Monday, June 27, 2016

Things About Summertime

If you grew up in northern Stevens County, there's a pretty decent likelihood that you have been to the beach at Evans Campground. If you have been to the beach at Evans Campground as a young teenager, there's an even better likelihood that you have both pushed and been pushed off the dock by a peer of the opposite gender. And there is almost every chance in the world that you also swam out to the floating logs and worked tirelessly for hours to stand up on them and walk across. Lord knows I did all of those things, over and over and over and over, and I can't remember now if I ever successfully made the log crossing or not - but judging by my experience last weekend and my desperation to preserve self respect, I am gonna say I didn't.

I am 39 now. A semi-well composed adult who is capable of making good decisions and surviving Real Life with all of it's twists and turns. But even a semi-well composed 39 year old can fall prey to childish whims and nostalgic dares. I wasn't at Evans Beach last weekend, as it happens, but my 16 year old daughter was, and I can probably tell you her exact activities moment by moment. I, myself, was out at Bradbury Beach, which could be a clone of Evans except there is no adjacent campground so it's strictly a day use beach. If you didn't grow up at Evans Beach, then you were most likely at Bradbury. Bradbury is equipped with the exact same floating dock apparatus that serves functionally as a launch pad for flying teenagers and a warming center for smaller children who watch the antics of their older siblings with rapt attention. And the beach also boasts the same floating log perimeter, beckoning cruelly like a ropes-challenge siren to be mastered by the well-balanced and coordinated teenager. Or in this case, 39 year old.

I dared some of my peers to the same challenge that we aspired to more than 20 years ago. For some foolhardy reason, my peers accepted the thrown gauntlet and we waded into the frigid Lake Roosevelt murk late on a hot June evening. And then we swam.

Nobody remembers how hard swimming is until you're right in the middle of your swim and you realize that it's exactly the same distance between your point of origin and your destination, and for all of the backstrokes, breaststrokes and sidestrokes in the world, neither of those distances appear to be decreasing. It's a weird and frightening phenomenon, unless you're distracted by the numbing of your limbs. Once you figure out that the top 6 inches of lake water is a significant 20 degrees warmer than the rest, you roll over into a back float and start flutter kicking, which covers even less ground than all of the other strokes combined. While you're mid traverse in what has become a Major River Crossing of at least 10 miles, you begin to wonder to yourself if the water at the top is so much warmer because of the drifting island of middle school boys that just wafted past on a cloud of water wings and dollar store floaties. You start doing the math about how many of them would have to have peed to make the temperature difference, and whether with that much urine pooling around you would be able to smell it over the nostalgic dead fish and mud scent of the opaque river water. No matter, you can feel your limbs again so it's all good, and surprisingly, the logs are now only 5 feet away. Another hour and you'll be there for sure.

We got to the log and immediately began laughing about how funny it was that we had joked about getting up on them. The laughter ebbed away into chattering teeth as we contemplated the long swim back, pools of urine and how warm the sunshine on top of the slippery logs felt. Soon we were all bobbing and heaving like a trio of top heavy buoys, trying to mount the listless, rolling logs. It wasn't long before (being responsible and intelligent adults) we started to develop a strategy. If two of us stabilized the log, at least one could get up there and balance. We attempted stabilization at both ends of the log and in the middle, and the only thing getting any traction was the spin of the log underneath our bare arms, and torsos, and occasionally legs as we clung desperately to the bucking ponderosa. Soon a husband emerged from the water to help the screeching and squalling damsels in distress, but he turned out to be almost as useless as us girls against the 16 foot tree which was determined to have the last laugh. We fought the log for a long time. How long, I am not sure, but all of a sudden I realized that the sun had just gone behind the mountain and we were about three days from shore with an ocean of freezing water between us and no middle school boys in sight to assist our plight.

I guess you could say we gave up, although I'd like to imagine that the log was at least as tired as we were when we got back to the beach in the twilight and began comparing welts and scratches. That part I don't remember from my teenage years, or the bruises and sore muscles that emerged the next day, as if I had just done a submarine crossfit sesh with a pine tree for an instructor.

But the rolling log reminded me of hours spent as a girl, with any assortment of friends, on those logs, talking about boys and bathing suits, injustices and italian sodas, parents and plans for the future. I remember the shivering cold and the sun-warmed wood of the dock on my back. I remember dares to swim underneath and the big spiders that lurked there, and the naughty boys who would try to scare us from below in the murky water, and the ones who pushed, pulled, lifted and carried us over the edge into the water. The boys that later on maybe would be a first kiss, or a last crush, or at least shape the vast canyons of our hearts with a river of adolescent emotion.

This is summertime. I have missed so much of it in the last few years, since I am usually working - too busy to remember how important clinging to an expanse of rolling timber can be. I can only hope that my kids will have the same memories and scratches and triumphs from a split second upright... making the whole struggle worthwhile. I hope they know the unstable sanctuary of the middle of the dock, away from the edge that tempts too greatly the run-by pushes from the boys. And before the strength of their upper body, their center of balance and their recovery time changes, I hope they fight a few logs.