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Sandy Beach

Reflections from the Swamp
Richard van Duyvendyk

Dear Reader

This story is about a time I had to adjust to the end of summer and face the reality of starting school again. School is hard to escape but I tried once a long time ago on a Labour Day weekend.

Revisiting Sandy Beach several years ago, I discovered a discrepancy between what my childhood self saw in the Elbow River and the reality displayed before me. The river hadn’t changed much; however, the magic of the place seemed linked to a distant memory or, more probably, to a child’s mind. The river’s flow is timeless; our experiences can alter memories and lose some of the magic.

The river was shallow in most places, and you could skip a stone across the width if you found the perfect flat, smooth stone. My childhood days were spent at the river, perfecting the art of skipping stones. Once, I waded into the river because all the perfect stones were waiting at the bottom of the river.

The river had carved a deep path through the prairie sandstone, giving the illusion of being in the Grand Canyon. When you looked up at the cliffs, I descended using the “Cow Trail,” which snaked its way laterally down the slope; you felt you were in a lost valley. This place was an abandoned Garden of Eden disconnected from the rest of the world.

The most beautiful of all rivers, this river loved to murmur and sing, mixing its sounds with my splashing and skipping stones. Placed across a field from my house, the river often would call me to come and play. Near my birthplace, the river made music night and day as it flowed down the valley.

An innate love of nature grew down by the river. Frogs, minnows, larger fish to catch, and unknown birds added life to the place. There is a freshness to life’s experiences that is intense when you are young. Nature was a living and breathing spirit that swallowed you into her leafy arms.

There was a cave up on the cliff, high enough for a child to stand in, too low for adults. Buried in the cave were treasure maps, coins, and playing cards. My friends and I would rediscover the cave, imagine we were hiding from the bad guys or the pack of bloodhounds far below and eat the lunches our mothers had prepared. We were free to roam until supper hour, lost in our imaginings. It was as if we were cavemen hiding from the dinosaurs which lurked beneath our elevated cave.

Beauty and self-induced fear were lingering around the river. We learned courage in facing our imaginary foes.

Once, on a sunny Labour Day weekend, when no friend could be found, I went to the river carrying my innertube. The prospect of starting school after the weekend lay heavily on my soul. Soon, the carefree summer days would be over, and I’d sit at a wooden desk in Mrs. MacLachlin’s class, learning math, reading and writing again.

An early frost had touched the poplar trees, which started to change from green to yellow. The grass had turned golden during the dry spell, yet it was warm as toast today. I had my last summer swim in the cool water, never having to go over my head in the shallows.

I mounted the innertube and began my voyage down the river. I passed all the familiar places I knew and was drawn by the flow to lands unknown far ahead. Like all the explorers before me, the irresistible pull to “boldly go where no man had gone before” propelled me down the river, around a corner and into unexplored territory. Mrs. MacLachlin would never find me out here in the wilderness. I would escape the school world, be a voyageur, and never be found again.

In later years, as a teacher, I had similar feelings about the end of summer. I’d go to school in mid-August, but never during the long weekend. With such a long winter, summer is a precious time to be in Nature. I’m thankful my grandchildren are excited about school starting again after Labour Day. For many of us, Labour Day starts a new year.

Best wishes to all for your new year. May your innertube find a safe place until next summer.

 

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