One of the nice things about summertime is that, like the George Gershwin song says, “the livin’ is easy.”
It’s free to turn your face to the sun and bask in the warmth. For a couple dollars, you can stick tomato plants in the soft earth and for months dine on juicy tomatoes until your belly swells.
And there’s tubing. Find yourself an inner tube and a decent size stream, and voila, pleasure on the water at your beck and call.
I love the languid feeling of floating in a tube and it’s a connection to the water even more intimate than in a canoe or kayak. I like to be in no more of a rush to get somewhere than the water itself.
I’ve missed tubing on Pequea Creek the last couple years with the service at Sickman’s Mill closed temporarily. So after dinner earlier this week when a heat advisory was in effect, three of us walked out of our house in the Bridgeport area of Lancaster city, stopped by a neighbor to grab inner tubes with their not unpleasant rubbery smell and slid into the Conestoga River.
It hadn’t rained at our house, but the river was stained from downpours the afternoon before in its headwaters in Welsh Mountain. The water level was up slightly, just enough to keep us moving without having to exert arms or legs unless we wanted to.
The first thing we had to do was take a remedial course in just how to fit into a tube so that it is comfortable yet allows your feet or arms free to paddle through dead water or keep from embarrassingly crashing into the bank.
Each of us settled on a different fit. I hung the tube around my middle like a Hula Hoop and floated, which worked except for a couple times when I banged my knees into submerged rocks and trees. Daughter Hannah somehow sat balanced on the edge of the tube, she told me, to keep most of her body out of the water. Wife Jen sprawled on top of the tube, the better to dangle her legs and hands into the cooling water.
We were human travelers all alone on the river, willingly at the mercy of the water below us, floating contentedly. Summer cicadas cheered our passing and large trees on each bank bowed toward each other, sending us in and out of shadows.
I realized how few of my neighbors’ homes I had seen from the rear and observed with interest how they had embraced riverside life. Some had docks and swings and fishing piers. Others seemed content to view the river at a distance, out of the floodplain, from living room windows.
It wasn’t long before wildlife began revealing itself. We repeatedly flushed a family of wood ducks. Each time they lifted off with a cry of admonishment, only to land a little farther downriver where they would have to flee again, probably convinced we were stalking them.
One of a pair of adult eagles that have had a successful nest near the Bridgeport bridge the last three years flew by, no longer tethered by parenthood to two eaglets. Swallows skimmed the water — too close for comfort in my daughter’s eyes. A pair of juvenile green herons flew from one bank to the other. Dragonflies patrolled the sky.
I marveled at the sculpted roots of trees along the bank, their lifeline tendrils exposed by erosion and bleached by the sun. It was a beauty you would only see from water level.
Several times we came across dogs enjoying the river like us, their masters no doubt envious that we were in the water on such a steamy day.
Taking in all this richness of natural and human activity prompted Hannah to observe, “It makes you realize how big the river is.” She also pronounced the interlude “a nice getaway from life’s responsibilities,” in her case, packing for college.
All too soon, the tomato plants will turn brown and the vanguard of autumn will make these impromptu escapes infeasible. Then the getaway on a dog day afternoon will become a ripe memory.