On Swimming Holes

An Arkansas summer is made for exploration. An Arkansas summer is made for boys.

There are tangy homegrown tomatoes to be picked, to be eaten straight from the hand; the Arkansas Traveler being my favorite variety. There are lightning bugs to imagine as fairies, to catch and keep in grandmother’s mason jars. There is popsicle relief to summer heat, the melting strawberry legs which run rivers down a shirtless chest.

These are the glories that might interrupt the more digital life of the modern boy if we train our children in the way they should go. Chief among these glories is one: the Steel Creek swimming hole at the Buffalo River.

The turn down Highway 103 is nothing short of a walk through the professor’s wardrobe into the magic of Narnia. By Independence Day, the farmers have bailed their hay, have left well-manicured fields under the watch of the Ozark mountains, the most gentle giants of our country. The boys look out the window, say, “isn’t it beautiful daddy?”

We wind through the valleys and climb up a ridge, fall down into the heart of the Buffalo National River. There, the bluffs rise tall from the water, and trees reach from the tops of those bluffs.

Isaac says, “inconceivable,” an homage to the movie The Princess Bride.

“What?” I ask.

He laughs, says, “those look like the Cliffs of Insanity!”

We choose a campsite near a path that leads down to the river, unpack a picnic lunch, and eat in double-gulps. There is a swimming hole to explore, and this is the prize of an Arkansas’ summer.


Down the Path (Instruction to Sons)

Down the path,
brothers together
walk through time,
past a digital today
and into a yesteryear
of RC Cola, of Moon Pies
and Jolt’n Joe.

“Hold Titus’ hands, son;
the path is muddy, mossy;
be careful; don’t slip.”

Into the hole,
under the keep
of Buffalo bluffs,
down to the depths,
where feet cannot touch,
there is a pearl for boys
with imagination
and breath enough
to find it.

Ike Jude
Ian up
Ian down

Titus Ian

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  • http://www.charitysingletoncraig.com/ Charity Singleton Craig

    What a gift you’ve given to these boys: both the time spent swimming in the river and this reflection on its worth. They won’t appreciate the latter for a while. Just hold it close.

    • sethhaines

      I’m hoping to write some of this stuff out for just this reason. Maybe one day they’ll look back on it and smile.

  • http://www.climbingatree.com/ Paul Heggie

    Summer is swimming holes. Awesome!

    • sethhaines

      So much better than paying to go to the pool.

  • pastordt

    This is just plain magical. And ‘train up a child. . . ‘ a la “The Princess Bride?’ Perfection. Really lovely. (That boy in the front of the in-the-water picture? He doesn’t look as familiar to me for some reason. Is it just this shot? All your boys bear a striking resemblance to one another and to you and Amber, but that shot seems different . . . maybe it’s the expression?)

    • sethhaines

      Thanks, D. And as for Jude, the older he gets, the more he looks like Amber’s side of the family (specifically her little sister). At least one of them doesn’t look like my clone. :)

  • http://livingingraceland.me Debby Hudson

    Our swimming hole was a place called Natural Dam near Fort Smith. The best of summer.

    • sethhaines

      I know that place well, Debby. Did you ever make the run to Bluff Hole near Mulberry?

      • http://livingingraceland.me Debby Hudson

        That doesn’t sound familiar. I think my dad grew up going to Natural Dam so that’s where we went when we were in Ft. Smith. I loved it. I even have a photo of my grandpa on a rope swing over the water. You’re making me nostalgic!

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  • nestleferret

    Sheeps Den on the Cossatot below the falls, one of the best anywhere.