Grasshopper Soup: playing by the river
Special to the Bonanza
Five children look down from the top of a steep river bank. They are small, no older than four or five, closer to the earth than anyone. They see the challenge they face, and what it demands from them. The only possible way to conquer the slippery slope is to go fully committed, with absolutely no concern for appearance or image.
The descent is easy for them. Hands and clothes covered with dirt, they are as free as the river they could fall in. For them there is no difference between the thrill of the climb down and the triumph of reaching the bottom by the seat of their pants, to stand beside the river. A childand#8217;s heart contains more than one best adventure. From one adventure to another the children go, but the day is cold, and the river is more intimidating than the cliff. The water is for another day, when they will be sailors and pirates, find buried treasure and magical cities beyond the bend in the river that vanishes like a rainbow.
A childand#8217;s world is all play, full of wonder and colorful phenomena forever flowing out before them, as if from the bottomless cornucopia of their own imagination. They live totally submerged in the river of life. Without fear, they embrace the impossible. They love the danger, because they are so naïve.
They reach the bottom and stand alone beside the river. One of them reaches out and points silently at something in the water. Is it his own image, or a fish? A father watches from above. Children are the most natural part of the landscape. A bald eagle could land beside them and it would not look as genuine.
Then they hear the home bell ring, a heartbreaking, welcome sound. Dad is calling. It is time to go. The children look up, and see the steep face of the river bank in a new light. It looks even better than it did from the top. How will they climb back up? Intuitively they know a different technique will be required. Not sitting down, and not with flat feet, thatand#8217;s for sure. The river bank is always steeper going back up. With ankles bent full forward they struggle to balance, but not much, because their heart is in it. This is something they really want to do. They know they can do it all by themselves, and relish the absence of help. So often in helping, a parent only hinders. This father wisely remains at the top, gently blowing on the spark of their dreams and their curiosity.
They lean forward. Top heavy and inexperienced, they slowly advance. With a few little jerks of the head and a wobbly waist, they scale the bare earth. Swinging one arm high they freeze for a moment, holding it there just long enough to realize they need to get it back down where it belongs. Halfway up, just as the physics of it all seems impossible, the exposed roots of a Jeffrey Pine reach down for them like a hand. What a generous world this is. They graciously accept the organic kindness of the earth, and marvel at how clever they can be. Pride and humility are one and the same for children.
Then, just below the top, they are rewarded with a crack in a rock just within reach. They use it to pull themselves back to the future at the top.
They move together in a school, like fish, yet remain individually unique. Nature is their religion. Freedom is natureand#8217;s gift to them. God himself would not dare take it away. They will lose their innocence soon enough.
How soon we forget what it is like to be a child. Age is a climb in itself, and it can be just as fun as childhood, in a different, even bigger way. I can barely climb in and out of my car let alone up and down a steep river bank.
Further down river, two young teenage boys with fishing poles explode from between the bushes and run down the trail to the river, scaring all the fish away.
Bob Sweigert is a Sierra Sun columnist, published poet, ski instructor and commercial driver. He’s lived at Lake Tahoe for 27 years.