The Narrows (Clackamas River)
You are on your way to Bagby Hot Springs, it’s October but it’s still hot, really hot. You are in a van with some friends and a dog you like. You are past Estacada. The Clackamas is on your right, the drive is windy and slow, you stare at the river. At some point you see a rather long, rather straight, rather round log lying from bank’s-edge-to-bank’s-edge across the river, 15 or so feet above it.
You are on your way to Bagby Hot Springs, it’s October but it’s still hot, really hot. You are in a van with some friends and a dog you like. You are past Estacada. The Clackamas is on your right, the drive is windy and slow, you stare at the river. At some point you see a rather long, rather straight, rather round log lying from bank’s-edge-to-bank’s-edge across the river, 15 or so feet above it. You brake hard and park in a handy gravel pull-out next to a path heading, it looks like, down to the river. The path is steep and short, and it comes out on a mini-bluff on the river’s edge. On the other side of a dip, just past some rocks, is the base or trunk of a giant downed tree which giant downed tree is the log lying across the river you last saw from a slow-moving van. One friend walks fully dressed out to the middle of the log and back. Another friend takes his clothes off, walks to the middle and jumps off. The next friend strips down to his underwear, walks to the middle and backflips off. In turn, two more friends strip down to their underwear and jump off couple’s-style. Once you’re in the water it moves pretty quick for a second but then you eddy-out next to a rock and easily climb up and out. You just Hole’d the Narrows. Later you learn that Kayakers and Rednecks (of course) frequent this section of the river all summer long.
II Regarding Swimming Holes and their Relevance
IMAGINE A TIME BEFORE THE EXPERIENCE OF SWIMMING HOLES, when some form of man was too frightened by what lurked beneath the surface to risk more than a tiny swallow of refreshment. Hominids must have pined for years, scheming from the dank confines of caves or the precarious refuge of high branches about how to enter a nearby pool, sequestered on the shore by fear while developing the confidence and weaponry that would finally allow full submergence. Freedom was at hand, as swimming wasn’t just about sloughing off eons of dirt but an entry to another level of existence, escapism at its finest, flying before flying. It is within the waters’ buoyant embrace that we come closest to flight: stretched out, prone, and gliding.
Opposable thumbs, best-in-class brains, and some alpha predator weaning has delivered solutions to many of our ancient dangers and cleared the way to nearly unmitigated water access. We find ourselves splashing through the world’s lakes, rivers, ponds, streams, canals, springs, and reservoirs now tamed and rife with human histories.
At our finest and most stripped down we have evolved to become self-aware enjoyment artists. This business we are involved with–the transactions of life–is about satisfaction. Human development has resulted in a modern lifestyle that has done wonders to prescribe codified expectations for a universally benign experience. We have countless ways to piss away our time, most of which require only passive acquiescence. Chance, the essential fuel of adventure, has been marginalized, the unexpected all but accounted for. What separates relaxing in an air-conditioned room, supine on a La-Z-Boy, from floating in the midst of a secluded pond is that only one requires risk.Experiencing a swimming hole may not seem like a matter of life or death, but it does require an adventurous spirit, a willingness to be disappointed, and drowning should at least be considered.”- KVH
Despite their placid nature swimming holes are a challenge to experience. We seek out these pools traveling vast distances to indulge in their waters. The more remote and isolated the better the experience, undiscovered Edens, oases from time cards and text messages. They entice us to go through the work, get away, find the spot, get in, and freeze a bit.
We are successfully amorous social creatures and the pristine ideal of an unmolested pool is not always easy to find. Studies show that you cannot exist anywhere in Western Europe for more than 15 minutes with out hearing a sound of human creation, and in the US few of these silent places still exist. People are fucking everywhere, and we all are looking to get away from each other. The danger of being eviscerated by a Saber-Toothed Cat has vanished, replaced by the possibility of a visual mauling, meted out by a tumescent crowd of our own ilk. How quickly a pastoral swimming experience can be diminished by the appearance of a disagreeable group or a singular asshole? The yodeling of an aggressive male, mid-gainer has a tendency to devastate tranquility. The babbling of the feeder stream, the thrum of insects, and the welcome weight of the sun are easily vanquished.
Fortunately, the same creative minds behind the fabulous La-Z-Boy have come up with a myriad of water recreation devices and locations to entice the easily sated. Jet Skis, swimming pools, water parks, lakeside resorts, reservoirs, culverts, cigarette boats, and tethered inner tubes have garnered substantial support from water enthusiasts. Modern conveniences, having made it easier for more of us to accost one another in the clear welling of a lost lake have also created the infrastructure, messaging, and machines that divert more of us down the pleasant path of easy living. If you don’t give a shit about tranquility, there are many options. Your Escalade is well equipped to pull a Ski-Doo to the lake for some throttle twisting action. This leaves those of us who need a respite from high performance internal combustion and unnaturally lit poolside bars more room to avoid each other while we seek out isolated high mountain lakes, forest ponds, and so on and so forth.
Isolation is a sought-after piece of the swimming hole experience. It is in these hidden locales that we can strip bare, exposing ourselves physically, emotionally and psychological. Swimming holes are idyllic settings for communion with our own nature. Their surroundings infuse our experience with a full spectrum hit of time unending. It is easy to accept the energy of a thousand millennia. We soak it up; here in the sum of ages our experience is elementally infused. The distance that this water has traveled to be here, that you or I have traveled, converge and complete one another, we can become part of something larger, a more fluid form. Not to get too beyond the horizon but isn’t this what we are all looking for, a connection, a reason, something that fits? The trick is to forget it all while getting it all, underwater, unaware, and floating.