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Columnist for a Day: Riding the rapids in the river that runs through it

“Life is like a river. Sometimes it sweeps you gently along, and sometimes the rapids come out of nowhere.” — Emma Smith

Well, they came out of nowhere the day Mark Valenzuela and I went fishing at Champion Park on the Sacramento River in Dunsmuir, California.

We were about 10, dug worms, packed a lunch (we never left home without one, thanks mom), loaded up our fishing poles, which we carried in our hand that was holding onto the bike, and made the downhill trip to the sandy beach at the park.

My fishing pole was a rejected, cracked, fiberglass pole with no extension tip that I found in our basement and claimed for mine. It was only about 4 feet long.

The reel was handicapped in that it would only cast out so far because of knots, and thanks to the semi-rotten line I was prevented from catching too big of a fish because the line would snap, which I knew because it had happened many times before. But boy, did we have a neat creel. I dunno where it came from, but it was still shiny, still had varnish on it, and it carried our extra hooks and sinkers that we bought at The Big Liquor Store quite nicely. I found that treasure in our basement too. Wish I still had it.

The last thing my mother told me was to come home before dark and not to get in the river. Coming home before dark was no problem, though we did have to calculate the time it would take to push our bikes back home, hopefully loaded with fish. But not getting in the river would prove to be a problem that day.

The first thing we did after we got there was to immediately drop our lunch. In the river. I should have let it go, but instead I jumped in after it. Dunno what good it would have done if I would have saved it because it was soggy after that. But I missed it, and it floated away, never to be seen again.

Some fish probably got the treat of their lives from feasting on bologna sammiches, Laura Scudder's potato chips and homemade cookies. They didn’t get our drinks, because we didn’t bring anything to drink. After all, we're at the river, and Dunsmuir was known for being the home of the best water on Earth.

When I went after our lunch, the rocks were slippery and I wasn’t able to get any traction in order to stand up. I lost a shoe and got caught in the current. I still had my fishing pole in my hand and the creel around my body. I remember Mark yelling at me to lift my legs and just let the current carry me to the bank.

I was petrified as I went bobbing up and down through the swift rapids. Fortunately, I was able to stay afloat, only going under maybe twice. I can’t be sure how far I floated until I drifted to shore, but it had to be a good football field.

Mark ran the entire way along the bank as I rode the water chutes, ready to jump in at any given moment to try to save me if he thought it was necessary.

When I finally got to shore, I was covered with moss stains, cuts and bruises and was struck dumb at what had just happened. Anybody could tell by looking at me that I had just gone on the float of my life. Plus, I only had one shoe. Try biking home semi-shoeless.

The day wasn’t a total loss, because when I gathered myself together, we started to fish, and I caught all the fish that day. I deserved it. I know Mark isn’t here to dispute the issue, because he has since passed, so I can tell the story how I like.

When I got home my mother didn’t say anything. Her main reaction was to roll her eyes and dry her hands on her apron before she could take a closer look at the temporary damage.

The excursion only contributed to the charm of growing up in a vertically challenged location with a glorious river flowing through the bottom of the canyon. Times were uncomplicated then, which invited joy that was pretty much shared by all of the kids who grew up in Dunsmuir.

Marilyn White lives in Medford.

Be a columnist for a day

Do you have something to say? Do you have a humorous take on current events or an insightful angle on the seemingly mundane? Maybe you have a view of life that will help us all see things a little more clearly. If so, email your 500-word column to features editor David Smigelski at dsmigelski@rosebudmedia.com. Please put “Columnist for a Day” in the subject line, and include your phone and city of residence. The rules are simple. Keep it short. Have a point. Don’t cuss. And make us glad we asked. If we like it, we’ll run it in the Sunday paper.