I warm up to the river

Month 6 brought 96 degrees F. My 4-year-old daughter brought the antidote: "Let's go swimming, Dad!" Her blue eyes outshone the sun as we drove, under blue skies, to a public swimming area. Past travels had helped me discover our destination, where I had noticed people swimming. Today we would join them.

Into the parking lot we drove. There were just enough speckles of litter to bother me, like a washable stain on a dress shirt.

Toward the river we walked. The water slugged south in colors of overbrewed, unsweetened tea. Somewhere beneath the thick surface lay the bottom, like coffee grounds.

My daughter plopped in the water. I plopped on the ground. Ten minutes later, she had a request.

"Dad, come in!" Her voice carried higher than the splashing of the heavy water in which everything beneath her knees disappeared.

"No, no, you have fun. I will be right here," I smiled toward her smile.

In clumps around the riverbank, other visitors lounged and lunched. They clustered in groups, somehow ignoring the trash on the ground.

Several minutes later: "Dad, look at me." My daughter broke my attention from the shore. The pancake-syrup river completely covered her as she ducked under the water. As she emerged, I imagined her hair was not naturally brown, but that the river had somehow turned it that color. Her hair clung to her head as she repeated her dives.

River-brown poles stuck about eight feet out of the water, marking the swimming area. Adults gathered in packs and children were randomly clustered within the rectangle of poles, which separated the swimmers from the boaters. A variety of boats puttered away from the boat ramp.

"Dad, look. It's beautiful!" my daughter called.

"Wow, a thingy," came my answer.

She stepped closer, remaining in the water and asked me to come see what she had.

My feet disappeared into the water as I looked down into her hand. I saw what looked like a mass of discarded gum in her hand. "Nice, a rock."

"No. Look!" she exclaimed while rinsing the object. "It's a shell!"

And so it was, a clam shell. Pasty white, once cleansed by the river. Her eyes remained fixed on her discovery.

As she cradled the shell in her hand, I admired its firm ridges - now clearer after she'd washed them.

Around us, children's voices exploded in gleeful sprays, much like the water they splashed in. My daughter found other shells and brought them up. She carefully washed the shells and presented them to me.

My pocketful of shells jingled as my daughter hugged my leg and thanked me for bringing her swimming. She took my hand in hers and tugged me further out into the water. As we played in the water, the color seemed to sweeten.

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