As a feckless youth, many a fine summer's day was spent on the shores and in the water of the mighty Mississippi river, literally a stone’s throw away from my boyhood home. We were always warned “stay away from the river” and drownings, although not common, were by no means unheard of. In the middle of July the water would usually be quite low so that most of the river, excepting the main channel, was 3 or 4 feet deep. This was the time for drifting. We’d put on our old tennis shoes and shorts, a ripped t-shirt and last year’s baseball cap and hike a couple of miles upstream. There we’d wade in about a third of the way across, and then drift down with the current, bouncing off the bottom for several miles until we reached Old Camden, where the long abandoned shingle mills once stood. There were sand bar islands there, with rope swings or, if we did brave the mainstream and cross to the other side, the city waterworks. We would climb the scaffolding above the water intake, and dive into the only really deep part of the river.
We weren’t totally reckless and we learned respect for the river. We learned the indication of a sunken tree that could trap you underwater, the hazardous current by the islands, and we also learned to most important lesson about swimming in a river:
Always go with the flow. It'’s too hard to swim against the current. If you want to cross, aim downstream, let the river push you and take you where it will let you go. Watch out for hazards, keep your wits about you, but don’t fight it. You’ll get where you want to go, but not by the shortest route. It is dangerous and you will get a little muddy but that’s the joy of it.