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Posts tagged: teenagers

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

Seattle to Alaska aboard the Disney Wonder

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)  

   The little boy stood beside the table that held the mini-iceberg, the chunk of ice that had once been a part of the North Sawyer Glacier before breaking away—calving— and falling with a splash into the Tracy Arm fjord off Alaska’s famed Inside Passage. It had been harvested and brought aboard by the Disney Wonder crew and put on display on one of the upper decks so passengers could touch history in frozen form.


    Like most of the others who circled the hunk of ice, the boy put out his hand and touched it, tracing with his finger the rough edges that were softening as it melted and dripped away. His eyes were wide and shining, but that touch wasn’t enough for the pre-schooler. He let go of his mother’s hand, stepped forward and wrapped both arms as far as he could around it, putting his cheek against the frozen surface, embracing it. Claiming it. For a moment anyway. Icebergs are cold, you know.


    I hadn’t known what to expect of the cruise beyond beautiful scenery and character breakfasts, but my daughter was the reason for the trip. She would celebrate her 17th birthday while we were sailing and I wanted to give her a memorable birthday that would be fun for all of us without reducing her to a bored minor on a cruise designed for adults. But most of all,  I wanted her to see the water, the mountains, the wildlife and the glaciers of Alaska, and I wanted to be there when she saw it all. I’m keenly aware of how little time I have left with her before she goes off to school and takes the first tentative steps into her own life, and there is still so much of the world I want to share with her.


    After leaving Seattle, the second day of the 7-night cruise we steamed leisurely up the majestic Tracy Arm fjord until, coming around the last bend, we pulled silently up to the ice-filled water at the foot of the blue glacier. People spilled out onto the observation decks, cradling cups of cocoa in their hands, and gazed out on the view. And the view was stunning. In spite of the wind and the chilly temperature, everyone was drawn to the spectacle and then seemed unable to look away.


    The naturalist accompanying the cruise provided on-board narration about the size and history of the North Sawyer, including its rapid retreat, a condition shared by glaciers all over the world. He pointed out the harbor seals resting on the ice, the eagles on the Sitka Spruce and commented on the habits of bears and other wildlife.


    We didn’t just take a spin around the cove and move on. The big ship rested silently in that beautiful place and let us all drink in the sights and sounds. The PA system was turned off for long stretches of time to give us, and the natural world around us, sweet silence. Even the ship’s crew, some of whom must have seen the sight many times, wandered out on deck to take it in. Then, a steel cage was lowered into the water and the iceberg fragment was brought aboard.


    Several hours later we pulled away, back into the Passage and continued our journey. It was exactly what I had hoped for. I watched as my daughter scrolled through the photos she’d taken, pointing out the exceptional ones, and I was filled with gratitude to have been there with her.


    If I’d been a little boy I might have thrown my arms around her for just a moment, happy to be so near to something so wonderful. But only for a moment. Teenagers are slippery, you know.

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Spokesman-Review Home Planet and Treasure Hunting columns and blogs and her CAMera: Travel and Photo blog, 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
  

Gone for a Soldier

    They stood on the corner downtown, a loose, silent group of young men. Most not more than boys, really. Each had a bag or duffle at their feet.
    

   I realized they were new recruits on their way to boot camp. To basic training. On their way to an adventure, on their way to the fast-track to maturity. On their way to a place and a future they couldn’t imagine. Gone, as the old folk song goes, for a soldier.
    

    The group paid no attention to me as I walked past. Most were lost in their own thoughts, staring down at their shoes, or at their fingernails. I wondered if they were still under the spell of tearful goodbyes; hugs from crying wives, mothers or girlfriends, awkward handshakes from fathers whose voices were gruff with unshed tears.
    

    It was all I could do to walk on by. I have a son just about their age. I worry about him all the time. When he’s traveling, I call, leaving nagging texts on his phone.
    

    “Where are you?” I write, or “You need to call me now.”
     

    When he’s in town, I cluck and flutter around him like a hen, asking questions and giving advice that is politely taken, but quickly tossed away.
    

    Those boys weren’t mine, but I could barely contain the urge to do the same for them.
    

    “Take care of yourself,” I wanted to say. “Be careful. Pay attention to what’s going on around you. Call your mother.”
    

    I wanted to send them off with a blessing.
    

    What would they think, I wondered, if a woman – a woman old enough to be their mother - ran up to each one and, taking their head in her hands, kissed each cheek and told them she loved them? Because at that moment I did love them all. They would remember me I’m sure. From time to time they would talk about the crazy woman who kissed them the day they left. They would laugh about it, but they would never forget.
    

    I didn’t stop. My feet kept walking. They kept their eyes trained at the far edge of the horizon.
And we each kept our thoughts to ourselves.

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
  

Start the new year on a new note

I know you’re not really in the mood to listen to your mother, but I can’t help it. I have something to say. And, since I don’t want to chase you around, texting and calling, nagging and whining into your ear, I decided to put it down in this note. So, here goes:

December is drawing to a close. A new year is only hours away.  This calls for some kind of recognition.
I know it sounds old fashioned, but I am one of those people who believes in new beginnings. Even after all I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot, I continue to cling to the idea that old mistakes, old habits and old heartaches can be left behind and that each of us, without the weight of what can hold us down and hold us back, has the potential to do amazing and wonderful things.

I believe that for you, too.

So, do me a favor. Take a minute and think about how just fortunate you are. You have the luxury of having a family and a home to push against. You don’t have to worry about where your next meal will come from or whether you’ll have a warm place to sleep or what kind of disaster tomorrow might bring. You have a home base. No matter how far you wander or how many mistakes you make, you will always be welcomed back into the fold.

Try to find a minute in every day to remember those things.


You have a brand new year ahead of you. Our sunrises and sunsets are numbered. Every square on the calendar is a gift. Unwrap it carefully. See something rare and wonderful in every day. Find a new way to experience the world around you.


Feel the sunset. Taste the music. Listen to the mountains and take hold of the sky.
Read a poem, go to the symphony, see a play. Learn everything you can. Be brave. Be kind. Be available to those who love you.

Remember the good times and let the bad times go. Learn what you can from them and then toss them into the air like so much dust. Do your homework. Take your vitamins. Call your mother.
Every once in a while go through the photo albums. Watch old home movies. See those kids? The ones who had no clue what they were doing, who dressed in dorky clothes and smiled those big goofy smiles? Show a little mercy. We were young. We were in love with our babies and nothing has changed that in any way.

There, that’s all I wanted to say. The next 365 days are yours. They are a blank canvas. Go out an paint them with colors your father and I could never have imagined.



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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