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In September of 1983, after six long years in the company of Uncle Sam, I returned briefly to my hometown in southwestern Ohio. During this time I joined Greg and Jeff, two of my cousins, on a day long outing in Jeff's canoe on the Great Miami River. This turned out to be, without a doubt, one of the best times in my adult life.
We began with whatever canoeing experience Jeff had plus one day. Our first good laugh was when Greg was helping someone get something out of the water. He removed his shoes and socks and rolled up his pants. Even with my one day of experience I knew that everything below the knees would be damp or wet for most of the day, but I forgot to tell Greg, who wore his new running shoes. He took this new information quite well as we stepped first into the water, then into the canoe, and started down the river.
We pushed off just south of the dam in Hamilton, near the paper mill where Jeff worked. Our destination lies several miles down the river, but the destination clearly wasn't the point of our journey. The three of us had grown up together, went our own separate directions, and now we had a chance to grab just a touch of that lost childhood magic, and we were going to grab as much as we could.
The river caught the canoe, and we were off. The gentle current carried us through the city of Hamilton. We passed roads and bridges we had traveled a hundred times on foot. As the city gave way to the wilderness the river seemed to know the difference. The still waters became eddies of current as they mingled with rocks and trees.
When the river turned to rapids Jeff's skill as an oarsman and a captain came in really handy. There's nothing quite like rushing broadside into a boulder only to straighten out and glide to the right an arms length from the rock. The thrill of the rapid can only be offset by the perfect balance of the calm waters between. no one can paint a picture like mother nature and the banks of the Miami made the perfect canvas. Greg and I brought along enough photographic equipment to stock a third world country, but for the most part it was safely tucked away, the scenery being much to impressive to be viewed solely through the lens of a camera.
The perfect day, like the perfect life, just wouldn't be right without it's fair share of misfortune, and the comic touch of the day was our numerous trips to the bank as our fearless leader ran headlong into the woods armed only with a roll of paper. It could have canceled the trip, but Jeff was a real trooper and he never let it get him down.
We took a break on the river bank, in the shade of a bridge. Gathering enough dead wood to start a tiny fire we dried our shoes and socks, told stories, some true, some not, and relived some of our childhood memories before we made our way back home, once again, to lead our separate lives.
epilogI've heard it said that you can't go back. Well, maybe you can, if just for a few hours. These memories are all the more special since we lost Greg a few years back. His zest for life was only overshadowed by his big heart and love of family, and his life was over much to soon.