At noon on a hot day, we’ve spread out the picnic blanket on the edge of the muddy riverbank. The day smells like lemonade and chicken salad sandwiches, cold beer and coconut-scented sunscreen. Our friends’ three-month-old child is making a chattering, hiccupping sort of sound. The sound is like an ancient tongue of childhood, as once spoken by astronauts and Mesopotamians. For a moment or two, I pick up the daily newspaper, but quickly become discouraged with all the reported shellings, disappearances, impending nuclear threats and melting ice floes.
This is the same river that I once, tequila-fuelled, swam naked in, howling at the stars, and nearly drowned.
It is difficult to imagine what this area must have looked like four or five thousand years ago. I imagine marshy areas, tangled with reeds and rushes. Perhaps there were smoldering fires from encampments. Perhaps there were witches gathering herbs. The air would have smelled cleaner, no doubt. No faint whiff of chemicals on the wind.
To escape the blackflies, my daughter and I slip into the fast-flowing stream. There is a deep pocket of liquid where you can swim as fast as you want against the current without moving an inch. Invisible, tiny fish nibble on our toes. Far off in the distance, there is a tendril of lightning testing the air, a brief tremble of thunder, but nothing to worry about just yet.
Floating on my back, I think about all of the things I want my daughter to experience in the future. Not big things necessarily. That first trip to Europe with a Maple Leaf sewn onto her backpack. The northern lights dancing over her head. The chance to have her heart broken and maybe break one or two herself. The opportunity to make one mistake after another and just keep on going. I cross my fingers and make a silent prayer.
The wind can change so quickly in these parts. We finish our slices of watermelon and molten chocolate cake just as the first raindrops splatter against our paper plates. We make our way slowly back down the logging road beneath the carbon sky. We sing My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean and Goodnight Irene. We take turns telling our most embarrassing incidents. Like the time I walked into a job interview with one lens missing out of my eyeglasses. The time Brent got his foot stuck inside a waste-paper basket. My daughter is doubled over at the stupidity of grown-ups. The laughter of childhood, fragile and enduring, ancient beyond reckoning, and newly minted each and every day.