I love how the sun feels on my skin: hot, almost burning. I rub my shoulders; they will be red tomorrow. I forgot sun screen. But for now, I sit on the large, flat rock, hypnotized by the rushing water of the river. It runs, fast and smooth, over a ledge of rocks, tumbling a short distance down, before brewing into a bubbly foam. I close my eyes and listen to the roaring sound. I sniff the clean air. White water rivers have a smell, pleasant, but distinct. I try to give the scent words: fresh, green, like corn, clean.
I’m writing in my journal. I’ve needed the solitude and quiet—too much going on emotionally and with my time lately. This was a perfect plan. I had an hour between appointments and headed to the local white water park to hang out. It’s quiet except the occasional boat that drifts by with people casting their lines in a rhythmic dance on the water, hoping the lure will look like a bug skittering on the water, tempting a fish.
A couple walks along the shore also casting their line. It’s peaceful to watch— art imitating life, hoping a fish won’t know the difference. The man snags a Kokanee salmon; its orange, silvery scales glint in the sun. He proudly hauls it out while his wife snaps a picture, before he gently unhooks it and releases it back into the rushing, cold water.
I relax into the sun and nature. Suddenly, without warning, six, then ten people, all wearing orange, commercial life jackets, descend on the area in which I have peacefully settled. It is a four raft tour, filled with vacationers of all ages, enjoying the river and our little mountain town. At first I watch, amused, as they take turns body surfing down the small falls. But they keep coming, one dozen, then two. They stand, crowding around me, seemingly oblivious to my presence. And my peace starts to disintegrate and turns to annoyance at their rudeness. Not a single, “excuse us” or “we’re sorry” as they drip and intrude on me. I finally get up and move away, struggling to find my peace again.
After splashing, laughing and taking pictures, the guides call them back to their rafts to continue their float down the river. I go back out to the rock and open my journal, but now the sun feels too hot and I am unsettled and disgruntled. I stare into the deep pools of water caught between the rocks, still and calm in the otherwise bubbling current.
Tourists. I sigh. In our little town, we can’t survive without them, but sometimes it feels overwhelming. My daughter used to work out at a marina on the big lake on the edge of town. She came home daily with stories of vacationers, some kind and tipping her well, others rude and haughty, demanding accommodation and satisfaction for their financial investment in their vacation. I try to think if I’ve ever been like that when I visit a tourist destination. Did I act like I had the right to expect to be catered to and a sense of ownership for my dollar?
On the other hand, it gives us locals a bonding experience to talk about how the tourists don’t know what the middle turning lane is for, or how they like to drive really slowly to take in the sights, or why is it all their hair is really big and they talk with twangs? This is the stuff that we can chat about as we meet up with friends at the local bistro and sip wine on an outdoor patio. “Boy, it’s crazy in town this summer,” we can lament together. And our friends and neighbors who own the shops and restaurants along Main Street remind us that these paying visitors help keep their businesses open and surviving. By summer’s end, if they’ve hung around long enough, we'll even get to know a few, howdy with them in our churches and feel sad when they leave.
So I guess, really, their fun and raucous visit to “my” rock was all right. I drop a small leaf into the pooled water and watch it make lazy swirls on the surface before it finds a slow current and rushes over the rocks.
Even the leaf finds a new current to follow after a little respite.