for extraordinary water (yet). Water here is powerful, but it’s placid. Its color changes with the sky, but it rarely splashes or sprays. It doesn’t add to the soundscape, either. I’m sitting 50 meters from a canal right now, but I can’t hear it.

It reminds me of Minecraft, where flowing water is a different substance than still. But I digress.

One of the more powerful and interesting images in the book so far is that of Tinker Creek as an expression of time:

I look up the creek and here it comes, the future, being borne aloft as on a winding succession of laden trays. You may wake and look from the window and breathe the real air, and say, with satisfaction or with longing, “This is it.” But if you look up the creek in any weather, your spirit fills, and you are saying with an exulting rise of the lungs, “Here it comes!”

I’ve been thinking about that image a lot, as I cycle beside our tranquil canals and take the ferry across the broad, flat IJ. Because water here in the Netherlands is time too, but in another way.

I’m going to digress again. I’m coming to the conclusion that digression is contagious, and I’ve caught a fever of it from Dillard.

In classical Greek, there are two ideas of time. There are in English, too, but they’re both called time, so it’s hard to tease them apart. Χρόνος is “a definite time”. We measure it with watches and calendars. What χρόνος does the train leave? But καιρός can also be translated “time”, in the sense of “the right time”. It’s καιρός to leave. When Paul Simon sings that someone was “born at the instant the church bells chime”, he’s describing καιρός.

Dillard’s creek may be time, passing us by from the future (“Here it comes!”), through the elusive instant of the present, and thence to the long outflowing of the past. By comparison, the IJ is a broad, smooth present, a sufficiency of now for whatever we choose to do with it. It’s the time that there will be, and there will be, to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet; to murder and create, and for all the works and days of hands that lift and drop a question on your plate.

But more than one thing can be true at once. Καιρός exists within χρόνος. And Tinker Creek contains the IJ: somewhere in the rushing flow of the future to the past, we can find a vast expanse of the present, a microsecond of eternity upon which all our actions can sail.

Comments on The longest distance between two places:
#1 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2012, 07:18 PM:

I sometimes feel that I can't find a true river anywhere in this country. What the United States calls a river is too broad, slow, deep... I should be able to cross a river myself in a minute of wading. And what it calls creeks or streams are all too narrow, shallow, prone to drying. A proper river should be deep enough to swim in, wide enough to be able to fling myself bodily in, always sufficient for swimming but always just faintly in danger of flash flooding.

But I digress. It is contagious. There's something in there about the dreamy unpredictability of time in childhood, and the solid, thin regularity of time in adulthood, but I can't quite put the metaphor together.

#2 ::: torrilin ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2012, 07:43 PM:

Fade, um, the US doesn't call just one thing rivers.

The Delaware is not slow. But as is proper, it is most unwise to try and cross it without a boat. The Susquehanna is sometimes slow, but it's a tricksy thing and never to be trusted. While I've always lived by the ford at Harrisburg (which is why PA's capital is where it is), even there, wading or swimming can be extremely dangerous. The Ohio and the Mississippi are both gargantuan.

I'm an East Coast native, so when I say river, that's the sort of thing I mean. A river should inspire awe, and terror.

A Midwesterner would disagree with me vociferously for the most part. Madison's "Yahara River" (strictly speaking, a canal mostly in town) and the Wisconsin river and the Rock River... If they were on the East coast, they'd be creeks. Or not even dignified with proper names. A creek is a dignified thing. It might be safe to swim in or wade in, but it will insist on bridges and respect. The idea of a child successfully building a dam in a creek is beyond strange to me.

A stream or brook is too small to swim in to me. It's a matter of some family debate as to when a small watercourse matures from stream to brook. But the main theme here is small. Too small for swimming. Too small for boating. Fishing, perhaps. Depends on the fish, depends on the stream.

This is actually a large part of confusion between speakers of different dialects of American English. It's very important when reading maps to know that local usage will be followed... And I only really can follow 2 variants. Better quality US maps will make it clearer so you don't get as many nasty surprises.

#3 ::: jnh ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2012, 08:30 PM:

Shallow enough to wade across in a minute and deep enough to swim and through yourself bodily in makes for a pretty narrow filter, but I can find you a bunch here in New England (Saco (Maine), Nashua, Warner, Contoocook, Sugar (New Hampshire) Deerfield (Massachusetts)), with lots more where swimming is possible but not allowed (Charles, Assabet, Concord, Sudbury (all in Massachusetts)).
Farther afield, I've swum in the Big Sur river in California and others that I don't remember or never knew the names of when I hitchhiked from Boston to San Francisco and LA as a teenager. The Zion river in Zion National Park in Utah is swimable through the canyon during the right season/flow. I know I've swum in tributaries of the Mississippi and St. Laurence rivers (and were probably called rivers, since it seems that that is one of your criteria).
Even major rivers can meet your criteria at the right location -- the Connecticut up Jim Macdonald's end of it, the upper Mississippi, parts of the Colorado at the right flow even in the Grand Canyon (wading across in a minute might not be doable).

#4 ::: Naomi Parkhurst ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2012, 09:42 PM:

And then there's the Eno River here in NC, which is wadable in some spots, swimmable in others, prone to flooding, and I would definitely call it a river, even though I am not native to the area.

It also has some interesting geological features, including flowing into a fault formed during the breakup of Pangaea. But I digress.

#5 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2012, 11:16 PM:

I am from west of the Mississippi, and out here any watercourse that doesn't dry up in the driest part of the year is dignified with the name of river.

But it can come awfully close to drying up. One October, with my bare hands I built a dam of gravel, sand, and twigs completely across the Skunk River. It was still holding when I came back to check the next day.

#6 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2012, 11:41 PM:

Aristotle said "there is the same time everywhere at once," and also, "Not only do we measure the movement by the time, but also the time by the movement, because they define each other."

If χρόνος is the Mississippi, then καιρός is a steamship, and we are all standing on the aft deck, looking backwards.

#7 ::: Mishalak ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2012, 11:45 PM:

It often seems there is no clear criteria for creek vs river in Colorado. For example the Fall River in Clear Creek County (not to be confused with the one in Larimer County) is a tributary of Clear Creek. And in many seasons I would no more dare to wade across Clear Creek than I would to ride a deer.

#8 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 12:43 AM:

I live a half an hour or so from the Columbia, which is rather impressive. A bit more tame than it once was, because of all the dams, but still a daunting thing.

One of my nieces took this picture or the gorge the week before last:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/stefan_e_jones/7707385470/in/photostream

#9 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 12:54 AM:

torrilin, that particular phrasing--the dismissive, condescending "um" that says you're about to invoke information I ought to know, and gee, aren't I stupid for not having realized that already--is hurtful, and makes me not want to participate in conversations at all. If that's not your intent, you may want to reconsider your use of that approach.

#10 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 02:15 AM:

We don't have any rivers really worthy of the name compared to the Mainland. Plenty of streams flowing from the mountains to the sea.

I've been around a few rivers:

If you're crazy or young enough (I was 18 or 19) you can hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and do a ~2-mile hike along the Colorado. It's narrow there.

The Rogue in southern Oregon is sufficiently wild in spots to allow 3+ whitewater rafting.

The Merced runs like a nice babbling brook outside El Portal near Yosemite.

The Sacramento surprised me; I didn't realize it was as broad as it is, at least near Red Bluff.

#11 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 02:44 AM:

Fade Manly @1:

I'd love to take you to my favorite swimming hole in the Salmon River, or that great place we used to go on the Trinity before the campground closed.


As for me, I've never spent any emotionally significant time next to a brook, a kill, or a burn, though I am fond of people who have. Streams, to my ear, are an urban thing, or something people from other places call what is properly a creek. But again, I know people whose hearts are in the keeping of a stream, and those hearts are well-kept.

I'm sure that Dillard would be surprised at what I call a creek; I suspect I'd be surprised at hers. That doesn't change the roles they play in our emotional landscapes.

Let's remember in this discussion that the vocabulary of watercourses can be a dialect of the language of the heart. And it therefore varies wildly and unpredictably from person to person, except in the fact that it is dear and important. I'd ask people to be kind in this conversation, and respect that fact.

#12 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker To Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 03:20 AM:

In my mid teens I lived in a converted sawmill on a creek a couple of hundred meters from the Delaware River about 40 miles north of Philadelphia. The creek was low enough in the summer to wade in, in most places, but had enough deep spots that there were plenty of places to swim. On the other hand, it mostly froze over in the winter, but (from personal experience) the ice wasn't really thick enough to be hold a 70 kg 16 year-old in a heavy winter coat, and the water was considerably deeper in the winter.

One of the great charms of that creek was that it varied in depth and flow over fairly short distances, so there were fords, swimming holes, rapids, and slow pools ideal for water birds all within short walking distance.

#13 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker To Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 03:27 AM:

The metaphor of time as a river reminds me of a chapter of Roger Zelazny's Isle of the Dead in which the (immortal) protagonist relates an image of time as the flow of a river past the shore of an island on which stand his friends, enemies, lovers, acquaintances, everyone but his colleagues who are also immortal. As he rides the river past the island he comes upon and then leaves behind almost everyone he's ever known. Interestingly, this image is part of the process by which the protagonist reconciles himself to the death just previous of yet another person who was a part of his life.

#14 ::: Marina Muilwijk ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 04:01 AM:

For me, water is the canals between pastures in the "green heart" of the Netherlands. But even more than that, it's the lakes at Nieuwkoop, with their islands and reed beds and places where you don't know if it's just a large reed bed or a small island. The water there does not invite you to play with it or swim in it, it's just there. And it looks like it has always been there and will always be there.

That's also true for the rivers that I'm most familiar with, like the Merwede. "Wide rivers going slowly through endless low lands" as the poet said.

#15 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 05:49 AM:

Marina Muilwijk @14:
But even more than that, it's the lakes at Nieuwkoop, with their islands and reed beds and places where you don't know if it's just a large reed bed or a small island. The water there does not invite you to play with it or swim in it, it's just there. And it looks like it has always been there and will always be there.

That sounds a lot like parts of 't Twiske, the nature reserve near my house. There are, admittedly, parts of the Twiskemeer that people swim in, but those areas are the buoy-delineated exception, not the rule. Most of it is as you describe. I'm still trying to really understand the character of those parts of the landscape and waterscape.

And thank you for commenting, by the way. I come to this country as a stranger, and I see it as an outsider. I very much appreciate the view from the inside, from someone for whom this is the water equivalent of a moedertaal.

#16 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 06:20 AM:

Also, thank you for the reference to Marsman, of whom I had not heard before.

I Googled "wide rivers going slowly through endless low lands" and found this contest page on "Herinnering aan Holland", with multiple English translations of the poem. My Dutch is certainly good enough to read it in the original, but most of the community's probably isn't.

It's certainly worth reading. I think of the land here and see what he, and you, mean.

#17 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 08:09 AM:

I'm from .... I'd call Kansas City the Midwest but newscasters and etc. do not.

We live near the Missouri River and we lived here in 1993, when all the rivers in the region (Mississippi, Missouri, maybe the Ohio) and their tributary rivers exploded from too much rain.

And they're so filthy by the time they come by here that I would not care to wade, swim or anything else in them even if it were safe.

The creeks I'm used to can also inspire awe though most of the time they're ford-able and easy-going.

#18 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 08:20 AM:

For me, the river is the Mississippi, about a mile from my house. You can still see across here; in St Louis, after the Missouri has joined, you cannot. The gorge cut by the river changes seasonally - right now, it is shaded by trees all the way down to the water. I walk along the river path at the top a couple times a month, sometimes more. I can't get down to the river near me, it's too steep, at least for me. If I want to stand on the bank of the river, I have to drive.

The creek is Minnehaha, which I can step across in a few steps. That's about 2 miles away. It's low right now, because of the drought. Minnehaha Falls are beautiful now, as always.

One of the things I love about Minneapolis is how much Nature I can find in the city. I used to go to the Falls by bus when I didn't have a car, and walk down the stairs to the foot of the Falls and watch the water. Then I would follow the path to the Mississippi River, and for a time, barely know I was in a city.

#19 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 09:09 AM:

I live on the Banana River, which is four miles wide, brackish, and flows only with the wind.

It is well inhabited by dolphins and manatees.

In the summer -- after the rains, on moonless nights -- the nitrogen runoff from lawn chemicals creates a bioluminescent effect, so that whole schools of fish appear beneath the surface as green ghosts, trailing mantis light. On such nights we take out the stand-up paddleboards and explore the labyrinth of the Thousand Islands, a heavily-mangroved network of sand atolls dredged up back in the 30's during the cutting of the channel. Come across a river mammal on one of these nights, and it will take your breath away.

The closest true inlet to the sea is at Sebastian, thirty or so miles south. You can also reach the ocean through the Canaveral locks, fifteen miles north.

Legend has it the Banana River was once translucent as glass, and stocked with great schools of six-foot-long redfish, visible from a mile away. The Canaveral port is what brought the silt in, what muddied the waters.

An older legend, from the time of the Ais, tells of a Banana River composed of freshwater, before a massive hurricane rippled the ocean up and over the barrier island.

#20 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 09:14 AM:

DanR @19:
In the summer -- after the rains, on moonless nights -- the nitrogen runoff from lawn chemicals creates a bioluminescent effect, so that whole schools of fish appear beneath the surface as green ghosts, trailing mantis light. On such nights we take out the stand-up paddleboards and explore the labyrinth of the Thousand Islands, a heavily-mangroved network of sand atolls dredged up back in the 30's during the cutting of the channel. Come across a river mammal on one of these nights, and it will take your breath away.

Oh, wow. Wow, wow, wow. That sounds like a heck of a sight. Thank you for the description.

#21 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 09:47 AM:

My grandparent's house was 10 minutes drive from Tinker Creek...someone else owns it now. I wish we hadn't had to sell it.

I miss the mountains and being half-a-day's drive to the beach.

#22 ::: Nickp ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 09:53 AM:

Re: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Annie Dillard has a good eye for detail, but I constantly find myself annoyed by (what I perceive as) her overblown emotional responses to things. Too much drama.

Naomi @4:
I often take my kids to splash around at Few's Ford. I had no idea the geology was so interesting. Thanks for the link

Torrilin @2: As a teenager, I often swam in the Delaware half way between New Hope and Washington Crossing. To actually cross all the way over to NJ, I'd usually use an inflated innertube (also useful for trolling) and paddle with my hands. It never occured to me that it was unwise without a boat! In the summer, when there hasn't been a lot of rain, it is such a warm and friendly river.

Fade @1: The Huron River that runs through Ann Arbor, MI, also fits your requirements.

#23 ::: Nickp ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 09:54 AM:

Apparently, gnomes mistrust my observations about rivers. Or maybe they're Annie Dillard fans.

[We gnomes mistrust three-or-more spaces in a row, since the spammers have started adding random spacing to their spam in an attempt to defeat simple filters. -- Orois Evorinati, Duty Gnome]

#24 ::: Sica ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 10:46 AM:

This as a wonderful post bringing up a lot of memories.

I think I have three "thing of water" as a child.

There's the small streams where I always wanted to know where they came from, they weren't big, maybe a meter or two wide and not deep at all either so it seemed achievable. Maybe I could follow it back all the way and see where it came from. I wouldn't get lost either. The stream is the path. So I set off multiple times.

One of my key streams like that was next to a farm house my uncle had bought as a summer share thing and then invited the whole extended family to come and stay for a week at a time. This was in the deep into Icelandic countryside well east of the now infamous Eyjafjallajokull.

Me and my cousins got to run free most of that week and we went off trying to discover the origins of that stream several times. We also found big pieces of cork, tied small ropes around them and pretended they were our pet seal cubs. Look they want to go down the stream, pushing at their leashes. I was genuinely sad when one of them escaped the leash and floated down the stream and into the glacial river.

Yes, the glacial river, a completely different beast. We were warned to stay well clear of it. It was deep, murky, powerful and treacherous. Deceptively still with a heavy current. Unpredictable too and flooding significantly every now and then bringing with it the stench of sulfur. Dangerous and to be respected.

The third thing of water is the sea and the sea is cold and dangerous.

There's an Icelandic poem by Steinn Steinarr I keep flashing too as well with all this talk of time and water. It's one thats very hard to translate though since it plays on multiple meanings of words.

In Icelandic:

Tíminn og vatnið

Tíminn er eins og vatnið,
og vatnið er kalt og djúpt
eins og vitund mín sjálfs.

Og tíminn er eins og mynd,
sem er máluð af vatninu
og mér til hálfs.

Og tíminn og vatnið
renna veglaust til þurrðar
inn í vitund mín sjálfs.

English translation:
The Time and the Water

Time is like the water
and the water is cold and deep
like my own consciousness

and time is like a painting
by or of the water
and myself in halfs

and time and water
flow pathless to the end
into my own consciousness

#25 ::: Sica got gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 10:47 AM:

I would imagine it would be formatting and weird letter combinations. Poetry, in particular non-English poetry will do that to you.

#26 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 10:52 AM:

abi @11: I haven't gone swimming in a natural fresh-water anything in...at least ten years, come to think of it. Which makes me a bit sad. When I was a kid, the whole school would pile into two vans (...it was a small school) once a week to go to "the river" to swim--even if we went to the secondary backup river, it was never referred to by more name than that--and that's made a very strong impression on my mind as to what a river is.

I find myself a little suspicious of lakes at times. Very pretty to look at, but so big! So still! I'm happy to boat in them, but they never seem to have as much current as I expect. (And half the fun of the river was always in the current, and a quarter in the big rocks.) But so long as it's a swimming hole that's just a quieter part of the current to the side of the river, my brain accepts it as Proper For Swimming.

Brains are funny things that way. It surprises me at times how much I've imprinted on the oddest things from childhood. I can still remember the shock I felt as a child the first time I visited someone's house for dinner and they put the silverware on the table in a different order.

Nickp @22: Google makes that river look lovely, but enormous; it may be the angle of the shots. It's giving me the funny realization that I'm no longer sure how wide the river I swam in as a child actually was; all of my memories of it date back to when I was rather short, and didn't wear glasses.

#27 ::: Fade Manley, gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 10:53 AM:

And I was so careful about my spacing, too!

#28 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 11:04 AM:

Sica @24:

More wow. Wow. Wow. With extra added gosh. Your description made me smile.

We used to try to follow Cavanaugh Creek back up to its source or down a ways toward the Klamath River. But it went through rocky areas both directions, and my parents were worried about snakes. (And quite rightly!)

But the effort crept into my subconscious, and my dreaming mind constructed the places I was forbidden to go. They were consistent from dream to dream, like many pieces of landscape that only exist between my ears. I can still unfocus my eyes now, all these years and miles and kilometers* away, and see the particular shade of green with which the leaves of that imaginary stream bed shone when the sun hit them.

and @25:

Ironically, it wasn't the Icelandic (your compatriots don't seem to spam us much), but the inclusion of three spaces together partway in.

----
* There's something extra-distancing about changing units. It's a kind of meta-transition.

#29 ::: lee ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 11:12 AM:

We live in a valley defined by the Mighty Connecticut River. We've been here since the early 80's, and been all over the valley, always in sight of the river or its works. Bike rides go upstream on one side, and across a bridge and downstream on the other, and across another bridge and home. Paddling goes from one put-in to the next, frequently putting and taking out underneath the bridges we've peddled across. And hikes, while out of reach of the river, take you along the tiny winding splashing tributaries until you outclimb even the topmost reaches and find the summit and look out, and over, the broad stretch of valley. And the river winds through it.

This river has lived in this valley for a long time. The valley has dinosaur footprints from the breakup of Pangaea, and alternating layers of jointed basalt and rough red rock (made into brownstones in NYC - a tiny breath of home in that urban wilderness). That layer cake of rock tipped and sent one edge into the air to form the adorable Holyoke Range that defines the southern end of my expertise.

#30 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 11:17 AM:

Fade Manly @26:

In my dialect, a swimming hole is a place where the river is deep and still enough to allow a person to hang out there with relatively little effort, either swimming or floating on an air mattress.

The one on the Trinity had a wide eddy created by a sand bar, which allowed us to float in a great circle all day long. One part had little whirlpools and random currents that would tug on our limbs as we passed it—not strongly enough to be a danger, but just enough to be interesting. And there were tiny frogs, no bigger than the first joint of my thumb, and three different kinds of riverweed.

The one on the Salmon was smaller and colder, with high rocks one could jump off of (but never dive!) into a part where the current had scoured the gravel bottom deep.

and @27:

Your spacing was fine. But a couple of your ellipses edged onto words that are tld's for countries whose URLs are occasionally troublesome.

#31 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 11:19 AM:

Anyone care to weigh in on cricks vs. creeks?

I think of a creek as smallish and going around rocks, and a crick as so narrow that it can be crossed with a step or two.

Speaking of imprints, my default rock in the real world is blue-gray with white specks, but I think my default rock for text is gray.

#32 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 11:35 AM:

I think that the difference between a crick and a creek is in the pronunciation. They're like the difference between pin and pen. (As in why some folks have to say "I need an ink pen," because if they said "I need a pen," someone might hand them a straight pin.)

#33 ::: Naomi Parkhurst ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 11:39 AM:

Nickp @22, if you're interested, some friends of ours pointed us to a guide to the geology around the Eno. We've gone on a couple of walks with it already and really enjoyed it.

We enjoy Fews Ford a lot, too, both for the wading and for the swimming hole nearby. I think our son's view of what a river should be is going to be shaped by the Eno.

#34 ::: Marina Muilwijk ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 11:43 AM:

The water behind my current house is a canal that was originally dug for military purposes. On one side is the old city; on the other side there were lower lying fields. The idea was that if the enemy came from the east, the defenders would destroy the dyke along the canal, thereby flooding the fields and impeding the advance of the enemy.

It has never actually been used for the purpose, but my wife and I like to boast that we live on the good side of the canal (the side that wouldn't be flooded), while most of our neighbourhood is on the "bad" side.

#35 ::: Joris M ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 11:44 AM:

The water of my youth was the river Meuse where it forms the border between the Netherlands and Belgium.
Most of its flow goes through the deep, slow canal nearby (a water that was not water), the river itself is meandering and wild. Dangerous and full of eddies during normal times, and impressively wide when floods threatened and occurred. Always impressive, never a friend.

#36 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 12:10 PM:

During my elementary school years (and just beyond) we lived in a suburban house literally on the edge of town; a road ran along the back of the lot, and on the other side was farmland. On the side of the lot, what we called a creek, ambling along in a depression in the ground that was six to eight feet wide and maybe four feet at its deepest, was always wet. If it hadn't rained recently, the water would maybe be six inches deep. With rain, a couple of feet. If I had my bedroom window open, I could hear the chuckling of the water. There were tadpoles, minnows, and such, although not the mussels that lived in another creek in town, a place where we had thought we would build a house but didn't.

The creek was a natural feature, running on the farmland before the housing was developed. We lived on a cul-de-sac, and the large turnaround where we played kickball sat on top of the creek, which had been channeled into a rather large pipe that ran beneath. Small enough to flood, once, getting into our garage; large enough for me to take a dare and crawl all the way through when I was about nine. Just a big old metal corrugated pipe, with dirt fill. It was a big shock to visit the area, decades later, and see how the creek had been denatured, with concrete abutments and a chain link fence. No way to play in that creek, now.

I spent part of my summers then with a somewhat larger body of water; the YWCA summer camp, now entirely and mysteriously disappeared, was on a bank of the Kentucky River. Two of those summers, we swam in the river, and then they built--finally--a swimming pool. The river did not flow particularly fast there, and was a couple hundred feet across, which looked suitably vast to a nearsighted girl without her glasses. It was an alien place--Lexington had no river--wet, muddy to descend to, greenish-brown, murky unlike any of the manicured swimming pools in town with the bright clear water. Seemingly, it harbored alien life; we were required to get our ears swabbed out with alcohol by the nurse directly we came back up the hill to camp from swimming. Time definitely ran oddly there--one could laze about forever, while still only taking the allotted hour.

We rowed boats; one mainstay of the camp schedule was the row up to Rock Island for a cookout. One year, one of the campers had parents who had, gods know how, brought back a junk from a stay in the Orient, complete with carvings, dragons, and such; they brought it down the river and we all got to go a short distance on it. Perhaps a bit out of its normal element, but an amazing way to travel on a river that I had hitherto navigated only by my own muscle power.

#37 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 12:18 PM:

The water of my childhood was the Big Ditch, aptly named: an artificial drainage ditch that flowed through my rural Georgia hometown. Very rarely, it dried up to a string of puddles from which I once rescued 2 catfish minnows that subsequently ate the fins off my goldfish, jumped out of the aquarium, and died.

In flood, it was about 10 feet deep and way too fast and dangerous to get into.

At any time, it was liable to contain a certain amount of raw sewage.

I crossed it ten thousand times, first scooting, then walking, across an iron pipe that bridged it.

I caught fish out of it using a cane pole and a bent pin for a hook.

I sailed magnolia-leaf canoes down it.

I got my first leech in it.

I'm getting a little misty thinking about it even now.

There exist little patches of severely degraded 'nature' that are still adequate to awake wonder and reverence in a child.

#38 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 12:50 PM:

The other thing about creeks is how hidden so many of them are. You're driving down a road, and there's a sign, and you reach the bridge and try to look down, and it seems like nine times out of ten, at least here in Central Texas, there's nothing to be seen. Whatever creek there is--or was--is dry, or covered in vegetation, or both. People round here could be forgiven for thinking creeks are always tiny things, maybe even mythical, unlike a couple of central Kentucky creeks, fifty feet wide in spots, that were called creeks only because they *just* fell short of the 100-mile-long rule for calling them rivers.

#39 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 01:10 PM:

Magenta Griffith @18--my experience with the Mississippi, at St. Louis and below, is that it's entirely possible to see across it but that crossing it in a small boat without a motor requires a lot of ambition and, possibly, a marked lack of judgment*. I've crossed it by ferry at Ste. Genevieve, in Missouri, and only a dense fog would have hidden the far bank, and the same was true a bit farther downstream at Tower Rock. (In dry weather with low water you can wade out to Tower Rock from the Missouri side.) Even below Cairo and Bird's Point, where the Ohio and Mississippi join, you can see across the channel, except in floodtime. It's not always a good view, with clear, crisp details, but except at the lakes in the upper stretches of the river, it's never much over a mile wide until you're close to Lake Pontchartrain.

"Especially at places like Chain of Rocks, in St. Louis, and down below the confluence with the Ohio.

#40 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 01:25 PM:

My default water is not a river or a creek, but a spring. Since I grew up in the Missouri Ozarks, this isn't as odd as it might sound; thanks to the karst geology of the Ozarks, Really Big Springs are pretty common there, as you can see on the part of this list that describes the outflow of 15 large springs in the state; the one that lives in my mind is Maramec Spring, which has an average outflow of 96 million gallons (US gallons, converts to over 363 million liters) daily. It's in a park based around an old ironworks, which used the water power from the spring to run the forging equipment. We went there regularly as I was growing up; it was the default place for picnic outings for a lot of people where I grew up.

The water from the spring joined up with Dry Creek to form the Meramec River. Dry Creek helped shape my ideas about creeks; because of its gradual increase in size as it crossed Phelps County I knew creeks could range all the way from "step across" to "wade/swim across", and might or might not be navigable by small boat or canoe. The local rivers, like the Meramec, the Gasconade, the Maries, the Bourbeuse (the French-sounding names are not an accident), and the Big and Little Piney Rivers, were definitely a step down from the Missouri and the Mississippi, but still large enough to be substantial bodies of water (sometimes deceptively--the Gasconade was labeled thus by explorers who were disgusted to find out it wasn't as big as its broad mouth at the Missouri promised.) They might, at some spots, be safe for swimming, and certainly for small boats; some were at least partially navigable by steamboat and barge, although the channels were not always of reliable depth.

Also, if we are going to quote poetry about rivers here, I am going to throw in a couple of verses from Paul Goodman's tribute to Henry Hudson and the Hudson River:

Oh many are the lovely northern rivers!
the Housatonic and Connecticut
and Charles and James and Thames and Roanoke
and the St. Lawrence and the Kennebec
and the Potomac and the sweet Delaware,

and not of them the least the lordly Hudson;
and all of them have made the fortunes
of famous towns as arteries of trade,
but all of them flow down into the sea
all of them flow down into the sea.

(from "The Weepers Tower in Amsterdam"; Goodman wrote another one called "The Lordly Hudson", which starts

"Driver, what stream is it?" I asked well knowing
it was our lordly Hudson hardly flowing,
"It is our lordly Hudson hardly flowing,"
he said, "under the green-grown cliffs."

He had a thing about the Hudson, it is safe to say.)

#41 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 01:32 PM:

I had no idea of the name of the little creek behind my parents' second house in DC until I looked it up now, and I haven't seen it since 1959. It was the Minnehaha Branch, of all things! in Bethesda MD. The Army Corps of Engineers came in during the 3 years my parents lived there and added some concrete flow-restrictors so it wouldn't flood. I ended up getting stuck on one of those when I was 5 in the snowy winter, trying to leap up to catch the edge of the concrete and not get myself caught in the water (which was maybe two inches deep) -- over and over and over until I was too tired to try again. And then one of my older brothers noticed I wasn't following along any more, and came back to help me out.

It felt like hours, but it was probably only 15 minutes. That was the first time I thought I might die. And probably the least likely to have actually resulted in death, when I look at it from here. But the fear was very, very real at the time.

The creek out behind Tassajara Hot Springs has a lovely swimming hole with a rock slide about half a mile downstream, and if you're there it's really worth the visit.

#42 ::: Jenavira ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 02:18 PM:

This has crystalized for me why I was always baffled by rivers in the English-landscape-based fantasy novels I read as a child (Narnia first, but certainly others). When I was growing up my experience of "river" was the Des Moines and the Mississippi. You didn't play in rivers. You didn't swim in them, and you definitely didn't try to cross them by any means other than a bridge. There were just there, the prairie equivalent of mountains: landmarks and things to be gotten around.

Lakes, though. I swam in the lake, both on the beach and in the middle of the lake off the side of my father's sailboat. I laid claim to my own little island, really a large sandbar that was later swept away by the 1993 floods. I've never lived more than a few miles from a lake, except when I was in college (where the Rock River was yet another river too treacherous for swimming). Then it was Madison's delightful cluster of lakes, with little wildernesses tucked up against them in case you needed it. Now I'm about ten miles from Lake Michigan, but it's not really the same sort of thing. It's too far away, and in any case much too large.

#43 ::: rudi ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 02:27 PM:

In mountain territory (the alps, in my case) water takes the form of springs and small creeks, the sort you cross with a jump or three big steps from stone to convenient stone. They provide cold drinking water and orientation: when you get lost in the mountains, you find one and follow it downstream, and you will end up where people live.

#44 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 03:05 PM:

My childhood water was the creek running along the back of our property. It was about 6-8 feet wide on average and too deep to wade across; there was a fallen tree that made a nice bridge. We didn't swim in it, although I think we all fell in at least once. Mostly we played on the shore and paddled in the shallower bits. It was apparently a bit polluted--too much so for fish or frogs or whatever--but it looked clear enough to be appealing. (Except when it rained, when the creek rose quite a bit and became full of red Georgia mud. We stayed away from it then.) The time my brother got a deep cut on his foot while playing at the creek, however, my mother hauled us all off for tetanus shots as a precaution.

We mostly stayed fairly close to the bit behind our house. Not far downstream, there were two large (ten foot? twelve foot?) culverts running under the road. Occasionally, we would pick our way through one of the culverts*, but the creek deepened immediately beyond, and the flood-walls along the both sides were too high and sheer for us to go any farther without swimming.

About once a summer, we would take a notion to venture upstream to the falls, a distance of about half a mile. There was a sort of path along the bank of the creek, fairly close to the water, but several feet above it. The falls themselves were not a single curtain of water, but a steep series of granite steps/shelves with the water down running over them. It was shallow there, very spread out over the rocks, and it was possible to climb up through the water, being careful not to slip on the wet rocks. (There was another way to the falls, around by the road and through someone's yard, but that was boring.)

*In dry weather, there was room to wade and/or walk along the edge of the water running through the culverts. After a heavy rain, the culverts would be full, or nearly, and a few times it rose high enough to go over the road.

#45 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 03:29 PM:

Interesting to read these... My own relationship with water is complicated enough that I don't want to go into the details just now, but involves its classic associations with emotion and sexuality.

My childhood "neighborhood water" was a storm drain... nowadays, the development I live in is bordered by the Meadowcreek, which is currently being rebuilt. It was a very sick little river -- badly eroded, infested and overgrown with exotic species, and frequently hammered by storm surges. The workers are trying to put it into a stable course, as well as working on upstream stuff to help deal with runoff and storms.

#46 ::: Sica ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 03:50 PM:

Abi @28 Thank you, I'm not used to getting that wow response, I have a huge grin on my face right now.

and I love reading everyone's slices of water.

#47 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 04:04 PM:

My memories of water as a child... well, I'm almost embarrassed to post it here. I grew up in well-drained, well-regulated Suburbia. We didn't have a river. We didn't even have a pond. (There was a lagoon all the way at the other end of town, but we hardly ever went there, and my memories of that mostly have to do with feeding ducks and getting my fingers bitten by their hard rough beaks.)

But for water, running water... it was storm drains. The street gutters. I'd race paper or leaf boats against my sister down the street. There was a loading-dock drain in a building a block away that frequently got stopped up by leaves or debris, resulting, after a strong rain, in a wedge-shaped very temporary very small pool on which we'd float upside-down umbrellas (shhh, don't let my parents know....)

There was a specific storm drain, on my way to school, where under the street you could hear the water running even on sunny days. My sister and I invented a whole elaborate underground world down there called "Diamond City", and we would drop little pieces of broken glass down the sewer grate to the denizens of that subterranean town as a princely (princessly?) gift of building materials from On High.

Small things. But important, to a child.

I'd almost forgotten about Diamond City. I do hope some other child is dropping little bits of glass (don't cut yourself!) to them down there...

#48 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 04:12 PM:

Cassy B @47:

There is no cause on earth to be ashamed of a childhood that includes Diamond City. Long may it shine under the streets.

#49 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 04:39 PM:

I don't even know the proper name of my creek—if it even has one. (A map suggests it goes by the unlovely moniker of Dry Creek Ditch No. 2.) I must have spent a good half of my childhood in it. Building dams: check. Wading: check (when there is water). Swimming: once. The neighborhood kids managed to build up a dam enough to produce a pool that was maybe two and a half feet deep. I successfully dog-paddled in it a time or two. The city (or whoever was in charge of such things) innevitably came along and knocked it down.

Catching minows: check—especially in late summer, when it's getting dry and they're confined to the remaining pools. One had to go to the smaller ditches for crawdads, though. My creek ran too fast accomodate them. Spring runnoff would produce white water that one did not want to mess with, however.

Then there came the Flood of '65 (which I gather was a 100-year flood). My creek jumped its banks and borrowed the road-bed of our street for a while: fast-running, not quite a foot deep. Take your feet right out from under you if you weren't careful.

After the flood receded, the creek bed (formerly a gentle swale maybe five feet deep and six feet across at the bottom) had become a Canyon: a good thirty feet across, ten feet deep, with dead-vertical sides. It was wonderful to play in until they graded it back and put in boulders for erosion control—little hidden crannies and tiny beaches. I mean: beaches. Never mind that they were only three feet across. Sand bars, even.

Now, Boulder Creek, the main waterway that goes through town, is actually big enough to warrant some care. (We lose a kayaker or two every year.) Good inner-tubing in the spring. It, however, is still most decidedly a "creek," not a "river."

But for either of these, or any of the other myriad creeks or ditches around the area, one does need a taste for brisk temperatures. Especially in the spring, fed as they are by snowmelt. I apparently have an unusual tolerance for cold, wet feet. Wading through slushy snow sometimes just feels pleasantly cool. I credit this to lots of wading in my early years.

Bioluminescence: I went on a trip out into Puget Sound one weekend in '74 with the family of my former SIL. We dropped anchor in the little bay of Sucia Island overnight. Debbie's father called me out while he was swabbing down the deck, guessing correctly that I'd never seen this phenomenon. You drag the mop through the water, and it's engulfed and trailed by streaming green fire. Lift it up, and the drops become glowing green motes. Just magical.

#50 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 04:39 PM:

For me, water is ocean. I grew up in New York, and rivers (the Hudson, the East River) existed only to be crossed by bridge or tunnel: what counted was the huge grey Atlantic, which dominated the world and seemed to pull everything, even the skyscrapers, down toward its depths. Hurricanes rose from it, as did the lesser storms.

When I moved to the midwest, (Cleveland, Chicago), there was no ocean, but there were big lakes: Erie and Superior. They had tides, and you could not see their boundaries. They were not ocean, though -- they smelled wrong.

I moved to San Francisco, Fog City. I lived in the Castro District. I loved the sound of the foghorns, bellowing through the night. I would take public transportation west to Ocean Beach; bundled against the cold, I would sit on the sandstone cliffs, watching the clouds and waves, and the passing ships, and wait for dolphins to surface.

Now I live across the Bay, surrounded by small houses, and trees, but I know exactly where the Pacific is. On the rare mornings when the fog boils eastward far enough to blanket my town, I welcome it. On a windless night, I hear the foghorns. San Pablo Creek runs a block away from my house. In summer it's a grassy ditch; in winter it rises with runoff. Last winter in a heavy rain it burst its banks, and covered the nearest street with a four foot torrent, stranding cars. We splashed through it, grinning.

Water is ocean.

#51 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 04:59 PM:

So there was the river for swimming in. That required a car to get to, even if the ride wasn't very long, and there were always adults around, because even in that rather relaxed community you didn't send third-graders out swimming without adult supervision. (The seventh-graders got rather more leeway there.) It was a friendly river that never actually killed anyone we knew in one of its flash floods, though it did sweep two of the older boys who should've known better down a few miles once, where they had to be fished out.

I digress. It was a nice river, is what I'm saying. Lots of big rocks to sprawl over, some shady trees around, one place deep enough with a little cliff over that you could jump in safely--I was brave enough to do that once or twice, though its height (maybe six feet above the water?) was terrifying--and that was The River if we were talking about rivers at all.

...which is sort of funny, because there was a river right through our back yard. There was a river running through the middle of town that was, right behind the compound we lived on, at the bottom of what seemed a vast canyon. (My adult estimation says it was more like thirty feet down, but it seemed fathomless to me at that age.) There was a very sturdy metal suspension foot bridge over it, to get to the other half of town without having to go all the way down to the driving bridges, which would bounce all around when crossed. The mark of not being a little kid anymore was the ability to run across it so fast that it bucked and heaved wildly, bouncing UP when your feet were going DOWN, like a private, terrifying rollercoaster.

No wonder they made the fencing along the rails so high. They knew what kids were like. And each end of the bridge had a gate with a lock on it, so no one could wander out on it by accident.

But that river down at the bottom of the canyon? I never once went down there. Thick brush around it, tall trees... We were pretty sure there weren't any jaguars in there, but, well. You never know, right? It was dark and dangerous. Steep. You could die, maybe, falling down there, without even a flash flood. Even the older kids who went wildly ranging through the wild clusters of trees, and who once took me to a set of vines set on a slope so steep that swinging on a vine could take me over tree tops--even those kids never went all the way down to that river. We didn't even much talk about it. It was just a hazard in the back, with the more interesting bridge over.

And it's sort of odd to realize, all these many years later, that it was probably the same river as the one we swam in, a few miles removed.

#52 ::: Sarah Magpie ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 04:59 PM:

I grew up in Alaska, and for me water is many distinct substances, even before you consider snow, and all the possible permutations of ice.

There is not-glacial fresh water. You might find it running in a creek or stream (my mind distinguishes between the two based on the pitch of the bed, creeks are steep, streams are not). You could find the same sort of water in the creek by my grandmother's house in Washington state. The forests surrounding the creeks and streams of Alaska and Washington are different enough that I can talk about them only briefly before saying, "but the smells..." and falling silent. That sort of water might also be found in a lake or upland tarn. Water you can wade or swim in if its warm enough. Close enough to the sea and it is choked with fishermen and dead salmon at certain times of the year.

Then there is glacial outwash, the milky green of pale jade. The Jordan River in the old spiritual? The one that kills the body and not the soul? I'm certain that it's a glacial river. Glacial rivers often are more gravel bar than water, with thickets of alders growing in the middle, until the course changes again. The river course winds across its broad plain, doubling and meandering, always secretive. What a glacial river takes, it keeps. You might kayak a glacial river, but never swim in it. If you should be compelled by gravity or necessity into this aspect of water, it's cold enough that the only response is copious, involuntary swearing as if the invocation of hell and damnation might warm you.

Then there is the ocean. I like swimming, and swimming in the ocean is my preferred mode. But you never forget that you are there on sufferance, and in some places you do not trespass at all.

But the water closest to my heart, are the rivulets of meltwater running down the street, and dripping from the eaves that say that winter is over and past, and the squawking of gulls is heard in the land. (We all find our own seasonal marker, in my hometown, it's the seagulls coming back.)

#53 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 05:18 PM:

I am amazed and delighted by this thread. It's like one of the stories in Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, the one where memories are traded every solstice and equinox, so that you go away with your head full of things you've never seen.

I'm going to bed now. I wonder if I will dream of a piece of cork, shaped like a manatee and glowing with phosphor. It'll swim the broad rivers of the flat land and go under high bridges and through deep canyons. Then it'll dive through a culvert and glide past a diamond city in the storm sewers. (The glass fragments will reflect and refract its glow, and the tiny inhabitants will all cheer as it passes overhead.) It will come to rest in fidelio's spring, which connects through mysterious ways to the headwaters of Cavanaugh Creek. And there will be poetry, and a recitation of the names of rivers in the style of a litany of the saints, and it will end with a thousand voices shouting the true name of the sea, which I will forget when I wake up.

#54 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 05:39 PM:

Wow. All sorts of memories boiling up:

Fade Manley @26: I find myself a little suspicious of lakes at times. Very pretty to look at, but so big! So still!

Part of the year and a half I spent in Minneapolis, we lived a very few blocks from Lake Calhoun. One of those summers, I was in the habit of having a swim every day, until the lake got too overgrown with seaweed (lakeweed?) and was just creepy to go into. (Later in the summer, the mowers would come out. Mowing the lake, who knew?) Calhoun is the center of a string of three lakes, bracketed on the north by Lake of the Isles, and on the south by Harriet.

My other favorite form of exercise was riding my bike around those lakes. They were big enough that circumnavigating all three was a good bit of exercise, if somewhat lacking in vertical challenge. (One wanted to be careful at night so as not to crash into a goose.)

If one was bored of riding around the lakes, there was (is?) a bike loop going east to the Mississippi, up a ways, and then back to South Minneapolis. I confess that the idea of a waterway having traffic lights on it is a bit alien to me.

Then there was a trip taken with friends up north somewhere, during which one was able to actually step over the Mississippi.

My boss, during the time I lived in Mpls, once commented about a visit he'd made to Boulder. "There are ditches everywhere." He seemed perplexed. But before then, I hadn't really noticed: yes, there are. You can't go more than a few blocks without crossing one. Some of them have been paved over and are now underground. Boulder's geography is dictated by them: going east-west is trivial, because there are a zillion cross-streets. Going north-south is rather more constrained, because you have to navigate a ridge and/or water crossing every quarter mile or so. Sorta like Seattle, on a very much smaller scale. They're so ubiquitous that I have to think hard to count how many I cross on my bike ride to work: at least four. And I'm probably forgetting a couple.

Magenta Griffith @18: I remember encountering Minnehaha Creek. Very odd beast, noodling along placidly through a city park, between banks covered in lawn. Not even a foot deep. Imprinted as I am on Water! Crashing! Over Rocks! this thing seems very calm and domesticated, and strangely dreamlike, with the surface of the water being barely lower than the tips of the grass, and blood-warm to wade in.

fidelio @40: My default water is not a river or a creek, but a spring.

Oh, this brings up a sad memory. As a wee child, we commonly camped along Rifle Creek, on Colorado's Western Slope. Over on the far side of the campsite from the creek itself was a wee spring, running barely more water than would come out of a bathtub tap full on. But clear and cold cold cold! A magical little hidden crystaline treasure. I actually spotted a fish in there once, nearly six inches long; huge, for its watercourse.

Then after being away for a number of years, we went back when I was a tween: they'd covered the spring over with a cement block with a metal spigot sticking out the top. Why, why, why did they do that?

rudi @43: when you get lost in the mountains, you find one and follow it downstream

Yup. I never had occassion to use it, but I remember clearly getting this bit of advice from my father, as a wee small child.

Mary Aileen @44: I think we all fell in at least once.

Whenever we'd go out for a picnic, we'd nearly always end up at a spot next to a creek. (In the Colorado mountains, roads tend to follow watercourses, for obvious reasons.) Very nearly always, my brother would contrive to "accidentally" fall in the creek.

For this reason, whenever I travel anywhere, I always pack an extra change of clothes over and above what I think I'll need; you never know when you're going to fall in.

abi: @53: Wow.

#55 ::: Doug K ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 05:55 PM:

my favourite river poem fragment:

I do not know much about gods; but I think the river
Is a strong brown god -- sullen, untamed and intractable,
Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;
Useful, untrustworthy as a conveyor of commerce;
Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.
The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten
By the dwellers in the cities -- ever, however, implacable,
Keeping his seasons and rages, destroyer, reminder
Of what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiated
By worshippers of the machine, but waiting, watching and
waiting.

- T.S. Eliot, The Dry Salvages

In particular when canoeing something large and frightening the strong brown god speaks to me.

DanR @19 - once I saw that bioluminescence, canoeing in Tomales Bay from a camp on Hog Island. It was like Fantasia, perfectly astonishing.

To quote myself on another river trip,
Only one rapid of consequence left, Douglas Creek, half-an-hour downriver. We scouted this one since we could. Instead of washing out, the rapid had just bulked up magnificently, huge standing waves curling into white foam. The sun reappeared briefly. In its light the waves seemed lit up from within, glowing brown and gold like tiger's eye. I remember taking a small boat out into the swells off Shark Point, the westernmost tip of Australia: the huge wine-dark waves rolled in with a thousand miles of ocean behind them. These waves were a kind of landlocked miniature version of that emotion; driven by seasons rather than ocean.

"The old voice of the ocean, the bird-chatter of little rivers,..
From different throats intone one language."
- Natural Music, Robinson Jeffers

On canoeing, more here.

I thought of Heraclitus and 'everything flows', then found everything I had known about his quote and rivers was mostly wrong. The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy has a beautiful explanation:
"ποταμοῖσι τοῖσιν αὐτοῖσιν ἐμϐαίνουσιν, ἕτερα καὶ ἕτερα ὕδατα ἐπιρρεῖ.

potamoisi toisin autoisin embainousin hetera kai hetera hudata epirrei.

On those stepping into rivers staying the same other and other waters flow.

This.. has the linguistic density characteristic of Heraclitus' words. That the quote.. is genuine is suggested by the features it shares with Heraclitean fragments: syntactic ambiguity (toisin autoisin ‘the same’ [in the dative] can be construed either with ‘rivers’ [“the same rivers”] or with ‘those stepping in’ [“the same people”], with what comes before or after), chiasmus, sound-painting (the first phrase creates the sound of rushing water with its diphthongs and sibilants), rhyme and alliteration."

#56 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 05:58 PM:

Water, and childhood:

My house was built in 1961, on land that until then had been farmland since before the Revolution. There had been a stream through our yard at one point; it was supposed to have been drained, but you could see the path of the stream bed in the way the water pooled up every time we had a heavy rain. Had the houses not been built until after 1961, they might not have been built at all on the grounds of wetlands conservation; there were willows and catalpas planted along the property lines, beyond the maples, taking advantage of the marshy ground.

The town had an old reservoir, no longer used for drinking water once the MDC brought in water from the Quabbin. (Wonderful water, delicious, much nicer than the weird-tasting minerals in Belmont Springs water.) The reservoir became a swimming pond, with a coarse sand beach all around, and frightening porta-potties at the top of the slope that flushed, loudly, with a blue liquid, like airplane toilets. You had to pay a fee to swim there; seasonal passes were octagonal plastic tags (metal, in my earliest memories) on elastic bands that fit around a wrist or an ankle.

We always went to the beach, though, for at least a week every summer, sometimes a month. The Atlantic, of course, in Maine, at Ogunquit. Fine sand, waves to play in, VERY cold. My brother taught himself to surf standing up on a belly board, at which point my parents got him a real surfboard, and a wetsuit.

Summer camp had a lake, although on the map it was called a pond. You could swim across it at one part (away from the roped-out lesson area, near the Tarzan swing) from a small slope to a basking rock at the other end, though there was a dock partway. You had to develop some stamina to make it all the way to the rock. And there were canoes, and kayaks, and even some Sunfish sailboats, though the real sailing lessons happened on Penobscot Bay, where you could be sure of wind. I loved those.

There weren't many rivers in my childhood, at least until I was thirteen and canoed the Allagash. I was astonished, on that trip, that the guide had us get our drinking water from the river -- the main river of my childhood was the Charles, which was so famously filthy there was a song about it. By the time I was ten or so, it was possible to swim in the area up around Newton without risking unspecified horrible diseases, but I certainly never did.

Also, my elementary school backed up on some conservation land. If you look on the maps, it says something about Old Paint Mine (they dug pigments there, in Colonial days) and the pond surrounded by birches was only Beaver Pond. But as far as I was concerned, looking down the hill at it through the chain-link fence that kept us out of there, staying as far from the kickball games as I could, I was looking at Galadriel's Mirror. I was too afraid of Getting In Trouble to climb the fence, at recess, but I dreamed, oh how I dreamed, of escaping into the woods and taking refuge with Galadriel, if she'd have me. I wasn't certain she would.

I did hike down there, eventually, when I was a teenager. I saw no elves (I'm sure they didn't want me to) but the pond was still as beautiful, close up.

#57 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 07:32 PM:

Well, let's see, there was the Columbia at Richland, which my mom called "the Big Drink of Water", but we never got any closer to it than driving over a bridge. I was even then more intrigued by a cattail-filled marsh-swamp we drove past.
Then we moved to Bellingham and in the midst of vacant grassy areas I discovered Padden Creek, with a gallery forest thick enough that one opening therein leading to a tiny beach was my own secret. But I had a bigger soft spot for the swamps nearby; in fact I thought I was the only swamp fan in the world.
For various reasons it wasn't until adulthood that I, now able to choose my own home, landed in Seattle, and one winter found that Green Lake had turned into a crystalline sheet that made the oddest squealing sounds when someone threw a pebble onto it. When the ice broke up and the wind returned, it became zillions of little tinkling bells.
But I guess there had to be a river again. On a chance visit to Renton, I saw a sign pointing to a library. Since I can't resist a library, I went that way--and found that the library had a river running right under it! Half building and half bridge! And that might have been part of why [besides chance] I eventually wound up hanging my hat in this town.
That was 25 years back, almost 26. Since then, the library has been my second home and the Cedar River a constant presence, even when it does not have the autumn contingent of big red fish in it [sockeye]. And when that river comes into spate, it is the best show in town. It outdid itself in '90 and everyone else was flabbergasted too, but the library was not even dampened. But after that, I found that it was not just "that river that runs under the library", all of a sudden it had become "my river".
But my library has just had a narrower escape than any flood. Hard times for the city had caused many of us to vote to join the county library system, to keep the library alive--but when that vote passed, the people running said system said system betrayed us, announcing intent to close the river building we'd occupied for decades, make it into something unspecified, and put us into a much smaller building in the midst of a less than thriving downtown a few blocks away. We had not been warned about that. Well, the floodwater hit the fan. Some citizens got active and forced the city to put it on the ballot, as to which site we wanted. Others wrote to the local fishwrap and blog; rhetoric flew, and campaign signs adorned yards, businesses and even bike panniers.
It was a grassroots...deluge of activity. Last night the counting of ballots began--and we pulverized the opposition 3 to 1. It looks like the library will stay over the river after all, with some remodeling, and for another couple of generations or more, Renton will still be able to say we have the world's coolest library. Supporters gathered at the house of a councilmember, and when the numbers came up, our cheering resounded for miles.
That's my water story, even if it wasn't from childhood. But I still like swamps/wetlands, and in 1990 helped persuade the city to buy one of my favorites that was up for sale [it was distinguished by dramatic morning mist in the fall], and it was saved too.

#58 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 09:03 PM:

I'm still trying to come up with anything interesting to say about water in my childhood or later life, but I just want to say that there is so much beauty in this thread.

Thank you all, but especially abi for starting it.

#59 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2012, 09:38 PM:

Doug K @ #55, there's a wonderfully well-told story of the exploration of the Niger River which uses Eliot's term as a title: The Strong Brown God.

#60 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2012, 01:03 AM:

When I was taking college classes in high school, I sometimes had the chance to wander by the creek that passed through campus, while I waited for the bell tower to inform me it was time to move on to the next thing. It babbles, near there, over large, well-smoothed stones, with just enough footbridges to keep you from ever having to walk too far before you can make your way across.

I used to bike along the edge of the road that ran alongside the river near my home, but that was a good steep twenty feet or so straight up from any water. It was close to the house, so that was in its favor, but I always preferred the central park, where you could step ten feet inside the woods and not be able to tell that there was a busy street on the other side of those trees over there.

We used to go swimming at the public pool, which was a stretch of paved riverbed with lifeguards and safety buoys. The river and fish ignored both paving and people... And up to a nearby bridge, a few times every summer, for sandwich picnics and rock-skipping.

The thing I miss most about living there was the ability to slip off into undeveloped space from almost anywhere I was ever likely to be.

#61 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2012, 01:21 AM:

There's a stream going through Read Park in Freeport, Illinois.

Actually, the first magical place I can remember is there. There's a well sort of thing, a spring with a wall around it, and stone benches, and it's all very secluded in a bunch of pines. 'Very secluded' here meaning that I thought it was perfectly reasonable to drop myself in there-- water perhaps as deep as I was at the time-- when there was a road and the park pool right across it. But when you're a kid, when you are intentionally creating magic because making it up is what you have, you don't care. It's a magic place because we found it, my father and I, and then I couldn't find it again.

But the stream. Another spring-- Dad and I found it, or at least part of it-- and a stream that runs under a road and past the park office, and then there's the streamy part of the park. There's a wooden bridge that taught me our first dog was clever and a fountain with a statue in it, pretty low-key. I used to take Jazzdog, that's dog number two, down there and throw treats in the water to make him go in and get them. I'd try to drop them right at the deepest part.

The Krueger girls, mostly the oldest one, and I would walk down there and jump across, or swing across on the weeping willows. We found a wallet once, no money, but a leech in it. We felt the banks wobble beneath us. We pulled down willow shoots and peeled them to make dream catchers, then never followed up on that project. We squished through the marshy grass. We outgrew it, we outgrew each other, and then it was me and the dog watching the place change.

That's a stream for me. A stream is small enough to jump over, if you find the right spot, and it changes. The eddy pool that used to be the deepest spot is now part of a sort of meandering area, not deep at all, and the banks have fallen in for a few feet before it. The deepest part where I tried to dunk the dog is deeper and a bit wider; it's all deep enough that he'd have to swim. The built-up sections aren't as dramatically deeper.

What surprises me about this water memory is how specific it has to be. I am not talking about Yellow Creek in Krape Park or when the oldest Krueger and I spent too much time kayaking upstream and Dad wasn't worried because he figured we were all right. I am not talking about Pine Creek by my grandpa's, whether the scary swept-away day or the no-swimming deep-water days or the crayfish I caught in my sister's Aquasox. I am not talking about any other stream you could mistake this one for, and I am frustrated that all I have to convey this stream are words. I want to take people in twos and threes down to Read Park and say, "This is the bench we sat on. This in where the weeping willows used to be. Here is the eddy pool that isn't there any more. Don't walk there, it's wet."

#62 ::: Bruce H. ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2012, 02:03 AM:

Rikibeth @56

>> ... something about Old Paint Mine (they dug pigments there, in Colonial days)

I was well out of childhood when I went wading in Paint Branch in College Park, MD and found deposits of the clay that gave it the name. One was nearly white. Another was a very dark brick red.

#63 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2012, 02:27 AM:

Cooper's Creek

Trees echo life, but all life echoes trees.
My country knows the river echoes both.
Dendritic, patterned, formal. So are these
That make the green that serves, a living growth,
To etch the vanished river, even when
The river's gone. From air, the red-dust plains
Show sign, a prophecy in drought. For then,
Still then, that river-tree of life remains.

A river knows the real name of the sea,
To find it. This forgot and lost its way.
It creeps at last to bed, reluctantly.
Tells tales of rains a thousand miles away,
Of inland seas that never were; and dies.
The trees remain, and wait for it to rise.

#64 ::: Omri ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2012, 09:16 AM:

"Reading the book makes me realize, once again, how far I’ve come from those days and those mountains. And I realize consciously what I’d noticed unconsciously: how different water is here in the Netherlands. I mean ordinary water—I haven’t been here for extraordinary water (yet). Water here is powerful, but it’s placid. Its color changes with the sky, but it rarely splashes or sprays. It doesn’t add to the soundscape, either. I’m sitting 50 meters from a canal right now, but I can’t hear it.
"

Heh. Seen in Tyrol, Austria: signs in Nederlands warning Dutch visitors to stay the hell away from white water rivers.

#65 ::: Jen Birren ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2012, 09:28 AM:

All my local water was domesticated, post-industrial. There was the canal (a transport canal, not drainage), close enough to our house to go for a walk to it, over the footbridge by the train station and down through the new bit of town, and if you were lucky there might be a boat going through the lock. (And across the canal were the nearest meadows.)

And there was the nature reserve lake, made by flooding an old gravel pit, and from the train you can see the gravel diggers still working a bit further along so there will be more nature reserve one day.

And from the bus into the city you could see a bit of the marina on the river, and if you go into the city by train instead you walk over the bridge soon after you leave the station, and see the river sensibly running between brick embankments and brick warehouses.
And when we went to London there was the Thames, properly running under its own bridges and between its own embankments. And if the tide is out you can look at the muddy foreshores which are made of tumbled bits of London.

Creeks and streams and becks and burns and rills and springs and meres and tarns and ponds and lakes were all in books. But we went to the sea. (The best time to be on a beach, for me, is when it's cool and grey and on the horizon you can't tell where the ocean ends and the clouds start; and as the tide goes out you see the sand in its brand-new ripples.)


#66 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2012, 09:52 AM:

Dave Luckett, that is lovely just for the first two lines and then it goes on, still lovely.

#67 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2012, 10:25 AM:

My childhood water is Lake Michigan, specifically the beach in front of my grandmother's old vacation house in Beverly Shores, IN. I had interactions with watercourses, from the Chicago River (either looked down at from street level or riding on it in a boat from upriver harbors into the lake, under all the bridges as they go up and down in succession) to hiking beside the I&M Canal (and getting to watch IT ride a bridge -- ok, an aqueduct -- over another river, which was awesome in the full 80s sense) to camping beside babbling trickles sometimes deep enough to dunk just your feet in that had no name I ever knew.

But when I think 'body of water not coming out of a hose', I still think of slightly-smelly brownish-blue water stretching from my sandy toes to the far horizon, humping itself regularly into swells that came down the long lake from Canada.

It's 'still' water instead of 'flowing,' on the Minecraft score, but in no way as placid as the Netherlandish flats, because it's constantly shoving at its banks. At my grandma's lake house, there used to be a wide unpaved area across the street (lakewards), plenty big enough to park several 1970s-era 4-door cars on ... but now the drop-off is about a foot past the street, and thoroughly shored up. The sand cliff drops 10-15 feet straight down to the beach level, which is where the lake USUALLY is, but in storms all bets are off.

My Jersey Shore cousins were derisive about my lakeside childhood (since THEY had the entire Atlantic Ocean to learn to swim in) until the time they visited and saw how frelling big it was. They both felt very at home and very weirded out that it smelled wrong and didn't taste of salt.

#68 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2012, 10:35 AM:

abi @20:

No, no, thank you for this lovely thread.

#69 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2012, 10:59 AM:

When I was a child, we had a creek--which like our hostess, I still say crick. It was a proper creek; it had crawfish, and dried up in the summer, so it was just a series of muddy puddles. In the spring, you could build dams in it; when we built our barn, I built a little dam, with a hole behind it, just the right size for dipping a 10-quart bucket in; I carried bucket after bucket of water to mix into mortar out of that little hole.

Later, we dammed up a creek an had a pond. It had frogs, and fish, and wood ducks and blue herons (herrns) came there.

Then when I was 18 we moved across the state, to the strange flat country of West Tennessee. The water there was wrong. It hung out in ditches, year-round, and a beaver dam the size of a sofa cushion could flood a whole cornfield. It was still, and the whole country smelled funny. I lived there for years, and bacame entirely accustomed to that country, but it never would be my home.

After wanderings, I moved to central Virginia. The water there was like the water in the valleys of my childhood--little rivers and big creeks, with quick-moving water in them all year round. On day, almost exactly 5 years before I was borne, the apple farmer a little older than my parents with whom we butchered pigs every winter went to bed in his house, where we ate lunch on butchering days. In the morning when he woke up, it had rained, and the river was up over its banks--100 feet wide and 25 feet deep instead of 10 feet wide and 5 feet deep--and his neighbors house a quarter-mile away was gone down to the foundations. That country has never gotten over that flood.

And now, I can walk two blocks from my house and see a river--dangerous enough to have a dedicated rescue service, but full of rocks where people hang out on nice days in the summer. It's still too much water for me (whose element is fire), but it's a pretty and beloved river.

#70 ::: Sica ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2012, 11:22 AM:

I want to elaborate a bit more on the sea.

As a child I ran down to the docks sometimes with my friends. Fishing line, a hook and a handful of potatoes in our pockets. We'd bait the hooks with potato, tie the fishing line to a piece of wood, sit on the side of a pier with our legs dangling down looking at the deep sea green water below. We rarely caught anything. When we did our catch was fed to cats or dogs. That particular type of fish from that particular harbour was not for us.

The sea is dangerous. Gives out riches in one hand and strangles you with the other. It ate my grandfather's father and most of his brothers. When it's angry the sea is easy to fear but it's also easy to be in awe. Cresting waves and that pale jade colour it goes sometimes in winter. Freezing cold wind splattering your face and hair with salt and it's hard to stand upright. The snow crunches underfoot.

The sea is cold. Even in the middle of the summer when it's still and sparkles blue. Down by the rocky beaches and the sands, the water is cold. Too cold to swim in, too cold to even wade in. We tried a few times but even going ankle deep was painful so we'd yelp, brush the black sand off and put our shoes back on.

Black? yes of course the beaches are black. Black is the colour of sand when it's wet. Grey if its dry, just like stones. Pale golden beaches with warm water you can swim in happen in books and in films.

The sea is cold and dangerous. It in turns fed and ate my ancestors and I remember.

#71 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2012, 11:50 AM:

Angiportus @57: the library had a river running right under it!

And here's the Renton Library's baby sister.

I once passed a glorious two weeks of summer mornings, taking a tai chi class that was held in the open space under that overhang. The area is paved with flagstone, and sits a bare foot or two above the level of the creek water. Cool, quiet, delicious....

#72 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2012, 02:41 PM:

When I was six we moved to New London, CT, specifically Fort Trumbull, which was then the site of the Navy's Underwater Sound Lab. It was nearly directly opposite the site on the Thames River from which the Electric Boat Company launched its latest submarines. I saw the USS Skate and/or the USS Skipjack come down the ways for the first time there.

To a six or seven year old kid that was fascinating, but those were singular events. Nearly every day I could find horseshoe crab shells (with or without inhabitants) on the shore of that river. Those creatures were so ugly they were intriguing to me.

#73 ::: Nickp ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2012, 04:02 PM:

Sica@70 reminds me of:

"What is a woman that you forsake her,
and the hearth-fire, and the home-acre.
To go with the old grey Widow-maker."

#74 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2012, 05:12 PM:

I grew up in a suburb of Seattle, and we had many varieties of water. My elementary school (a private school) was on some acreage - the forest and lake (small) was outside the classroom-and-playground area, but we regularly took class walks to look at trees and ducks and so forth. A small stream ran from the lake, and it passed just outside the fenced playground for the older classes (before it went into a storm pipe system and under the highway). It was maybe 3 feet wide and 10 inches deep, in a flattish area shaded by cottonwoods and alders. After 2nd grade, we were allowed to go outside the fence to the stream during recess, and I have many memories of poking at rocks under water and building small dams and floating leaves downstream. It was always cool and damp there.

There were two lakes near the house I grew up in - one wasn't particularly accessible because of houses build around it, but the other was part of a park that was a half mile walk away from our house. The lake was shallow and mucky, filled with water weeds and ducks, but a stream ran from it to the other lake, and this was accessible. The part I remember best ran near the playground space - down about 3 feet, maybe 3 feet wide and 2 feet deep, shaded again by alders and vine maple. The banks were mostly clay - not as many rocks as the stream at school.

Puget Sound is warmish (compared to the Pacific Ocean), and has gentle tides and slow waves (created mostly by passing boats). The state park with beach nearest my house had a very shallow slope into the sound, and you could wade out far, especially at low tide. We always dug for clams and rarely caught them, though other people did. The Pacific Ocean is cold with rocky beaches. "Going to the ocean" for me means bundling up and walking along the wave line.

#75 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2012, 05:49 PM:

Fifty-one weeks out of the year, water is mysterious dry gullies gouged out of the sand. On the fifty-second week, water becomes days on end of drizzle, and Buckley Road dissolving into a thick brown slime and dumping itself onto the first stretch of pavement it can find. On the seventh day, the sky fades back to its usual dusty blue and there are new gullies to wander.

#76 ::: shadowsong ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2012, 05:58 PM:

angiportus @57: I'm currently moving to Renton. I'll make sure to check out the river library.

Even though I grew up in a neighborhood with a creek (Bull Run, to be specific), water was always a vacation thing for me. Memorial Day camping was at Lake Sherando up in the mountains, where I knew I was no longer a kid once I was allowed to swim to an island, and summer camp was at Glenkirk where we canoed on Lake Manassas. Even the regular swimming pool was summer-only and something we drove to.

I was always excited by places with running water, especially when it could be waded and rock-hopped across. Still water and muddy rivulets were things that everyone had, but rock hopping was special.

#77 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2012, 07:17 PM:

My father, when I was a lad, used to sing "Old Man River" in a voice that rivalled Robeson's. When we'd walk on the Albert Embankment, he'd point to the flowing stream and say that it was "Old Man River". As a result, for most of my childhood I believed that people used to tote bales of cotton somewhere on the banks of the Thames most likely at the West India Docks.

#78 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2012, 07:22 PM:

Just popping in, from the middle of work, to say, regarding the OP, and obSF--

I seem to recall, from some frontispiece dimly perceived through the mists of childhood, that Madeline L'Engle identified her two families, the Murrys of A Wrinkle in Time et seq. and the Austins of Meet the Austins &c., with (what the frontispiece transliterated as) Kairos and Chronos, respectively. I never could figure out why.

Back in a bit to catch up.

#79 ::: Kevin Riggle has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2012, 07:26 PM:

Were the run-on sentences too stringy?
Was the note itself too brief?
It's peach season, here,
and they do so glow,
perhaps they would tempt a gnomish nose
and round out our little feast?


[The peaches are very nice, but in this case it was the word "free" in a URL. This was a recently-added filter, and has now been modified so you may pass. Ruor DeWoot, Duty Gnome]

#80 ::: E. Liddell ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2012, 08:17 PM:

I don't think there's a single town in the area where I grew up that doesn't have its river, or its lake. It wasn't so very long ago that they were the highways of that part of Ontario.

So, the river: the Mattagami, which eventually drains into James Bay, where the Arctic Ocean tries to elbow its way into the heart of the continent. We weren't that far north, mind you—just far enough that winter tended to begin in October and persist into early April, with no midnight sun as compensation. But the river was cold as well as deep and swift. I never swam in it; especially in the early days, it wouldn't have been safe. There were logs, you see.

It's all logging and mining country up there, and ours was a logging town, its main industry the manufacture of lumber and paper. The trees themselves were cut in an area further up the river and thrown into the water or onto the winter ice to be carried down to the town for processing, and in my first memories of the river, you could barely see the water for all those logs. Even after they started shipping the raw wood in by road instead, there were always a few disintegrating old trunks that had escaped from the booms and then gotten caught in the backwaters near the shore and beached themselves.

All rivers have tributaries, and there was one little stream in particular that ran almost through the middle of town, curling around the base of the hill at the top of which the school I attended stood. From the time I was five until I was thirteen, I crossed it four times a day, ten months of the year.

There were three old concrete girders that bridged that stream where it ran through a chunk of undeveloped land at the edge of town. What purpose they ever served, I don't know; I once heard that they'd originally been in pairs, for use as road bridges, but when the road had fallen out of use someone had torn up one of each pair. I don't think it was true, because the placement was too odd, and they weren't of uniform widths, and there was no sign of a road back there anyway. The first girder wasn't even five feet from the culvert where the stream crossed under the paved road at the edge of that area. The second had sunk just far enough into the ground that the stream could flow over it, leaving about an inch of running water to cascade over the surface before it could rejoin what flowed underneath.

I don't think many people knew about the third girder. Unlike the other two, it was screened off by brush, invisible even if you knew it was there. I remember sitting there on a summer day, with the sun sneaking down through the branches to dapple the water while the family dog waded in the stream.

That memory . . . hurts. The dog, whom I loved dearly, is a quarter-century dead, and the place itself is probably altered beyond recognition, since the area was cleared for a golf course a few years after we moved to another town. I haven't been back there in more than a decade, but I'd guess that the golf course isn't there anymore either; the town itself is dying. The mill that processed those logs that were sent down the river changed hands a few times, and the last owners closed it, then razed it to the ground rather than sell what was left, although I know for a fact that they had at least one offer. Without it, there are no jobs, and without jobs, there's no reason for anyone to stay in a town of that size, in that location. It's crumbling away; by the time my brother's children are my age, I doubt there will be anything left there except the steel bridge that carries the highway over the river.

The water is the one thing that isn't likely to disappear.

#81 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2012, 08:56 PM:

Cooper's Creek is weird.

Some years, the wet comes south in the Gulf country, south of Carpentaria. Not often, maybe one year in six, and not regular. Three years in a row, maybe, and then not for twenty. But sometimes. Some years.

The divide is so gradual that it can't be seen or felt, but it's there, and rain to the south of it gradually collects. If the rains are enough - and some years, they are - then Cooper's Creek rises and flows south, gradually. The slope is slight, the channels haphazard. It braids endlessly, wanders. It has a mind of its own. It can be a mile wide, twenty feet deep. It depends on the rains.

Sometimes it sinks back into the sand again. It depends on the rains. If it disappears, you can see where it was by the trees. But if the rains are enough, it wanders two thousand miles, into the dead heart, towards Lake Eyre. If it always flowed, it would be one of the world's great rivers.

And "Lake" Eyre. If it actually had water in it, it would be the world's seventh or eighth largest lake. It's a salt pan, most of the time.

But some years, it fills. Some years, Cooper's Creek brings water down, and fills it. And the dead heart lives.

To an Australian, that's our country. One of our poets called it "opal-hearted". To live here is to listen for the rain.

Some years, it comes.

#82 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2012, 09:04 PM:

Note: I apologize for situating the great city of Chicago on Lake Superior. It's on Lake Michigan.

#83 ::: Sica ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2012, 05:44 AM:

@71 Jacque, @57 Angiportus

The old, rich, European, great uncle of the Renton Library Château de Chenonceau in the Loire valley in France. I've been there once and that was a good day :)

Also Dave Luckett, that was beautiful. I've never lived anywhere where drought is a thing and that painted a clear mind-picture.

#84 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2012, 10:20 AM:

Jacque, Sica, thanks.
Welcome to Renton, shadowsong. Do you know which neighborhood you'll be in, and where you will be working? The city website can tell you a lot of helpful things. Our library is part of a huge system that you will use a lot if you like books, and as for buying, Seattle has a pair of big independent bookstores of far fame.
Back to early experiences with water...when I was in college--which was long ago enough to count as early for me--I spent a semester in Anchorage. On our campus, which we shared with another college, were undeveloped woods, and a lake or two. I chanced to wander up to the edge of one of the lakes and there was an odd sensation--the ground I was on was floating. It was kind of like a waterbed only different. The lake was shallow so I wasn't worried but it sure was a bit of a surprise. Not for many years did I read about the ways of sphagnum in the north, and I have no hopes of going back there again, but if I ever did I would once again check out the lake with the wobbly shore.

#85 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2012, 12:31 PM:

The water of my childhood was the Chesapeake Bay off of Buckroe Beach -- green in the sunlight, gunmetal gray of a cloudy day, but always translucent never clear.

The Pacific, which I saw for the first time in 1996, was a revelation. I took my first real long vacation ever, almost a month spent in the Hawai'ian Islands. For years, I had believed that the blue of the Pacific I had seen in films and photographs was enhanced in the photo/film labs. Boy, was I wrong!

It really is that blue, and when you wade in it you can see the sands under the water, it's crystal clear! I was amazed to be able to see shells, rolling lumps of coral or lava rock, and seaweed, coming up the beach courtesy of the waves.

I brought back treasures from every beach, from the miniature sand dollar found on Waikiki to the first holey stone I'd ever found on the shores of Hilo Bay.

The waves have a glow to them that defies description -- sort of a pale green jade edged with white foam as they break on the sand. Just gorgeous.

"I must go down to the sea again..."

#86 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2012, 02:19 PM:

Lori, I know what you mean--I had a similar "it really DOES look like that!" reaction to the deep blue/clear water and white, white sand of the USVI in contrast to the grey-specked-with-black dredged-up sand and completely opaque grey water of the Georgia coast.

#87 ::: Syd ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2012, 01:24 PM:

Water, for me, was mostly pools and hoses and fountains I always wanted to toss a penny in but didn't always have one. One of my earliest memories is dog-paddling around the edge of a circular pool on the grounds of my nursery school, and another is of it raining so hard that one of the men who worked at the school came out and got me from my mom so she didn't have to try crossing the four feet of water rushing down the slope at the curb.

Rivers...the Rio Hondo was closest, and not something we ever went to, being that it was below street level, wild and overgrown and not much of a river unless it rained. But I seem to recall that there was always some water in it, glinting green in the sun, meandering through the trees and brush until we got a good rain and it could stand in pools in places and run in others.

The LA River barely deserved the name. It was just this wide, deepish concrete culvert with what looked, from bridge height, like a yard's worth of water in a channel in the middle. I don't recall when they started trying to reclaim the river, but some of the areas north of downtown look far more like rivers are supposed to look, with the usual caveats about rain vs. drought.

I remember one winter, we had so much rain one of the manhole covers got blown off by the volume of water, and there was a fountain two feet across and six feet high in the middle of one of the main streets near our rented house.

I remember on one of our drives to Oklahoma, we stopped at the Grand Canyon, and I practically climbed the fence to look at the Colorado far below. And another drive-to-Oklahoma memory, of crossing a suspension bridge over a river wild and white and edged by trees, with my nose pressed up to the window for a better view.

A few years ago, I extended a trip to Reno by a day so I could join my friends on a little expedition to a place called Emerald Pool, which is somewhere near I80 near the CA/NV border. They were going to cliff-jump; I managed one jump off a rock that came up about 10 feet above the water. The water was a clear green-blue, cold enough to knock the breath from my body, and just deep enough that, as I was glad to find out later, a couple of my friends were watching where I went in, in case I didn't come up fast enough to suit them.

You see, I love water, but I really don't swim well. Dog paddle, breast stroke, okay, and I used to do a fairly decent backstroke and sidestroke. But that was a very long time ago, and I've never had what you could call real confidence in the water. Still love it, though.

What I don't remember is the first time I saw the ocean. I only know I love it. When my friends in central Santa Barbara County had house concerts, I would drive up the 101, and it wasn't until I hit Ventura and saw my first glimpse of ocean that I felt I was actually off and away to have a great time.

I am in full agreement with Xopher--this is a lovely thread.

#88 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2012, 01:57 PM:

I remember the first time I swam in the sea.

It wasn't when I was a kid—Northern Californians don't swim in the sea. It's cold, and there's an undertow. And it wasn't the few times we went to Southern California, because we were always visiting relatives rather than doing tourist things like going to the beach.

I first swam in the sea in the Mediterranean, off the Spanish coast from Mojácar*. I was traveling with two Englishwomen, and we all swam out to where the swell was slow and the bottom far deeper than we could reach. We took off our swimsuits and stayed out there naked, riding the rise and fall of the warm clear water in the bright sunlight.

There aren't words for what that was, or what it meant.

A few days later, I set my legs on fire. But that's another story.

-----
* Mojácar, the Dove on the Hill: a place of whitewashed walls and blue shadows. I will never go back to it. No town could be as magical as my memory makes it, not and be inhabited by people.

#89 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2012, 02:59 PM:

The very first time I swam in the sea, I got stung by a jellyfish (well, brushed against by a dead one...I understand that painful as it was it could have been far worse). While I have swum in the sea since, it's not my favorite. Where I grew up the large bodies of water were the Great Lakes, and when you get out of swimming in them you don't need a shower.

#90 ::: Andy Brazil ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2012, 04:56 PM:

My childhood river was the Trent, slow and fat as it cruises its floodplain. The bridge runs half a mile across the flood meadows from where we lived into town.
The monks founded the town because of the water, but not the river, but the underground aquifer - filled by rains filtered through Derbyshire gypsum - was the water they sought. Ideal for brewing beer, the essential of medieval life. Henry dismissed the monks, but the brewing remained. As did parts of the monastery, and the weekly market they founded. On market days I'd slip away from my mother (but not before I'd spent my weekly pocket money at the stall that sold American comics: Superman and Batman and Jimmy Olson, Superman's Pal - four-colour dreams from the promised land). I'd wander through the gate beside the ruined arch and along the path to the iron bridge. On the far bank there would be water voles - Mr Toad's Ratty - and the willows trailing leaves through the water would dissect the light into lozenges of yellow and green. If you ignored the Victorian ironmongery you could imagine yourself a little adrift in time. Sometimes there'd be a heron, always coots and moorhens, and once, just once, a kingfisher, azure line straight as an arrow - so fast it was gone before I realised what I was seeing, so that my memory of it is a memory of a memory; the reality too ephemeral to be truely experienced.

#91 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2012, 04:57 PM:

I was away for a few days and am just now catching up on this thread. As others have said, it's wonderful.

I had the opportunity last week to sit on an undeveloped bank of the Shenandoah River in central Virginia, in the cool dim shade under enormous sycamore trees, at a place where the river was smooth and shallow and green, flowing past a few small rock outcroppings and islets. I saw a heron and, I'm pretty sure, a pair of eagles, and (in the sunny meadow just beyond the trees at riverside) a bluebird. And my life was enriched.

Lila @37 There exist little patches of severely degraded 'nature' that are still adequate to awake wonder and reverence in a child.

Yes, this. You've reminded me of the water of my youngest days, essentially a drainage ditch near my elementary school with shallow water, minnows, and crawfish.

There were occasional visits to lakes and ponds and the Gulf of Mexico in those days, but they don't own my heart. I think the waters of my heart are the little streams and creeks of the Appalachians, probably much like Tinker Creek, where the water chuckles over drops and the occasional real falls. The ones I know, I have seen from hiking trails, where the stream runs now right by the trail, now suddenly out of sight but audible down below you, now narrow and swift and singleminded and now divided over a dozen channels through a field of boulders large and small.

Dave Luckett @81 To live here is to listen for the rain.
Some years, it comes.

Beautiful.

Lori Coulson @85 and Lila @86, I also had that "It really is that color!" reaction, first to the waves off the coast of Kauai and then at Virgin Gorda. Ocean in my youth was the mostly-flat and gray Texas Gulf Coast.

Kevin Riggle @78 mentioned Kairos and Chronos which were in the original post but haven't been touched on in the thread. I first ran into the distinction between the two in Madeline L'Engle's work, also, and I think of them in theological terms. Chronos, what abi called "a definite time," is the regular sequential time within which we live, and Kairos, "the right time," is God-time, standing outside of Chronos. Reading everyone's contributions here, the waters we recall are in Chronos, bound to the specific place and time where we met them, and often changed with the passage of time. But, on the other hand, the waters live in Kairos as well, and in some sense so always remain as we first knew them.

#92 ::: affreca ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2012, 05:39 PM:

I'm a child of the Plains. Like Paula says, it is the part of the US that calls itself midwest, but isn't to much of the rest of the US. The river of my childhood is the Kaw, but the water of my memories is Naismith crick.

Which really wasn't even a creek, as much as a drainage ditch in the middle of a boulevard. It was isolated from the traffic as the water was at least ten feet below the road. It flows through man high culverts at each block. I built many a popsicle stick boat to sail down it, and my sister sliced open her foot walking barefoot. I have a strong memory of a thunderstorm with such high rain that it filled up, and the road to either side had a foot of water. Several cars were got stuck, including one driven by a pregnant woman I knew (the exact relationship is convoluted). That's still the image that comes to mind when someone says "if creek don't rise".

The ocean is associated with a specific part of my life. I didn't see it until I was in college, and I haven't seen it in years, but I was tied to it during the years I was in the Navy. I remember the shock of realizing the water I was in contained FISH! Previously, I'd only swum in pools (clear but no fish) or midwestern lakes and rivers (fish but couldn't see anything). I got my scuba qual mostly to work on that issue.

#93 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2012, 08:55 PM:

Growing up on Long Island, water meant the cloudy, sometimes rather icky (red tide) Long Island Sound or the bays and inslets off thereof.

I suppose "The Pond" deserves a mention. Essentially a natural recharge basin, a few blocks away and across the street from where I grew up. It was eventually replaced with an actual, rock-lined, oblong discharge basin, but in my childhood it was a rare bit of "wild" unclaimed-by-adults territory. The only time I ever recall adults being there were a couple of guys sampling the water for mosquito larvea.

No one in their right mind would have thought of touching, much less bathing in, "The Pond." But it supported some birds and frogs and such.

#94 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2012, 10:33 PM:

to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet ...

to stop and reflect. Marionettes, Inc.?

Beyond me. Another creek? Faces sometimes appear at night. Respect for the dam builders.

#95 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2012, 11:18 PM:

The ocean. Oh, the ocean. The ocean is why fresh water tastes thin and weak to me. It's why I've never gone to the reservoir here to swim. Water containing life is supposed to be salty, at least if it's going to contain me as well. Fresh water is really big puddles full of muck and seaweed. But give me a beach-- Outer Banks of North Carolina's the imprint, but others are also good-- a beach with waves large enough to play in and sand soft enough that I don't mind getting my head ground in it... oh, I miss the beach. It's been years since I spent an entire day in the water. I should go again sometime soon.

Logistical concerns include that I can't actually do my own hair well enough to swim. I would need someone else to French braid it every morning. But you know, I would also need a swimsuit, so as long as we're listing things I don't have. And I've never been in charge of a beach trip. But oh, how I want to taste salt water again and find tiny stems of crystals on my arms, each one tracing a hair, and lick my shoulders for the flavor of the sea.

#96 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2012, 10:16 AM:

Geographical diversion: Back when I was in Eighth Grade, we had a course called "Ohio History." We were taught that the states comprising the Northwest Territory (Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa) are the "Midwest."

According to my teacher, anything west of those is considered the Great Plains -- newscasters also use the "Heartland" and sometimes "the Bread Basket" to describe it as well.

#97 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2012, 10:28 AM:

I should clarify that the Great Plains end where the mountains begin (or so my instructor said).

IIRC, the component segments of the US -- The North, The South, The Midwest, The Great Plains, The Southwest, the West, and the Pacific Northwest...

#98 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2012, 10:39 AM:

The river of my childhood was the one near my grandparents' house, down on the coast. It was for fishing in with Grandpa, from the walkways over or under the bridges, and occasionally for going boating on, but not so much for playing or swimming in. But then, that was what the sea was for.

Back home, there are no rivers. There's a creek bed runs through the town, but good luck catching the creek doing the same (a local balladeer wrote a song about that creek; the phrase "once a year" features prominently). The region's greatest lake is famed world-wide as a beaut spot for sailing the kind of yacht that has wheels underneath. This is the part of Australia where the water came after the men.

Back home, my experiences with running water were mostly, like Cassy B. @ #47, with storm drain and street gutter. For me, it was the wide brown Antazon River, where bold tiny explorers plied their log rafts made of twig and leaf.

(And the artificial stream in the water park by the swimming pool, its cement bed meadering between wading pools. This is the part of Australia where the water came after the men, which may be why there's so many water features in the parks and squares. That water park isn't there any more, though.)

#99 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2012, 11:39 AM:

Paul A @98:

All hail the bold explorers of the Antazon River! I well remember the dire hazards of tidal wave (from a passing car) or maelstrom (from the storm sewer), yet those intrepid adventurers set out notwithstanding, seeking to understand the mysteries of what lay in the Next Block....

#100 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2012, 03:26 PM:

I lived near water when I was a small child, a creek; normally it was about eight feet wide, though I haven't a clue how deep. These days my house is about a hundred yards from a river that's perhaps as wide, the Allegheny four miles up from the confluence with the Monongahela to form the Ohio. I don't know what the bank looks like; I've never been down to it.

For me, a stream or brook is small and can be crossed in no more than two or three steps. A creek is anything up to maybe five or six yards wide. Anything wider than that is a river.

#101 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2012, 06:39 PM:

Hah! On the topic of Boulder Library + Boulder Creek, I discovered this. For more, see this.

#102 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2012, 08:38 AM:

As a city kid with a leavening of country, water is fairly complicated for me.

Like Lizzy, I grew up in NYC, and rivers were, indeed, things you crossed in tunnels or on bridges. Except that my paternal grandparents lived two blocks from a tiny waterfront park in Manhattan, practically under the 59th street bridge, so the East River was a well-known thing from that vantage . . . . You couldn't actually get to the water, but you were a lot closer, and could see the boats and ducks and seagulls, and watch twigs and leaves and other things float by, and even toss in things yourself . . . .

And when I was 12, I started commuting from Queens to Manhattan every day for school, and mostly rode the bus home over the 59th street bridge for two years . . . and learned about rivers and weather, watching the water act, at times, as a dividing line between microclimates (NYC is full of them). Sometimes the line was firm and as you drove across the bridge, you could see the hard edges of the cloud as the rain just _stopped_ halfway across the span. Other times, the riverbanks were the borders, with rain or sun or whatever constrained to the width of the river and completely different weather over the land.

I learned, over the river, about sky, which is generally a narrow thing in Manhattan, though a bigger, broader thing were I live in Queens. But over the river, it was Sky, an active presence. Jacob's Ladders, rainbows, layers and layers of an amazing assortment of clouds, a thousand shades of blue . . . .

The other NYC water of my youth was the Atlantic, off Coney Island. Blue or grey or green to the horizon, you felt like you were standing on the edge of the world. At the same time, the focus could be quite small; the bit of seaweed wrapping around your foot, the seashell you dug out of the snd. The sucking of the waves at the sand, at your feet; the shocking splash when a wave comes in faster/higher than you anticipated. Wading, and later, swimming, in living water rather than a pool.

But at the same time, I spent two months every summer in "the country," a then-rural part of Connecticut where there was not a lot of access to flowing water ("river" there was the Housatonic, mostly tamed, dammed, producing hydroelectric power). But there were ponds and lakes aplenty.

The first pond was a tiny thing at a bungalow colony--living water, we knew where in intake and outflow were, tiny little rivulets that seemed unlikely to produce our vast (as it was to me then) pool of water, which we swam in, fished in (for Sunnies, mostly, which we threw back), spotted turtles and frogs and snakes in (the last always causing much panicked, splashy running away). I learned to swim in that pond, which we called a lake, as did my brother.

Then there was the _big_ lake--Candlewood Lake, which had been a populated valley before the Housatonic River Authority bought it and flooded it. If you went diving in the right places, you could see the steeples of drowned churches, it was said. Like the East River, Candlewood meant weather as well as water--you could watch storms march across the lake or see rain as a curtain, see sunlight and shadows of clouds lay patchlike on the land and water.

For a few years we summered in a community with a public beach on a broad part of the lake. We swam a lot; we often rented pontoon boats and cruised out into the middle of that part of the lake to fish (not Sunnies anymore--gar and bass and trout). The water was flat and broad and not endless, because you could see the land all around you and there were islands (former hilltops) dotting the lake (one family had a boat car that they drove into the lake from their island and out at a boat landing on the mainland). But the lake often felt empty when you were out there, quiet and still until another boat went by.

Then we moved to a house on a finger of the lake. We kids were convinced we should have been able to swim across, but never managed to get much more than halfway. I learned to canoe. We lived literally across the street from the water; we'd come home from camp, change into bathing suits, and race to the water (though we'd been in the pool twice at camp, it wasn't the lake). I learned to snorkle (badly) and had close encounters with fish. My friend and I would pack a picnic into the canoe and spend hours on the water. We didn't go anywhere, never landed. Just paddled around endlessly, looking at the shore. Even though we'd memorized both sides of our lake finger, there was always something new to see in the water or on the shore. Muskrats, ducks, geese, snakes (no screaming by then).

That part of the lake was completely residential, but it led to Squantz Pond State Park, from which it was separated by a two-lane road on a causeway, and that was wild. We knew there were deer in there but never saw them. We paddled down to the causeway many times but never crossed into Squantz; our parents had forbidden it. We went once or twice by road, but strangely enough, never felt like we were really missing anything by not visiting the park/pond (which was really another lake), since the "real" lake lay right outside our door.

This was all my water before I turned 16.

#103 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2012, 01:05 PM:

Lori, #96: That's how I was taught as well, and it still bugs me to hear the NCAA describe that area as the "Mideast". There is no Mideast!

Also, count me in with those who prefer fresh water to salt for swimming. I grew up with the beaches of the Great Lakes, and I don't swim well enough to trust myself in ocean waves -- salt water is for wading only.

#104 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2012, 03:06 PM:

This is a wonderful thread to come back to after a couple of weeks away.

I may post some of my own impressions of rivers and water later, but for now, I'll just post Langston Hughes' wonderful poem on the subject:

I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers;
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

("The Negro Speaks of Rivers", as it appeared in the June 1921 issue of The Crisis. You can read the full issue here.)

#105 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom finds the river dammed by gnomes ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2012, 03:10 PM:

I'm hopeful they'll let me through the lock eventually.

#106 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2012, 11:31 PM:

My childhood water is floods and peril and history. I'm speaking of the American River, (usually) the smaller of the two rivers that meets in Sacramento. It has levees, set well back because by that point the Army Corps of Engineers had learned the value of a floodplain. And because of a number of civic-minded folk of appreciable funds, it also has the American River Parkway—which was twenty-six miles of riverfront land (and floodplain) that these folk bought up and held in trust until a series of parks could be formed.

In 1986, a little doozy of a storm—called a Pineapple Express because it came up from Hawaii—managed to drop a large amount of water on a bunch of snow right at the point of melting. The augmented meltwater washed away the temporary earth berm at the (since abandoned) Auburn Dam project, and filled up Folsom Lake* to the danger point. And the engineers opened the gates and started praying, sending 130,000 cfs of water through levees designed to hold 115,000 cfs. The water above the confluence of the American and Sacramento Rivers ran backwards for days.

I was eight. I learned an awful lot about water that year, including "water right of way", sandbags, and the dangers of flooded streets. Oh, and that my house was in no danger, because my parents knew how to read contour maps. (These days, you can go online and have FEMA maps with legwork already done.) It made a thorough impression on me, to the point where even though the local creek, Chicken Ranch Slough (pronounced "sloo" rather than "sluff," which latter you do to get scurf off of your hands) probably figured more directly in my childhood, it barely made an impression.

Incidentally, localized flooding is always the big danger in Sacramento. My husband—child of a wet land—didn't understand why a storm drain in front of the house is undesirable.

For peril, you have to understand that the American River is really, really attractive as a source of water play in an area with summers that average in the high 90s and can have weeks of 100º+ temperature if you're unlucky. It also has lovely cliffs up in Fair Oaks and a seemingly useful depth. But it's not particularly forgiving; every year sees the number of deaths from drowning in the double digits. Maybe the swimmer miscalculated the current, or forgot that though the air was hot, the water is still only sixty miles from snowmelt. Or sometimes someone jumps into an obstruction that wasn't there the summer before.

As for history, there are still visible traces of the Gold Rush along the bike trail, if you know what you're looking for. There are chutes still cut into the cliffs and piles of "Folsom Potatoes"—large rounded rocks dug out of the ground and piled up like sandbars twenty feet above the water.

*How do you tell a native Sacramentan? They hear "Folsom" and think "Lake", not "Prison."

#107 ::: jennythereader ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2012, 03:50 PM:

I love the phrase "the water of my childhood."

The waters of my childhood are many.

The small lakes of mid-Michigan, especially Lake Lansing and Jordan Lake. Even the smallest seems to have a beach and a little park, even if it's just a level spot with room for a couple parked cars between the road and the shore.

They are the gentle rivers of mid-Michigan: the Grand, the Red Cedar, the Thornapple and the Looking Glass. Always enough of a current that you don't forget it's a river, but never so much that you feel unsafe in a canoe, inner-tube, or just wading.

They are the lakes and rivers of northern Michigan along the west coast. They are much like their southern counterparts, but with a little more wildness to them. Clearer, faster, colder, and more beautiful if less comforting.

Most of all, the water of my childhood is Lake Michigan. My family vacationed at the Sleeping Bear Dunes and there will never be any place as perfect as those wide beaches. The sound of the waves breaking on the shore as my brothers and I built sandcastles or I read and sunbathed. Body-surfing on windy days or floating on still ones. Watching Independence Day fireworks launched from the pier in Frankfort, and getting a triple show because they reflected from the water below and the clouds above. Even the sun setting into the lake on an ordinary day is a slow-motion lightshow.

#108 ::: sara_k ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2012, 10:43 PM:

I grew up in Nairobi where we caught tadpoles in the ditches. Nairobi Primary had a swimming pool where we had lessons during school. In first grade they lined us up by height, tallest first, and set us to walking around to get used to the water. When the leader went out too deep and the shortest two kids went under, our teacher dove in fully dressed to save them. We were divided into houses, like Hogwarts, and on competition day we swam in races and dove while our classmates screamed our team names (my sisters and I were Impalas).

When we swam in live water it was Lake Naivasha http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Naivasha or the Indian Ocean at Malindi or Mombasa. Malindi was my favorite and we snorkled in the reefs and explored for hours.

When we moved back to the US, my first beach experience was Ocean City where cold grey waves rolled back leaving cigarette butts on the dirty sand. I thought it was a bad joke.

In Western North Carolina we had Sliding Rock before it was developed by the Park service with changing rooms and a life guard. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sliding_Rock We tubed and rafted on the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chattahoochee_River

I prefer oceans and seas to lakes and ponds but rivers are good.

#109 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2012, 06:26 PM:

This summer's drought is pushing my definition of river. Some parts of the South Skunk River north of Ames are now a disconnected series of puddles. Without human intervention, there are land bridges across it in numerous places. But I know where there is a swimming hole that was still 4 or 5 feet deep, so I was able to get wet all over.

#110 ::: David DeLaney ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2012, 08:11 AM:

Coming in late... I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, so the Water of the Area was of course Lake Erie. But it wasn't close enough to see from our house, though we could watch the summer thunderstorms out over it JUST FINE thanks. It could be visited, it was only a couple miles away, but alas it smelt of dead fish and wasn't really that swimmable in.

But being on the North Coast, there are creeks every so often, and the Cuyahoga River down the middle of the city. There was a small creek running along the other side of Belvoir Rd., but to get there you had to walk further back through the woods than usual, past the end of Hillsboro, down the side of a hill and across Belvoir. (This was back when children could wander unsupervised ALL AROUND a neighborhood, through the woods in back of people's houses, for hours and only have to be back home for dinner, with little or no fears as far as I know of "zomg child vanishment! PERVERTS! drug sellers!" etc. And we did. I understand the stairs through the woods from Hillsboro down to Endora are fenced in on both sides now...) So we didn't very much.

Around the back and side of Caledonia Elementary, there was a ravine, with a tiny creek at the bottom; I remember it more for the slope and the partway-down reading spot. It also was totally open then, though you Weren't Supposed To go down into the ravine on school time, and got fenced off from all possible kid contact later on. It had trash and flotsam in it; I suppose it flooded once in a while, but floods drained pretty quickly that close to the lake... Forest Hills Park had a river in it somewhere too, but I don't even remember all of where the park went, now.

And most summers we visited the grandparents' place on the Chesapeake Bay; it also had little streams here and there running into it, one just past the house on the left, but the main attraction there was the Bay itself of course. Both for swimming in, and for boating.

I'll finish with a song about a river... not of space or time, but related to Abi's dream locations.

--Dave, let the water come and car-ry us a-wa-aaaay

#111 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2012, 10:23 AM:

David, I had that kind of childhood too, only in my case the molester turned out not to be mythical.

I say this not to slap you down, and I apologize for the buzzkill. This is a "nope, it's not just you" to anyone besides me who felt that little sting of pain and guilt for Doin It Wrong.

#112 ::: Lila got gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2012, 10:24 AM:

Apologies if I brought up the wrong thing.

#113 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2013, 05:43 PM:

My current home is defined by its river. Richmond is at "the falls of the James"; ocean-going ships can come to the Port of Manchester (on the east side of the city) but most of the city is built further up-river, to the west.

An acquaintance has been making videos of the river, and posting them. I like them, although it is hard to tell how much of that is due to familiarity. However, you can find the whole series at Affair with the James.

My favorites (watch in this order) are the August 8 2012 video and the January 18 2013 video. Here's what to notice; in the later video, the rock that the fishermen are on in the earlier video is underwater--hence the wildness of the rapids. They aren't kidding about "by permit only"; permits are free, but you have to sign that you know that no one will even try to rescue you if something goes wrong.

Also, at about 2:15 in the January 18 video, you can see a cemetery and on the right a white grid-faced building. We live on the hill behind that building.

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