I laid back on a big, mossy rock and felt the falling water on my feet. A woman was taking pictures of the waterfall, and I wondered if my rapidly graying self was in the way of the pretty nature shot. I don’t think I’d make a good addition to Watson Mill wall photos or screen savers.
My son fought the current as if he was in a movie battling epic enemies. He crawled and pushed himself forward just enough to make it to the big log that had come to rest on the rocks. He grabbed the log, then let go and the water pushed him 30 feet downstream. But the 11-year-old, one-man army wouldn’t be deterred. He’d start over and shout something to me, but the roar of the whitewater was all I could hear. I cupped my hand to my ear to indicate it was pointless to yell. One time he put some green “seaweed” from the river floor on his head. His green wig looked punk rock or like jungle camo. I laughed, then he dove back in.
I realized last week that I had been derelict in my duty as a dad: I hadn’t taken my son to Watson Mill Park to get in the water. And when I finished last week’s paper, I resolved to fix that.
I had only been in the water there once — and not on purpose. Many years ago, I tried to get a shot of kids playing in the waterfall for a front-page picture, and I ventured too far out on the rocks, not realizing just how slippery they are. Down went the journalist. Down went the camera. Down went the pride. But the camera thankfully survived.
Anyway, I guess maybe I avoided the water because that memory has stuck with me. But that was long ago, and so Noah and I drove out there and took careful steps into the water on the wet rocks. It was much colder than I expected. A grandmother had apparently said “to heck with it” and was out in the water in what looked like a dress with her daughter and grandson. She glided in her floral pattern down the slick rocks on the far side of the river. Noah and I made our way over to nature’s natural slip-and-slide and took turns going down the chute. Then we sat for a time investigating handfuls of earth from the river floor. A mirror-like mineral on a rock got his attention with its shininess. We made our way back to the waterfall. A kid, maybe 7-or-8, followed us. The kid saw me with my head under the falling water. “Does it hurt?” he asked. “Nah, feels good,” I told him, and he cautiously put his head under the waterfall, then grew bolder and let the current push him away, before coming back again and again.
I thought about the water fun our family recently had at the beach. My son will fight with the waves for hours with his cousins. And I will get out there, too, but with less enthusiasm than when I was his age. Still, body surfing is still fun. And my sister does it, too. “How old do you think you’ll be when you quit body surfing?” she asked me this year.
I don’t know. 78? If I body surf at 78, then life couldn’t be that bad, right? Well, who knows?
But I do know that summer memories made in the water with your kids are worth the time and expense. And Watson Mill — it’s just a $5 parking fee for hours of fun.
So, I sat for a really long time on that rock, just relaxing, the waterfall dropping on my feet, my son pushing his way against the current, consumed in his own epic narrative. It’s a mental picture I’ll go back to plenty. It’s good to make that kind of photo album. And Watson Mill has offered scenes for real photo albums (and inner ones) for plenty of folks across generations.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.