SOMETIMES in the summer, when it's really hot, the sky instead of being blue is white. There's no wind and it's hard to breathe. Dogs just lie there with their tongues hanging out. Passing cars raise a cloud of dust that hangs for a long time. The only place you want to be is down by the river, surrounded by the green water smell, hearing cicadas and dragonflies and nothing else. The rocks are too hot to walk on, they burn your feet if you forgot your sandals and so you leap-frog on a towel or run break-neck to the cool dark sand at the edge of the water. Just lapping at your toes, it's cold and you stand there working up courage to go in.
There's two basic approaches: death-by-inches where you feel the cold water creeping up your body, arms outstretched until you are all in but your head and then you dunk down and it's okay; and the run yelling and splash in all at once, then turn around and splash whoever was getting in slowly and make them yell, too. Both work pretty well, and it just depends on how you feel that day.
After you're in, the water feels good on your skin and if you stand still tiny fishes nibble on your legs. It's a funny feeling, something trying to eat you that's too little to get anywhere.
Crossing in the shallows, the bedrock is so slimy with moss that you just about can't make it. It's easier to go down or up a ways where the water's deeper and paddle across. On the other side there's a rope with a big knot on the end hanging from a tree branch, and you grab it and scramble up the steep muddy bank and get a good hold and swing out as far as you can over the deep part and let loose.
Waterfights break out spontaneously and die down when one of the little kids gets choked and wants to stop. But they're back at it in a while. Up on the bank an old wrecked car has been there for as long as anybody can remember. Wonder how it got there.
The sun goes behind the hill and pretty soon everybody gets out and walks back Indian file. Never been so hungry in my life as after swimming all afternoon in the river. My favorite sandwich was thick slices of home-made brown bread, peanut butter, jelly, pickles and a fat slice of sweet purple onion, all washed down with a glass of milk. As evening comes on the deep blue sunset air fills with the "three-deep" of little frogs and the startling "jug-o-rum" of big ones and matrimonial crickets chirping up a storm, and for a while until you stop noticing, away off somewhere a dog making sure that his house is safe by barking at everything.
(June 16, 1997)
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