Monday, August 30, 2010

Out to sea

My daughter and I are about to die, and all I can think is: "Oh man, my wife is going to be so pissed."

The creek at Good Harbor Beach has become our new favorite weekend summer haunt. When Andriana was younger she preferred to splash in the puddles of Wingaersheek Beach, but ever since she discovered the tidal estuary at Good Harbor, she will accept no substitutes. Despite my attempts to lure her into the roaring surf, my daughter would rather spend hours playing in the lagoon that fills and drains like clockwork just beyond the footbridge connecting the beach to Nautilus Road. We build sandcastles, search for sea creatures, and take turns burying each other into the shape of mermaids or Great White sharks, while Maria lazily reads her book in the shade of her beach umbrella.

Recently Andriana has started exploring the creek on her boogie board, which her Pop-Pop was kind of enough to upgrade during his last visit to Gloucester. No longer tethered to the shore, she increasingly wants to brave the open water, so I'm obliged to follow and keep her out of trouble as best I can. As soon as I catch a glimpse of her expression as she rides the incoming current from the footbridge down around the bend until the white sand gives way to the dark silt of the tidal marsh I know she's hooked, so after the tides change and the creek starts to flow back towards the open ocean I know she's going to want to ride in the other direction. Or as she puts it: "I want to go under the bridge, Daddy!"

So under the bridge we go. The outgoing tide is still high enough that I can't touch bottom, but I bob alongside my daughter effortlessly as she happily paddles and kicks her way under the footbridge, where briefly we are in the shadows and the water is almost emerald green in color. I'm surprised at how easy it is to navigate the gentle but inexorable current, and switch between dog-paddling and the backstroke while Andriana watches the scenery drift by.

We're coming up on the big rocks that jut out from the shoreline and tower over the beach- naturally Andriana wants to go ashore do some climbing, and who am I to disagree? Clambering over the rough granite outcrops is fun and the views of the packed beach are sublime, but picking our way along the sharp scree in between the rocks is painful on our bare feet. So when at last we tire of climbing, rather than retracing our steps this is when I get the bright idea to take a "short cut" around the rocks by wading out and crossing the creek further downstream.

We make our way around a mostly-submerged line of rocks and into the roiling current, and immediately I realize that I'm not just literally over my head, but figuratively as well. Here where the creek meets the ocean the current is strong enough to laugh at our puny efforts to fight it, with the result that we're not even a quarter of the way across the estuary and I'm already tired. Andriana is fine on her board, but I dare not let her float on her own, lest she drift away from me, further downstream out to sea.

Trying very hard not to panic, I start to panic, and suddenly the waves seem very large and insurmountable. Whereas once I found it easy to keep my head above water, every kick feels like I'm wearing a pair of hiking boots, and although my arms are leaden I reach out and grab the rear of Andriana's boogie board so that I can drift behind her. Although she's blissfully unaware of how fatigued I am, my daughter happily shares her board, so I do my best to keep calm and figure out how we're going to get out of this current. Crossing it seems to require more than we can muster, and I'm wary of allowing ourselves to drift out any further, where the surf meets the rocks. We can, however, inch our way back to the underwater rock wall we'd skirted on our way out, so that's what we do, and no sooner am I convinced that we're going to drown than I'm standing on the submerged rock and catching my breath while my daughter looks at me with a bemused expression.

For Andriana this has all been a grand adventure, but for me it's been a humbling experience, one that I will turn over and over again in my head for the remainder of the day. How could I have allowed myself to blunder out into harm's way like that, with my little girl in tow no less? But then I listen to my daughter's recounting of the tale and realize that I am being way too hard on myself. To her my navigational error in judgement is but a silly footnote to the main story, in which she "went under the bridge" for the very first time. Andriana's tale is a heroic narrative of pushing the envelope, and here I am worrying about getting a paper cut on my tongue.

Later on when she and I are back at home I ask my daughter if she was scared at any point of our epic journey under the footbridge. "A little bit," she admits. "But I had fun anyway." At first I'm surprised at how easily Andriana is able to accept the dangers inherent to any kind of new activity such as this, but then I realize that she was doing much more than that- she was learning how to manage both her own kid fears and mine as well. Of course I should have known better than to fight the outgoing tide, but I shouldn't have worried- my daughter wasn't about to let me sink.

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