Deep, deep water under overcast skies with a condensing mist floating just above the surface. Paddle through that curtain and the temperature goes up 10 degrees and the air gets sticky and damp again. “The cold water can make you cramp and sink to the bottom! Nobody is coming down to get you!” We laugh and swim to the middle, treading water in the crampiest, sinkiest spot possible. We don’t cramp or sink, we float and spiral down like the otter, an animal bearing no resemblance or relation to a stalking king-beast cat. There is nobody else here, so the spring is ours and nobody else has ever been here as far as we are concerned. Dive in, climb out, dive in- performing our Jefferson County ablutions.
“You won’t see no black people here” said the old coach in the parking lot. “Too many mean white people in Jefferson County.” He has a look on his face like something is dead and rotten, and I like him for knowing what stinks. It never once occurred to me, but he’s right. I have never seen a black person at this river. My own white skin purchasing the privilege of my extended stay in la-la land. Surely I’m wrong, and this river is everyone’s river now?
An Osprey lights 20 feet above us, feathers a wet mess and head swiveling about like a mad scientist. He looks like a dangerous, vigilante chicken about to go buck wild on your ass. He looks down at us and I am concerned for my eyes, but he flies away.
There is a limestone arch beneath another little spring and you can swim under and through it. We all agree it looks easy enough, but nobody feels like giving it a go. Get a cramp and you will sink like a stone. I can guarantee I will get my foot caught on something, although my luck has changed this summer. No need to test it right that minute. Three young braves show up in a john boat and one of them does it. The others are afraid of cramps.
Back at the parking lot the rope swing deck is finally empty. The homecoming queen and her coterie have clocked out, so there is nothing to stop us from climbing the tree and swinging out above the concrete platform and over the hole to come ka-splashing down. The water shoots up your nose and into your brain, where it can do the most good. All of our bent and busted shoulders work, even if they might look funny to some.