Baby’s First River Trip

June 2014

Photo: John Kober

Nine months old, and we’re on your first river trip. Three days in June on Oregon’s Wild and Scenic John Day River.

You watch the oars dipping in and out of the water. See a red winged blackbird chase an osprey. Hear canyon wrens and killdeer. Watch your brother catch his first fish. You are not a fan of your lifejacket — the label says up to 30 pounds and you’re about 22, but it is too tight around your neck. You nap on my chest as we float in the drift boat. And then you stand up and look back at Papa rowing and hit the back of the seat with your palm, slapping it and laughing. You pull off your sun hat and socks. You open your mouth, curious, as I dab sunscreen on your nose and cheeks.

On the second day I’m so focused on making sure you and your brother are sunscreened, hydrated, fed, and generally safe that I forget to put my sunglasses on. I don’t realize until afternoon, when we get to camp and my eyes are sandpaper dry from the sun and wind. I take my contacts out. And a little while later, as it’s getting dark, I go for a swim. Papa holds you and I slip into the water. I leave my glasses on the boat so everything is blurry, the water, the beach, the tall basalt cliffs.

But that’s ok because what matters is the feel of the cool water on my skin, the feel of the river at night. Going under, the dark, the cool, the quiet.

Maybe you know this because you were born in the water.

I swim back to the boat and papa hands you to me. You kick your bare feet in the river, try to grasp the water with your little fingers, make big splashes. You don’t care if the water hits your face, you laugh, you can’t get enough.

And then it is time to get you to bed. I carry you to the tent. You are a master of presence, intrigued by the feel of my bathing suit strap, the tent’s screen wall, the zippers. You crawl around on the sleeping bags, laughing and smiling at me. I know. I never want to go to sleep on the river, either. I want to stay awake, soak it all in.

As you fall asleep, I think back to the other times I’ve floated this river — before kids, in my kayak, a lifetime ago. It’s good to have a river floating through your life. It’s good to come back again and again, the river helping to write your story.

The world is so much bigger than us, and rivers remind me it’s the small moments that matter. Like this one: your little brown-haired head in the nook of my arm, your little breaths mixing with the sigh of the river in the spaces between the bull frogs.

Thank you for this trip, sweet boy. It is so good to be on the river with you.

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