In the 1970s, I lived on St. Simons Island, Georgia. In the cul-de-sac adjacent to Martin Street, back on King’s Way, we had a tree that we climbed to swing. Someone had nailed long boards in as a ladder, and we’d climb up to the first big branch holding the rope swing attached to a neighboring branch and slide out far enough to clear the trunk, hold on tight, close our eyes, and let go. The rush of pure childhood bliss that comes from a rope swing on an oak tree is second to none.
I had that flashback of childhood today as we kayaked the Flint River from Sprewell Bluff Park to Highway 18 in Upson County. The river was low, and the ride was rocky with only one high-anxiety experience when I ended up sideways on a rock with rushing currents and my boat took on water. Thank goodness my husband came to my aid or the Gypsy Soul would have been a goner for sure. But before the trouble happened, we noticed a group who had stopped to climb a tree hanging over the river and jump from a rope swing.
And that’s when I was reminded of my favorite line from E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, when Fern and Avery are out swinging in the barn: “Children almost always hang onto things tighter than their parents think they will.”
For Christmas one year when we were riding through Epworth By the Sea to see all the luminaries lining the roads and driveways, we stopped at a church member’s house, and they gave me a red copy of A Child’s Garden of Verses with gold lettering. It was one of my favorites – that and Childcraft Volume 1, Poems and Rhymes. I think of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Swing still today when I see someone swinging and having such fun ~
How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!
Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside—
Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown—
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!
The memories and literature of my childhood came flooding back as swiftly and as powerfully as the river rapids as I watched the group swinging from the rope swing. And while I’m still all about the adrenaline rush of adventure and thrillseeking, I confessed to my husband that I’m turning in my river kayaking card after today. No more rivers for me; I’m sticking to the lakes from here on out. These hands that used to hold onto things tighter than my parents thought they would? They’re ready to let go of some of the riskier endeavors and watch from the shady edge, remembering what it was like to touch the sky.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.