Dear Michael and Caroline,
“There,” Kevin said without warning.
“Where?” Eric asked. Yes, I wondered, where?
“Right there,” Kevin said, pointing ahead.
Ah, yes. There indeed. The stream below us, so narrow for so long, had widened into an oval shape, just like a pool. A watering hole, where the stream deepened from inches to feet, with steep banks all around, ridged by the roots from surrounding trees, exposed through the soil.
Eric and I scanned the spot, struck with admiration for Kevin, who had now shared his secret with us.
And just then the watering hole got even better. Next to the bank on one side loomed a tall tree with thick branches stretching out. Dangling from the lowest, thickest branch, maybe 10 feet above the watering hole, was a length of thick rope with a knot at the end. Someone had come along and wrapped the rope around the branch just so, creating the best possible ride.
Right away I recognized the possibilities. And I wasted no time. I took off my sneakers and socks and shirt and shorts, now only in my briefs. I clambered up the tree, the bark biting into my skin, my nostrils flaring so wide I could now whiff the lush, fertile woods around me.
I reached out to grip the knot at the end of the rope.
I tugged to test its security.
All systems go.
I pulled the rope back toward me and held tight and pushed away from the tree and swung into the air out over the watering hole with Eric and Kevin egging me on and then I let go and dropped and splashed right into the welcoming pool below and went down fast underwater and felt the mud on the bottom with my toes and came up to breathe.
And that’s how we three spent that particular afternoon at Dunkerhook Park. Swinging off a rope into a stream, swinging with utter abandon, the abandon of boys playing it all joyously by ear. Seeing who could swing out the farthest, cheering each other on.
As I say, you never knew with Kevin. But this time he came through with a true treat, no con job. Never before or since can I recall acting with quite that degree kind of abandon. Can any activity be wilder, less inhibited, than sending yourself hurtling off a tree into the water below? We felt like Tarzan. I wanted to pound my chest with my fists and yodel from the treetops.
That’s among the many gifts of childhood, that sense of being carefree. It lasts only a short while, never fully to be regained.