Monday, June 27, 2016

Memories of time in our river

Here it is the last weekend in June and I have yet to swim in the Guadalupe River this year -- a shame, certainly, and not in keeping with previous summers. There have been summers when I went swimming in the river almost every day, and not just behind my family's print shop in downtown Kerrville, but all over Kerr County.
I have so many happy memories of time in our river, and I hope to get in the water, soon.
The river behind the print shop has changed from my early childhood. In those days it was not unusual to see a fast boat pulling a water skier, though I'm not old enough to remember the water skiing shows produced Cotton Eldridge and others. (My parents were among those who skied that section of the river. To this day I'm uncertain how they got both boat and skier turned before sailing off the small dam in Louise Hays Park.)
The river was wilder then; there was no 'river trail,' as there is today. There were deer trails, and there was the river. No sidewalks as there are now. I'm thankful more people have access to what was a wild place.
In my childhood, Tranquility Island was just 'the island' in the middle of the river, a home to rabbits and water moccasins. The island's banks were heavily wooded, mainly with cypress trees, but its center was a field of rounded river stones, placed there by floodwaters over many decades. We swam to the island many times, thinking we were brave explorers.
The park was different, too. In addition to the ski boats racing through the park, there was a miniature golf course cut into the hillside, just below the site of the pavilion in the park. I spent a lot of time at the playgrounds near there, mostly with kids from church.
Later, when our family got a canoe, several of us discovered things upstream from the Francisco Lemos Street bridge. There were rapids, dotted with huge rocks, that tested our abilities, and a beach where we liked to stop to fish, mostly catching perch.
We also discovered deep pools away from and parallel to the main river channel, where the water was still and dark. In one we found the wreck of an old car, washed there decades earlier. It was rusted, missing its windows and tires, and pretty badly banged up, as if it had rolled there in high water. We hesitated to look inside, afraid of what we might find.
There another side pool in particular I remember: As you entered the pool, passing a cypress tree pushed by floodwaters to almost be almost parallel to the river's surface, water moccasins would fall, one by one, into the river below. They'd be on the long arm of the tree in the sunshine until we passed and frightened them into the river. Even though decades have passed, I can still hear the sound they made as they hit the water and disappeared below. It was more a 'splat' than a 'splash,' and it's not a sound easily forgotten; five to ten moccasins falling into the river near your passing canoe has a permanence in one's memory.
In more recent years, my favorite place to swim in the Guadalupe has been at Mo-Ranch, on the North Fork, where the water is clear and deep. I enjoy snorkeling there, and years ago Ms. Carolyn bought me an underwater camera to take photos of the various fish I ran across. It's amazing how clear the water is there. (I like to ride the sled into the water there, too.)
Mostly, though, I swim behind the shop at Louise Hays Park, usually between the bridge and the dam, floating in the middle of the river, so close to the bustle of the business district, and yet so far away, too. Usually I swim with my son, but occasionally the sweet Ms. Carolyn will join us there. There is something about the light as it finds its way through the cypress trees along the river bank, falling on the green river below.
Hopefully this week I will finally hop in the river again. It has been too long.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who wishes Mike Graxiola a happy retirement. Mike has been a great addition to our community as publisher of this newspaper, and I hope he thinks of the rest of us during his frequent visits to the golf course.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times June 25, 2016.

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