Not too far from my hometown is a little spot called Cotter Springs.
My sister-in-law Melissa and I took the kids down there over the holidays. There’s something about taking your own children to your childhood landmarks that brings the memories back in a rush. That particular day, the water was too low and the air too chilly for a dip in the spring, but I wandered around while they played on the playground equipment, snapping pictures of the old rope swing and remembering.
I was awfully lucky to grow up in such a pretty part of the country. I know some might not think Arkansas can compete against more showy states, but the Ozarks have a quiet beauty all their own. And the town I grew up in is surrounded by two beautiful lakes and several rivers.
Cotter Springs is a little offshoot of the White River. Even in the heat of Summer, the White stays a teeth-chattering 50 something degrees. There’s a nice, deep pool there with an ancient rope swing just waiting for some adventurous soul who wants to cool off quickly instead of one toe at a time like a sane person.
I can clearly recall the first trip to the Springs when I was big enough to take my first plunge. I went with my neighbor friend and her grandpa. The world was a little safer place 20 years ago, and I was allowed to do things that my son probably never will be.
I think her name was Rachel, my neighbor friend, and she was visiting her grandparents for the summer. Her grandpa sat in a lawn chair, reading his newspaper while we waded in the icy water, letting our limbs adjust to the cold an inch at a time.
That blue-striped bathing suit was one of my favorites, and I was terribly proud of my glittery jelly shoes too, even though they were forever collecting pebbles in the bottom.
My friend decided she would take the plunge, but I wasn’t ready.
I watched from the bank while the older kids went off over and over. I carefully examined their foot placement and how far back they stretched before jumping. Measured how many seconds they hung on before letting go.
Each time she’d come sloshing passed my spot on the bank she tried to entice me to join her. But I just shook my head, resolute. I wasn’t ready.
But finally I stuck my chin out, adjusted my swim suit and took my place in line.
I could feel my heart slamming against my ribs. What if I couldn’t reach the rope? What if I couldn’t hold on and fell on the rocks?
But I had decided to do it, so do it I would.
When my turn came, the boy in front of me pulled the rope back within my reach. I stood for a few heartbeats, left hand tight above a knot.
One. Two. Three. I counted slowly under my breath.
And in one movement I gripped the rope, right hand above left, and both feet on a lower knot.
The swing out always feels like slow motion. It’s really only a few seconds though, and then right at the apex you peel your fingers and toes off that rope and
drop…. drop…. drop.
Hitting that icy water forces every drop of air out of your lungs and feels like pins and needles on any exposed skin. For just a moment, you’re pretty sure you’re going to die.
But then your head pops up and you suck in a big gulp of air.
And you find yourself right back in line. Covered in chillbumps, teeth clenched in a proud smile.
I’ve always been that way. It takes me a long time to decide on something, and I can’t be pushed. I’m not stubborn until you try to push me into something I’m not sure of.
It’s the time of year when most people are making our list of resolutions or picking our word of the year, but this year I’m not. I’ve decided to be gentle with myself this year. It’s my year to scope out this new landscape, and figure out my next move.
I’ll just be floating along enjoying the view, but who knows, maybe taking another plunge or two.
When I decide I’m ready, that is.