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Posts tagged: parents

Spokane: A raging river is no place to play

    Like so many others in Spokane, in the spring I go down to pay my respects to the river. Fed by snowmelt and rain, the Spokane River swells and grows and becomes, seemingly overnight, a powerful monster roaring through the canyon it has chewed through solid basalt. 

 

    This dramatic sight draws people of all ages and the spectacle takes your breath away. Water spills over the falls, churns, boils and foams sending curtains of fine mist, droplets of water that ride the wind, coating the bridges, paths and spectators before it rushes on, making its way to fill the aquifer that quenches this thirsty land.

 

    This year, with so much snow and rain falling so late in the season, the river is at its wildest, just under flood stage. We were there on Saturday afternoon and we walked along the path to the viewing platform at the base of the Monroe Street Bridge. That is one of my favorite places to see the falls and feel the incredible power. The land drops away at the edge of the rail, the ground vibrates and the sound makes conversation difficult. We stood for a few minutes admiring the view and taking photos before we strolled up another block to the Post Street Bridge. 

 

    From there I noticed a group of boys on bicycles ride down to the place we’d just been. Gathering at the rail, they were roughhousing as boys of that age do, pushing, punching, shadowboxing as they peered down at the water. Suddenly, one of the boys climbed up and dropped over the rail in one fluid motion, landing on the deceptively thin layer of spongy soil covering the slick rocks abutting the concrete arch of the big bridge. He moved to the edge of the steep slope that plunges down to the raging water. 

 

    My heart slammed against my ribs and I heard myself make an instinctive, involuntary, sound like a frightened animal. I was terrified he would slip at any minute. The ground was still soaked from days of rain and there was nothing to reach out and grab if he lost his footing. And the river, always dangerous, is completely unforgiving at this stage. Whatever falls into it is quickly gone forever. 

 

    I looked for my husband but he was out of sight. I raised my phone to call 911, sure that if I took my eyes off the boy he would be gone when I looked up, but at that moment one of his friends must have called him back because he turned and just as quickly hopped back to safety.

 

    “Oh, you stupid boy.” I whispered. “You stupid, lucky, boy.”  

 

    The group stayed another few minutes—long enough for me to snap a photo—and then hopped back on their bicycles and moved on, off to swagger and impress one another in other ways, I suppose. 

 

    I finally walked away but I was still trembling.

 

    I keep replaying the scene in my mind, thinking how one wrong step could have changed everything, but I doubt the boy has given it a second thought. 

 

    I know this is nothing new. 

 

    When my children were that age they laughed at my constant worry. They thought I was simply overprotective, but the truth is, I was unhinged. They had no idea how many dangers there were outside our door and I suppose I believed if I could think of it and warn them against it (whatever it was) I could somehow protect them. New fears would hit me in the middle of the night. What if… What if… What if…

 

    At that age—adolescence and early adulthood—we are vulnerable because we have not yet developed an awareness of just how fragile we truly are. Age, experience, and exposure to the shocking misfortune of others gradually brings on the understanding that at any given moment any of us is fair game to tragedy. Terrible things can happen when we least expect it.  

   

    Eventually, wisdom—and with it a greater chance of survival—comes with the understanding that the reckless make themselves better targets. So most of us grow cautious, careful. Some of us become worried mothers and fathers, nagging our children to take care.

 

    Perhaps one day, when he is a man and he’s watching a teenage son drive away, the same lucky boy will remember the day the river didn’t get him and he’ll call out,  “Hey, don’t do anything stupid!”

 

    But his boy will not look back, and the words will roll off his back like the clean, cool, spray from a waterfall. 

    

     Note: The group of boys mentioned in this column appears in the photo above.

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Saturday, Snow and the Happy Boy.

There are times, or so it feels to me, when our lives are fed to us the way food is stuffed into a goose to make foie gras. We don’t get a break. We’re crammed with more than we can possibly handle. There isn’t time to savor a bite.


 I was thinking about that as I stood in line at the bakery on Saturday morning, waiting my turn to place an order. The day was cold and fat snowflakes fell, swirling and drifting down from the flat gray sky. Through the wide front window of the downtown patisserie, I watched a family walk down the sidewalk. Two little boys - maybe four and six-years-old, dressed for the wintry weather - walked a bit behind their parents. The littlest boy dawdled, taking his time. He wasn’t in any kind of a hurry. Every few feet his parents called back to the boys to catch up. The big brother dutifully picked up his pace and tugged at the little one to do the same. And he did. For a step or two. Then he began to slow down again.


 It was obvious the little boy wasn’t particularly interested in where the rest of the family was going in such a hurry. It didn’t matter to him at all. Besides, I suspected no one had asked him where he wanted to go, anyway. He was just along for the ride. He’d been bundled into his coat and a cap had been pulled onto his head. He’d been hustled into the car, buckled into a car seat, driven across town and then unbuckled and lifted out onto the sidewalk. And now he was being told to keep up and stay close.


Instead, he strolled happily along, face turned up to the sky, mouth wide open catching snowflakes on the tip of his tongue.


I felt the landscape of my face change as I watched him and I smiled.


After paying for my purchases, I took the box of pastries and walked out the door. By that time, the light snow was over and the family with their sky-gazing little boy was gone.


 I took my time going back to my car, even though I suspected there might be a parking ticket fluttering under the windshield wiper. Even though I had other stops to make and dinner to cook and deadlines to meet.
At that moment, I think if even one snowflake had dropped out of the sky, down to where I was walking,  I would have done just what the little boy did a few moments before. I would have opened my mouth and stuck out my tongue and let everything else simply melt away.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

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About this blog

Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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