Why I Love the Yuba River: An Account of My Day There
Hardly anyone there today, I get a spot that is fifteen feet deep, surrounded by massive boulders rising straight up out of the water. Their shiny dark skin makes me yearn. The Yuba welcomes you in a very overt way. As you descend by steep dirt trail there is an invisible threshold, a place that requires you to make a pledge: Yes, I will immerse myself. Yes, I will be feral here for a while.
I make the pledge with no hesitation.
I’ve brought only a few things, and only use 80% of what I bring. A bottle of water, raw almonds, sunscreen, Tom Robbins, and a towel (the thing I do not use).
The first dip feels cold on my shoulders, but suddenly the cold is delicious, and it thrillingly morphs into an electric current running directly into my center.
I see no one, for a while. I lower the top of my bathing suit. My first summer of bare-boobies-at-the-Yuba! Yum. I savor the flashing memories of river-wet hands squeezing them. Yum. My dazzled eyes are an inch above the glassy surface and I watch long-legged water striders.
I’m laying on my tummy on a rock; the rock is submerged in five inches of water. I feel warmth from the rock, coming up through the core of the earth; I feel warmth on my back from the sun. I feel cool water licking at my body. Somewhere in the cross between hot and cold, earth and sky, water and sun, I fit in. I’m reminded of Mary Oliver’s poem, Wild Geese: “The world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --- over and over announcing your place in the family of things.”
Soon I hear voices. Shrieks and laughter get closer. Four or five teenaged girls, I guess. Moments later, they’ve come into view. I guessed wrong. Five twelve-year-old boys, swimming past on their way up the river. I put my top up and peer at them from behind a rock.
One says, “We’re getting into skinny-dipper territory!” But, then they see me and go quiet.
I glare. I don’t want to wear my top.
Self-consciously, they swim past. One of them whispers, “Does she have any clothes on?” They can only see my bare shoulders and head.
I continue to glare.
After a few minutes they reach a vantage point upriver where they can safely cast another curious glance.
I’ve shifted behind the rock again, happy to keep them guessing, happy to be remembered as the “Naked or Not-Naked Yuba River Lady” (“She was naked, all right!“) I can't help but laugh. I’ve just been in Stephen King’s Stand by Me, Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, Robert McCammon’s Boy’s Life.
I lodge myself below rapids and feel the water pummel my muscles; soon my flesh feels more liquid than solid.
A curly-haired 30-ish man appears, and settles himself about twenty feet upriver. He jumps in and fiddles with some kind of cage on a rope. I watch for a bit, but I’m laughing my ass off at Tom Robbins. Eventually though, our eyes meet and we say hi.
“Sounds like you’re enjoying your book.”
I nod, “Tom Robbins!”
“Even Cowgirls get The Blues”.
His skin flashes gold in the water. “The girl with the big thumbs?”
“Who’s born to hitchhike,” I add.
“I’ve read a few of his books! He’s great!”
“A genius," I agree. "I marvel at every sentence.”
He floats back to his spot and out of my sight.
Soon, I’m too hot to read. I swim out into the deep pool, and float on my back, arms and toes outstretched, back arched. I’m certain there’s no better feeling in the world. I look upriver and see the man, sitting on a boulder ten feet above the water.
He’s watching me float in silvery water-sparkles. I relish his gazes. My life has had a severe shortage of flirtation. I savor it now, in whatever form it takes.
I arch my back more. My heart opens and lets the sky inside.
An hour later, I drag myself out of the water and put on my tank top. My shorts. My sandals. I cross back over the threshold, but right before I do, the man and I exchange a smile, and I call out, “Bye!”
“I’m fishing for crawdads!” he calls back.
“No kidding,” I say. “Are they good?”
“Oh yeah. My parents are from Louisiana.”
“Ahh,” I say.
I take a few more steps, and then I call out, “Aren’t we lucky?”
He quickly glances to the water, the sky, the trees, to me, to the breeze, and then nods, his curls boinging enthusiastically. “We are, indeed!”