Growing up spending my summers in one outdoor activity camp or another, my favorite days of all were the ones when the instructor told us to bring a towel and our water shoes.
That meant we were going on a creek walk and would be spending the day taking refuge from sweltering heat in the shady, cool expanse of some unnamed — at least to me — stream and exploring the part of nature I loved best. A self-proclaimed water rat, I preferred to spend most of my time not on dry land, but wading through tiny, shallow creeks, swimming in rivers and ponds, or playing in the neighborhood pool if none of the aforementioned options were available.
The camp instructors often pretended that the creek walks were great educational opportunities — which wasn’t untrue, there was plenty of nature to see and experience and learn about — but more often than not everyone devolved into a soaked, shrieking, playful mess perhaps five minutes after getting our toes wet. The instructors did little to derail us, as long as we were safe and not being too rough; there’s only so many days you can successfully wrangle 15 to 20 adolescents into carefully planned activities and itineraries in the midst of boiling summers, after all.
I brought my towel but no water shoes; they gave me blisters, so I either wore flip flops or went barefoot. The heat of the day warmed the water nicely so that we wouldn’t freeze but could still find relief. Trees lining the banks above us reached their arms down and we reached up to brush our fingers against their trailing, leafy branches. Water striders skimmed the creek’s surface, darting around our insect-bitten knees. More than once, someone would slip on the moss-covered rocks beneath the water and shrieks would echo off the slate walls that rose up on either side of the creekbed. We would take broken pieces of slate rock and draw our names on dry stones; the slate crumbled like the worst quality pencil graphite, coating our fingers blue but leaving the marks designed as we’d intended.
There’s so much lovely nostalgia carried in those memory-creeks.
I recently dipped my toes again into that feeling when I took a day to visit the river in our local recreation area. I can’t say this river feels the same as the streams of my youth, but there are enough similarities — the mossy stone riverbed, the color of the water just bordering on the green I habitually expect water to be, the greenery that lies along the shoreline and drapes itself over the water’s edge — that my want for nostalgia is satisfied.
I am not barefoot this time; even in the height of summer, the air and water are too cold for me to wade in without a second thought like I once did. I wear waterproof boots, which admittedly help me keep my feet better on the slippery riverbed, and hide my phone in the pocket of my rain jacket in case I slip after all.
The river washes away the stress of the day, of the week, of adulthood as I walk down its back. The sounds, smells and sights are almost-familiar enough that I feel as a child again, and if it were any warmer and I didn’t have my phone in my jacket pocket, I might just tip myself over and see what the river looks like from the under-surface.
Another day, perhaps. I didn’t bring a towel with me, either.