On Entitlement and Rivers

Weekends are my time to do nothing. I do nothing very strenuously for about 48 hours so that I feel energized and prepared for work the next day. After my visiting friend yesterday, I was exhausted, and my plan was to loaf on the porch all day reading cheesy fiction and drinking iced tea. I got up around 11, and quickly put my plan into action, relocating my deck chair periodically when it got to be too hot. To my astonishment, the phone rang around 12:30 or so, and I found myself whisked into a river adventure.

This is not to say that I resent these pleasant interruptions of my languor, just that it was a bit unexpected and I was not fully prepared. We tromped off, making a few stops along the way, and then parked at our favorite swimming hole. We were fairly quiet as we walked through the woods down to the river, thinking about the pleasures ahead, and to our astonishment we saw a rather large family ensconced on the bank. Without a word, or a glance, we backed away and ended up wearily back at the road again.

I was a bit mystified, because there was no car parked anywhere in sight. Apparently the family had descended from nowhere. We bitterly loaded up again, and decided to quest to the neat swimming whole that Sven, Tristan and I found a few weeks ago. After almost passing it, we got out, loaded up again, and started to head for the banks. I heard a dog barking, and I said…”no, surely not…” while I looked for a car.

Alas, despite the fact that there was obviously no car in evidence, a herd of rednecks had descended upon this swimming hole as well. This was starting to feel personal, and we traipsed back to the car yet again. I just wanted to lie on a bank and flop about in the water a bit, so I was bitterly unhappy that all of my swimming holes had been taken up.

“Well,” I said. “We could try Swan’s Nest…it’s probably infested, though.”

We drove back down the road, talking about our sense of entitlement. After all, the river is public property. None of these swimming holes are “mine” in the literal sense, so it’s not really reasonable to get riled up about it. But it’s deeply offensive when people are camped out at a preferred swimming spot, especially when you plan to swim alone.

“Why,” Brendan asked me later, “don’t you like to swim with other people?”

“Well, if it had been, say, you and Sarah, I would have joined you…”

But the fact is, I don’t like swimming with strangers. I go to the river to be alone with friends, not to deal with other people, their garbage, their screaming spawn, and whatever else they may have brought. And I’ll bet that people using similar hidden spots use them for the same reason. I would be rather irked if a bunch of people just popped up at a swimming hole when I was using it, and I respect that emotion in others. Furthermore, I categorically refuse to wear a bathing suit. I don’t like them. I want to lounge naked on the river bank, goddamnit, because that is what I do. Other people, however, have a problem with that. And while that’s fine, it makes for awkwardness when you invade their peaceful family riverbank outing. The only time people have ever shown up at a swimming hole after I arrived, they have quietly backpedaled and found another spot, and I do likewise in the reverse of that situation.

Which is, I think, as it should be. At an acknowledged public swimming spot, obviously, this is not the case. But at smaller, more private swimming holes, one must respect the order of precedence. There’s something to be said for carving out a little spot in nature, alone, for a few hours.

Fortunately for my friend and I, Swan’s Nest was empty and we lolled on the rocks for several enjoyable hours in the sun, periodically jumping into the deliciously deep swimming hole, which also happened to be the perfect temperature. Given the condition of the trail to Swan’s Nest, it doesn’t look like it’s a popular spot at the moment, which is good for me to keep in mind. Poison oak is a great deterrent, I must say.