by tobias crabtree
Last I checked, somewhere up the 199 going toward Grant’s Pass out of Crescent City, there’s a real good rope swing. It hangs over the Jed Smith river from under a steel bridge. It’s one of those rope swings that gives pause. The bridge is probably 50 feet above the river and the rope must be fished from the air using a long crooked stick that the wild children have stashed in the bushes just under the concrete pilings. The trajectory of the take-off is crucial to landing in the river correctly; wrong take-off, bad things will happen. When you let go at the peak of the swing, the drop is about 35 feet. I’ve seen kids, some of them only 12 years old, doing flips upon release. When I first discovered it, I was there with a girlfriend. The kids were shooting funny looks our direction as if to say, who the hell’r you and why you at our spot. I hadn’t seen anyone go off the swing, although a couple had gone up and chickened out. (Can I still say “chickened out” or is that offensive these days? I’m gonna say it and trust that I haven’t offended anyone.) I swam up the river to the base of the rocks below the bridge, the pool below was really deep and perfectly clear. Under the belly of the bridge, I spotted the crooked stick and used it to fetch the rope, hanging in space. The knot at the end was greasy from hundreds of sweaty little palms. I could see that a direct swing into the deep pool would result in clipping a nasty out-cropping of granite and I pictured myself with a shattered ankle and a bunch of kids telling the story about a time they saw this idiot….
From down below I heard one of the local boys yell up at me. “Run out to the left, you’ll miss it.” How funny it is that I would listen to some young punk that I’ve never met, 40 feet off the deck, hanging on to a greasy little rope swing. But I did listen. And I went. And I flew out around the rocks and up into the piney air, arms a flappin’, body twisting, blue-green below, world turning slowly, time almost to a standstill. And the splashdown and the cold of the river that carries the water that it’s always carried, through the gills of millions of fish, on it’s way to the sea. And the most present form of me at the surface and hooting and swimming to the rocks. Mad scramble up and out, back up for a one-more-time-at-the-very-least-one-more-time. I heard one of the kids cheering me on, and so i went a few more times. When I came across the beach, the teenagers wanted to talk. They gave me a Bud light. They asked me how old I was because it mattered to them. I suppose, in some ways, it’s kind of validating to know that what’s fun at 15 can be fun at 45. There were no more stares or glares in our direction. We all were just hanging out under the yellow sun. The common language was learned through a rope and gravity and a certain river and a perfect bridge. And we all swam and sat and looked at the river as it looked back at us with it’s forever memory and it’s secret past.
I believe in swings. I believe in bridges, both physical and figurative. I believe in beating hearts of all kinds, young and old and in-between. I believe in love, sadness, wonder, pain and magnificence. See you later? Maybe we’ll be waiting in line up under the belly of some old bridge. I certainly hope so. Hell yeah.