Above The Riffle, Part One of Four
Sam often remembers that special summer of his sixteenth birthday. It resides close in his memory as if it were only yesterday. The reality is that it has been nearly 70 years since he turned that age when he first understood love. It was in the place where he grew up among the green hills of West Virginia. It was first love so young and innocently found that time has not erased it from his thoughts even today.
He was returning now to the place of his youth to see if perhaps the magic once experienced so long ago might still be hidden in the dark green waters of the creek he grew up playing in.
After all those years it is a difficult task for his feeble body to make it down the long dirt embankment overlooking the slow moving creek. The last time Sam made his way down this path, it was with no struggle for the youth to overcome the steep bank. Now every step is guarded and carefully planned to prevent a fall.
Reaching the warm brown sand of the beach alongside the water, he can see the creek and the shoreline have changed very little with the passing of time. What has changed is the quiet woods that ran alongside the creek. They are gone and homes with families now dot the surrounding landscape. Sounds of swirling lawnmowers and kids playing have replaced the call of the meadow lark and the cicada’s late summer song.
As he looks at the rocky riffle stretching before him for nearly 100 yards, it still looks the same as he remembers. Rocks and flowers were as they were back in that summer of 1938. Smells that filled the air from the remaining big oak woods were just as he remembered. Water cascaded across round stones in the creek, creating small swirling pools behind the large stones. Flotsam from the willow trees float on the water’s surface, going round and round in endless circles of the watery traps.
The blue flowers of the water weeds playing host to bees as they search for nectar in the small delicate flowers. In the shallow pools small minnows dart about searching for food while hiding from larger fish. A crayfish slowly works the green alga of the bottom in an endless search for tiny bits of food. A dragonfly with gold eyes and laced wings flies about above the water and then descends quickly to touch the surface ever so gently, making tiny rings that quickly disappear.
As Sam sits down on the warm sand he closes his eyes and feels the air across his face. It was much as it was all those years ago. He has spent a lifetime away from this beloved hidden world of his youth. But Sam has had a good long life-a wife who shared 59 years of happiness and the gift of three children. He would not change his life and the happiness he had been lucky enough to experience in it.
Sam lost his wife a few years back, and the joy of his life was no longer there when he reached to touch her arm in the dark of the night. Like most families, the kids had moved on with their own lives. He enjoyed being with them but there was still something missing and had not been replaced. A lifetime of memory and joy he had, but still one treasured memory from a lifetime ago remained hidden from the world. A secret so special reasonable people would not believe it to be true. Sam has come to question in his own mind if the secret was just a dream from his youth or if it really did happen as he remembered.
Sam realizes his time on this earth has become short. And he has to know if at the deep end of these flowing waters his Rachel is there. He thinks to himself, “Has she waited for me to return or is this a fool’s mission? I have to know if it is true. And was there really a summer I once shared long ago with her.?”
The old gray haired man removes his shoes and steps into the waters of the riffle. A stick lying near the shore becomes his cane to help steady his walk in the flowing waters. He stops only once and looks back at the sandy brown beach and his shoes sitting neatly on a rock. A look and then a smile as he turns and continues his mission up the slow moving stream. A playful damsel fly seems to accompany him on his trip and occasionally lands on his hand. He looks at the blue iridescent creature sitting on his pale hand and thinks perhaps he may be the welcome home committee.
As he walks he remembers the long hours playing in this place and the joy it gave a young boy living in the country outside of town.
The distance to the deep end of the riffle has not changed, but the time to make his way there has much slowed. After what seems like a great length of time the weary man sits down on the large stone at the water’s edge he remembers from his youth. Before him lay a deep pool of water whose edges are draped by weeping willows. Five large rocks protrude from the pool’s surface, worn smooth by time and the flow of water over the years.
Sam sits gazing out at the water for a moment before slowly reaching down into the shallow water at his feet and picking up a small stone. He looks at the stone as he closed it in his hand and whispers, “Rachel.” With that he tosses the stone into the pool of still water. The stone makes a small splash. As it does, rings on top of the water start to spread across the surface. Sam watches as the ripple heads slowly toward him.
I guess the only way for you to truly understand this story is to start at the beginning. We must travel back to a place long forgotten by most.
A place where magic may still live.