Sitting by the Susquehanna River always brings back a flood of memories that don’t usually surface in my everyday thoughts.
This river has always been a part of my life. Growing up on the outskirts of Elizabethtown meant the river was an easy 10-minute drive away.
I grew up hearing my mother tell of her escapades on this river. She and a friend happened to be out “rock hopping” because the river was quite low one summer. They kept following the rocks and eventually came to a dry dam. They thought it was a great idea to walk along the dam until a security guard appeared. Turns out the dry dam they were walking on was on the property of Three Mile Island. The power plant sent out their guards and kindly escorted my mother and her friend off the property.
The river is a place that is so close, yet so far away. Most of the time, I find myself conscious of the fact that it’s there, but I don’t take the time to sit by and observe.
But when I do find myself by the river, I breathe it all in.
The slight breeze blows by my ear, tousling the flyaway hairs. A child nearby is jumping in and down on the boat ramp, splashing his less than impressed older sister.
It reminds me of the countless times I spent down on the same boat ramp. My mom’s friend (the same one from the TMI escapade) used to watch me while my mother was working and my dad was writing his dissertation. She lived right in Bainbridge, a few blocks from the river. In the summer, we used to go down to the park and pavilion. We’d have a snack, and then I was free to explore the water. I knew I was only allowed in the water up to my knees, but that was enough.
For a child who always had a healthy fear of water, I deeply loved water too. I was fascinated with where the water eventually went. I took my dad’s advice and opened up the Encyclopedia to read about the Susquehanna River. I learned that this mighty river in Pennsylvania eventually reached all the way to the Chesapeake Bay.
Life is full of connections. This river so close to my home leads right to another part of the country that is so special to me.
My grandparents were both born and raised in Southeastern Virginia, with the Chesapeake Bay close by. Grandma told me stories of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel construction. She and her family were so excited for the tunnel as it made traveling to Delaware much more accessible.
Grandma and Grandpa always talked about the bay as if it was such an important part of their lives. Once I started learning about it in science classes, I realized that it was integral to not just the bay area, but our country as well. It is a life source for many who live by the bay. It provides jobs, food, and recreation. What a beautiful and sacred place.
Back on the river, a hawk flies overhead. I have no idea what kind of hawk it is, but it is a beautiful sight, watching it soar and glide overhead.
Just like the bay, this river is also a life source. Many creatures survive because of the river. The water helps provide power to many homes through Three Mile Island, which also provides jobs.
As I sit and continue to observe, I remember my parent’s engagement photos. Taken when the river water was once again low, they chose the rocks as a unique setting for photos.
At the moment with the water at a higher level, I cannot comprehend being able to jump from rock to rock all the way across the water. I must admit a twinge of jealousy that my parents experienced that, and I have not.
Not every memory from this river is happy, however. When I was younger, a friend invited me to spend a few days with her and her family on their houseboat on the river. I was fine until darkness set in. Then homesickness came sweeping in like a mighty wave and I was distraught. It was so terrible I ended up going home the first night.
Every few months, I read stories of bodies pulled from the depths of the river. It’s a reminder that this river is not always calm and kind. On the surface, it’s glassy and smooth, but underneath is the current that pulls the water out to the bay, and eventually the Atlantic Ocean. It can be deadly to those unaware of its strength.
This river has provided much adventure and exploring as a child, teenager, and adult.
My cousins have a tradition of biking to our house every fall. They live about 35 miles away, and grew up near the Conestoga River. Every year they visit, a stop at the Susquehanna is inevitable. They love the majesty of the Susquehanna. They are much braver than I, jumping in and swimming around for a few hours. After a few hours of biking, I imagine it was quite refreshing.
After a rail trail was built along the river leading out to the White Cliffs of Conoy, I spent time exploring the area. There’s a railroad track that runs parallel to the trail and there’s a section of old building ruins. It almost resembles old Roman ruins I saw last year. Whenever I miss Rome, I wander out there. I can pretend I’m not in little Bainbridge, but a world away in Italy. Escapism is a beautiful tool some days.
When stress levels reach too high, the White Cliffs provide a source of calm. High above the river, I find serenity in watching the river flow by. The best time to go is on a weekday, middle of the day, especially when schools are in session. The fewer people around, the better time I have. Hiking down to the water ensures less company. Seclusion and quiet bring peace. As someone who finds water to be calming, this place brings that solace.
Another place that I hold dear is Chique’s Rock. Just like the White Cliffs, I usually go to Chique’s Rock during stressful periods in my life, but not always. In high school, my friends and I would go to the lookout some days. It was an easy meeting place and was an inexpensive alternative to our usual coffee shop hangouts. We would sit out on a ledge and talk about our lives and our hopes and dreams. We’d speculate about the future and if we’d still be friends. We decided that friendship is almost like a river. Ever changing, but still yet the same.
Every once in a while, I have the deep desire to be by the water. One day after class, I spontaneously pulled into a lookout over the river in Columbia. The view was stunning and glorious. I was struck by the fact that this view is never the same, but at the same time, it is. Just like the river.
I often find myself complaining about the fact that I don’t live near an ocean. But here, only ten minutes from my house, is a glorious, rushing river. It’s not the same as the ocean, but it leads there. And on some days, that will have to be enough for me.