There's a smell in the air on such days in Western Pennsylvania. It's sweet and musky, and it makes me think of patchouli, never failing to take me back in time. I'm made acutely aware of just how many autumns have stacked up behind me.
The fine, damp, packed gravel was not so hard packed under my feet. I left little tracks where it lifted--flung from the soles of my shoes with each step I took. The sky was gray--not steel gray, but full of dimensions and features.
Beside me, a stream ran very low. There's been little rainfall for months... and the world is glowing golden yellow. I stop to watch the stream.
Like so many people, I lose myself in my thoughts, around water.
It was the summer of 1987. We took the boat downriver to a place I'd never been. Everyone around the docks had, but I was a relative newcomer at the river. I was a small stream kind of girl :-) but the river was growing on me--somehow getting into my soul. And I suspected that, at times, it coursed through my veins.
We pulled in close to the shoreline and dropped anchor. There it was-- the rope swing.
I jumped out of the boat and swam for shore, taking in the scene before me. I was hesitant... it looked dangerous. There were huge rocks, limestone, the size of small cars. The railroad had dumped them there to fortify the riverbank.
There was a crowd on the bank, climbing up over the rocks...and more waiting to climb the rocks...all in line for that one rope.
I watched a teenage boy stand on top of the tallest rock and then push off. He yelled as he let go, swinging like a pendulum out over the water.
His body was briefly suspended in mid-air, just before plummeting toward the river. There was a splash, followed by silent seconds hanging in time before he surfaced, mouth wide open with laughter. Hoots and hollers followed.
Just as soon as he'd cleared the ultimate landing zone in the water, there was another person, the pendulum swung... and then plummeting, splashing and laughing.
My heart was in my throat. Such a cautious soul, I didn't know if I had it in me...I weighed the risks. Well, if my hands slipped on the rope, I'd fall onto the rocks. If I got too scared to let go of the rope and tried to swing back, I'd crash into the rocks...
I could get really hurt.
Or I could just sit out there on the river bank, high and dry, and watch them laughing and having the time of their lives.
I was drawn from my thoughts back to the trail. It's not crowded today, but I do see two people approaching me. Bright clothing seems to shine as they draw near on their bikes, a blur of high speed peddling.
The two young men smile as they pass me...they are enjoying their day, no-doubt. I think...don't we all want to do more than just exist? More than just live until we die? Don't we all have something to do that evokes a passion in each of us?
I continue south on the trail... my steady footfalls have lulled me back into my thoughts...
On the riverbank, I watched, with heart pounding each time I thought I might actually do it. I took a step, summoning the moxie to move toward the rope, and wordlessly announced my turn in line. Time was flying. Before I could even chicken out, I was holding the rope in my hand. :-)
I heard hoots coming from the boat now. I took as many steps backward as I could, trying to gain the most height at the end of my outward swing... and then I jumped, grabbed, and curled up my legs to clear the rocks. There wasn't time to be afraid. The rush washed over me as I reached the end. It was almost instinctive; I let go. I felt that split second when I wasn't going up, nor going down. The butterflies in my stomach fluttered, and then I headed toward the water.
For a split second, I saw it, my reflection on the water's surface. I shut my eyes. The shadow of a soul approaching... and then I cannon-balled down into the murky Allegheny River. I bobbed to the surface, full of laughter and exhilaration, and swam to shore... Then I climbed back up the rocks to wait in line...
Life is a lot like that...letting go of the rope... and just falling... a shadow on the water's surface...
Another bicyclist zoomed past me, bright yellow, techie looking clothing. Other than the three cyclists, I've been alone with my thoughts for this walk.
I glanced at the stream, watching a yellow leaf drift lazily down, a brief moment of reflection, then land on the water. I turned back north; time to head home.
Life is short, and the days grow even shorter. The years go by. And if we aren't careful, they take so many of the best chances with them.
Writing is a lot like that, too. You can stand on the riverbank your whole life, watching everyone else let go.
Best thing I can think is to grab that figurative rope and jump, tuck legs, and swing. And when the time is right... we'll know...and let go of the rope! :-)