The River

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The richka, or river, as you English speaking folk may call it, might have a green and disgusting look, a certain funk to its smell, and be infested with unknown specimens, but this place is much more than that to us Ukrainians. At the greatest camp in the world, both campers and counselors enjoy time with the best of friends, while being surrounded in nature’s beauty. The river not only has a hidden beauty, it holds memories and stories of the best two weeks of the summer.

Just behind the old abandoned house, where camp legends and ghost stories are held, lies the river. Assorted sizes of worn out life jackets lay scattered around the overused lawn chairs. These chairs once belonged to someone, but have been donated for the comfort and pleasure of the counselors as they supervise the campers. The children disperse calling “dibs” on a canoe and frantically search for someone to push them out to insure as much boating time as possible. On the boat, the beauty of the river comes to life. The depths of the river are unknown, but from beneath, plants have grown all the way to the surface, bringing curiosity to the children’s minds: how deep does it actually go? As they paddle further down the river, it is impossible but to notice the countless number of dragonflies swarming around. They land on the emerging underwater plants so the striking blue, metallic color of their fragile wings may be noticed. It is almost as if they wish that they could show themselves to the world, but who could blame them? Their beauty is simply captivating. Canoeing close to where the trees meet the water, the campers attempt to catch a glimpse of what lies behind the barricade of oak trees and unkempt bushes. They try to just steal a look of what lies beyond. What life and mysteries does the forest hold? What secret is it afraid to reveal to the world? While trying to discover more, someone might be lucky and find a flower to bring back and show off to all their friends. Someone luckier might find a baby frog. That would catch even more attention than just a flower.
The unlucky ones who weren’t quite quick or aggressive enough to get to a boat quickly forget about their loss, take hold of a net, and bravely step into the filthy water. Everyone knows the river isn’t clean. It’s filled with algae and supposed leeches, but the campers don’t care. The fun is worth the sacrifice of getting a little dirty. And those leeches? Those are only a rumor anyway.
They work their way down to the “sweet spot” of the river where the crayfish are plentiful. Some treat river time as an intense competition. The competitive children fight for the title of Crayfish Catching Champion. They all want to win, but only one will succeed.
The colossal trees, the rushing water, the various types of bugs, it never gets old to the campers. All of them walk upon the unsteady rocks taking care with each step and making sure one foot is secure before even thinking of moving the other. Many have watched this mistake’s consequences which result in being completely emerged into the unpleasant water and being covered in several bruises.
The children continue to move along the river’s bank along the trees, searching for any signs of life within the river. Forget about frogs and flowers that the boaters have brought back with them, down in the sweet spot, snapping turtles have been spotted and fingers almost removed. I guess not getting a boat wasn’t as bad as one might have thought.
As time passes, the plastic aquariums fill. Some only have just one dead crayfish, but some are filled almost to the brim with more than ten of the little suckers crawling on top of each other. In the end, it doesn’t matter who became the champion or not. The campers just enjoy spending this time together making more memories, and growing even closer to the people who they will perhaps be friends with for the rest of their lives.

Back by the life jackets sit the counselors on top of the hill in the beat up lawn chairs “supervising” the campers out of the corner of their eye. If anything bad enough happens, someone will make sure the counselors are aware by yelling and screaming. They just talk and enjoy the serenity, being surrounded by nature. They hear the children shouting and laughing, but there is a relaxing sound that with deep concentration drowns out everything. It is the sound of the water. It streams down the dam from the deep to the shallow making the divine gentle clash of water hitting water. Their chatting begins to evolve to flirting. The crushing companions rip grass out of the ground because it is abundant and that’s what people seem to always do when there is grass present without ever really realizing it. The boy throws the oversized ball of earth he has accumulated at the girl. She is definitely not the type to sit and take this type of abuse, so she fights back and splashes her water bottle at him. The half shocked boy then pulls out the best flirting trick he knows, the tickle. The girl mentally loving the attention cannot handle the physical torture and pries him off of her. Somehow, as if he had been planning it the whole time or some incredible being from above knew it was right, the boy and girl end up hand in hand. A smile cracks on the girls face as she looks up and finds the boy gazing at her. As their eyes are locked, the children disappear and all that is heard is the beautiful sound of water rushing into more water creating the most remarkable soundtrack for this breathtaking moment.

Of course, all good things come to an end. The canoes return from their expedition. Children call louder than necessary for someone to hold the boat steady as they climb out. The others come back arguing about how dead crayfish do not count and who should be the rightful winner of the afternoon. Suddenly, reality snaps back and it seems to be just as the counselors had left it. The forest was still wondrous and unexplored, the river was still filled with crayfish and minnows (with the exception of about fifty short of what there were when they had arrived), and the fragile blue dragonflies were still flying and landing on the plants that came up from the unknown depth of the water. Best of all, the rushing dam still flowed into the shallow water making the perfect sound. It was now time to leave the river just as it was until the next day, where adventures and more memories





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