Remembering one summer’s end

On a morning crisp in its chill, the autumnal clock stirs as colors flow through the veins of leaves in tall stands of trees, saturating them with a last breath of summer. I step outside for a walk behind the house. I can see my breath bend in the cold air and hear the trees’ tired backs creak. Rubbing my hands together, I blow my coffee-soaked breath into them to keep warm. On a path trodden over time by deer, I step deliberately, careful to avoid disturbing the last of the ferns and the brown green mosses, the lichens of gray, blue and silver, all beginning their hibernation for the season. I make my way down the path to the bank of a stream that runs from one end of the property, past my home and out to the ocean. I gaze on a small waterfall recalling childhood moments and imagine my toy soldiers bobbing with heads up, cascading one by one over the waterfall, downstream, and out to the ocean.

When I was young my grandfather sent one of my uncles down to the city park on a Saturday morning during the summer to lay claim to a small piece. It was clearly eminent domain by way of lawn chairs, blankets, and barbecue grills. And it was here, our large family would gather to enjoy the day.

This was the way it was back then, the occasional family outing along with the sometimes Sunday drive out of the city to nowhere specifically, just as long as it was out of the city. The public park system was the playground of my youth, especially on warm summer days. Some days the entire family gathered by a river just as they would sometimes gather around my grandmother’s kitchen table on Friday nights and on special occasions. This time there was no special occasion, just a family and the idyllic surroundings of green grass, blue sky, and that forever-running river with its loud crashing waterfall.

I knew it was not the sea, and yet, to a young boy living in a city, if the rolling waters of the Atlantic were but a dream, this was it, right here in front of me. It was the sound that first piqued my curiosity and then it was the sight of it that both excited and frightened me.

On days like these, it wasn’t the family, friends or the games we played in the park that garnered my attention; it was the sight and sound of the waterfall. A constant voice in my boyhood ears, the waterfall called me to its edge, taunt me to take that first step deep into the roll of it, into the swift current, into its white-toothed grin. But I always held fast to the riverbank with one foot on the water’s edge and the other rooted to the ground like a wild alder, digging deep, holding on forever.

One day, the wind shifted unexpectedly and came to rest on my shoulders. The feeling was like nothing I had experienced before. Courage perhaps? The light breeze enveloped me, soothed and took me up into its arms, until I found myself standing in the center of the waterfall. As I stood there I could see and hear my childhood swim in eddies all around me, it circled, laughed, and played games. There at my feet, I saw my toy soldiers float by in formation, marching onwards toward the waterfall.

The current was cold and biting on my legs, pushed me with little nibbles, yet I stood there, eyes wide open, heart pounding, screams of play bouncing off the river’s bank. The water against my legs pushes hard, relentless. Its teeth bite cold, but I begin to slowly relax and enjoy this unexpected moment. I am here now and my view of the world from this precarious spot is so different. I catch glimpses of friends and family, past and present, as wave after wave of water flows past me. My toy soldiers bobble by and over the rim they go, into a murky brown and white lather where they are gone. My eyes fill with tears, as I know the adult side of life now awaits me.

This waterfall of my youth is always here in my soul. I can visit it anytime I want, and it will be there, because all of life is about experience. The things we do are imprinted on us forever, and us on them. So, as the water flows down the Jordan and eventually comes to that spot where it rolls over and under itself, my footsteps are still there, a part of me which was given and left there in play, while the waterfall gave me a wonderful memory to keep.

The park is still there, groomed and manicured, and the waterfall still flows though not as forceful as it once did. There are no children making their journey across anymore, leaving years of debris to collect on top of it, slowing its flow. No more footsteps are left there to mature and grow over time. Sadly, when I visit the park it seems smaller than when I was young, and is now mostly used by adults as the open areas of grass have yielded to hard surfaces for walking and biking. And, I am not there anymore. Years later, I am here, in Maine, at our home in the cove.

RJ Heller

About RJ Heller

Having arrived here from Pennsylvania over four years ago, there has been plenty to learn and even more to observe. This place is different, but I mean that in a good way. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, I am a college graduate with a teaching degree, a business founder and seller, and a father of two children with my wife Stephanie; life has been full and somewhat adventurous, but finding Maine remains a high watermark in my life.