The River I Know In my romantic memory lives a world that spins smoothly around life on a gently flowing river. The river life I know is peaceful and rewarding as well as filled with challenges and accomplishments. Much of my memory is unabashedly stilted towards the spiritual romance invoked by the slow moving water on which I grew up.
Our town, Liverpool, Pennsylvania, is situated on the western shore of the Susquehanna River, just north of Harrisburg by about 28 miles. Across the river just to the South of town is Millersburg Pennsylvania. The river is just shy of a mile wide at this point and turns through the river valley in a gentle dog leg to the East.
The river I know is certainly the one which originates far north as the Sinnemahoning Creek. It is also the same river that was coal sand mined for years and is the one that floods violently every twenty years, more or less. It is more than the group of statistics that can be researched regarding size and volume. To me, it's a pattern imprinted on my brain and a longing in my heart for the simple life and times it represents in my romantic memory.
My romantic memory always sees the raw beauty, the power, and the majesty of slow moving water a mile wide in front of my house. The haunting, distant call of the freight train on the opposite shore beckons my memories with every other train's whistle I've heard since. The slow pace of a train on tracks in the city reminds me of the trains that paced the Susquehanna's flow on the eastern shore, groaning like tortured ghosts across the dark river at night. Like smoke, the trains' calls drift across the water and wrap around me, pulling me to the water, pulling me towards the far shore.
My romantic memory longs for me to stare across the silky, rippling surface towards the sheer rock face we called the Schmatterhorn. Several hundred feet tall and nearly vertical, the face, lined with scrubby pines calls as Mecca calls the Muslim. Climb me. Paddle over and climb me. Rock faces, to this day, conjure the memories of sliding down the face perilously close to death and relishing the brush with mortality as confirmation of life itself.
My romantic memory yearns to be paddled out to a rock with nothing more than a bedroll. If it were only possible to fall asleep every night as the moon rises over the mountain and wake each morning as the sun's first rays crest the peak. Then--to paddle home and start the day with river water on my skin, feeling somewhat wild and ready for anything--that would be a life measuring up to the romantic memory of the river I know.
My romantic memory of swimming holes--ah, the swimming holes. Charlie Rock. Ring Rock. Big Creek Eddy. Big Creek. Dinosaur Rock. All were names for a few of the deep pools where swimming was a bit more risky than the town pool. In a river that averages maybe two feet of depth, the chance to dive and swim in cooler water was taken at all times. Swimming in a lake, in a pool, in the ocean…it's just not the same after swimming with danger in the river I know.
My romantic memory floats with me through the dark channels created by islands, imagining the world a thousand years past. Large fish, frogs, toads, deer, hawks, mink, muskrats, raccoons, turtles, foxes, and owls, all create a robust ecosystem surreal in the way it's foreign to our modern souls and concurrently resident in the primordial instincts basic to our first memories. We have been here before, and for eons, and we will be here again.
In my romantic memory the river I know was a community center, fresh pantry, babysitter, irrigation source, transportation opportunity, relaxation venue, and above all else, our link to creation. The small pieces of my soul that are intact and need no further work were born and suckled on that river. And they will forever nurture the rest of me along with the buoyancy of the river's encouragement and empowerment, and natural parables of truth and beauty.
The river I know is one where perilous acts of impetuous youth brought great pleasure alongside painful lessons. Each act of defiance against the river or against those who would shackle such wild impulses taught valuable lessons about strength, permanence, integrity, and tenacity. Every adventure began and ended somehow at the water's edge.
I swam in my father's river. The river of his memory lies here in these pages. My father swam in his father's river. His memory, too, is recorded here for you to experience. Welcome to the river I know.