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A father, a daughter, a river adventure: What could go wrong?

I love being a dad. I can’t explain it, though. I can’t explain how, why, when, what. It costs me money I don’t want to spend and takes me places I don’t think I want to go. It gets in the way of my work, it disrupts my schedule and gets me into situations never dreamed of. And I wouldn’t change any of its oppressions or erase any of the memories that come with them – like the river crossing.

I confess, it was a crazy idea. But sometimes crazy ideas need to be tested.

A couple years ago August heat and August dry had lowered the water level in the Merrimack River. As I drove across the Sewalls Falls Bridge each afternoon and looked south, it began to appear that there was more rock than water.

A notion began to take shape – I could walk across the river.

Some notions are best kept in a drawer along with photos not worth a frame. This one seemed to stay atop my dresser. I mentioned it to my daughter, Brinkley, 11 years old at the time. There was no putting it into a drawer after that. For her, Dad and his little girl had a quest, a mission to be fulfilled. The following Saturday afternoon we set out, water sandals on our feet and destiny in our heads.

We parked the car in the lot near the bridge and headed down the trail looking for the best place to make our crossing.

There was no doubt in our minds about what we were going to do. All we needed was an opening in the trees to lead us down to the water. That came a few hundred feet down the trail. It was there that we (well, maybe just me) had our first moment of “hmmmm.”

At water’s edge, the river didn’t look as dry as it did from the bridge. True, rocks were everywhere. But looking across to the eastern shore, rocks gave way to a wide stretch of water on a steady flow south.

Undeterred, we started out. The water was shallow and warm as it passed over our feet, our ankles, and began splashing our knees. It soon became apparent to me that deep water was not the biggest problem. It was the rocks. They were everywhere. More important, they were too small too stand on firmly yet too big to be ignored. And they all wobbled when stepped on.

Retreat began to seep in, but how to break the news to Brinkley?

She was already several yards out in front of me and focused toward the Eastern shore. I’d like to think she saw the impossibility as clearly as me. But then, she was trusting in the soundness of Dad’s ideas.

Danger was not on her mind, just adventure. More important, she was young, agile, confident and quick as she made her way over the rocks.


“Come on, Dad,” she called as she walked farther out into the river. I felt like she was taunting me – come on, Dad, faster, you’re slowing me down. Let’s go!

All I could think about was rocks. Slippery lurked on their every surface like a slime that only comes out when you’re old enough to think about it. They became a kind of predator animal – sensing my fear, they all lathered up. Every step I took was cautious, deliberate, testing for stability and traction. There wasn’t much of either. I felt like a fish out of water. But I wasn’t a fish and I was in water.

All I could fathom was a slip, a bone breaking, another slip and more bones breaking. And all my bones felt old. All my adventure felt like caution. Slippery rocks were everywhere, and every step further out into the river was a step I was going to have to take again to get back to dry, un-rocky land. It was time to cut bait, no fish on the hook, no river crossed.

Brinkley didn’t try to talk me out of the decision when I called to her. She turned around without argument or question. Maybe it was her way of saying this was a crazy idea.

The great blue heron that had been watching from the other shore seemed to relax a bit. The fishermen, knee deep in the water and wearing hip boots, kept on casting without catching.

Hope, but no success

It was that kind of day. Lots of hooks, lots of line, lots of ideas, lots of hope, but only the water heading south was finding success in completing its mission.

Maybe this year will bring a drier summer. Maybe the river will be even lower and we will give it another try. I’ll wear something different on my feet. I’ll bring something for added support, and cushions for my knees and legs and arms and head. I’ll try not to feel how old I am.

Or maybe we’ll just mark it down as an idea tried and then put in a drawer incomplete.

We had embraced the adventure of it, even if the gold ring was still on the other side of the river.

Content and happy, we walked back to the car holding hands and talking about other crazy ideas we might want to try.

(John Gfroerer of Concord is the owner of a video production company based at the Capitol Center for the Arts.)

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