Just Tossing This Out There

enjoying our mighty and majestic rivers in the simplest of ways

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Sarah Denis

Once in a while, I hear strange voices around my house. Disturbing voices. Unsettling voices. They say things I don’t want to hear. They say things like, “There’s a ton of cat puke in the basement,” or “We need to re-screen the windows,” or “We should stop watching Doctor Who and get some sleep for once.”

I know. It is both freaky and disquieting.

Well, if you haven’t predicted the shocking twist in this narrative yet, those voices are not coming from a specter or an apparition. They’re coming from ... my wife!

And every so often, she says something really bizarre like, “Let’s go throw rocks in the river.”

Let’s go what? I think. Throw what into the what now? Throwing rocks into a river is ... like ... what cavemen did for fun before they had a fire to stare at.

It’s what Europeans did before they had Shakespearean tragedies to watch. It’s what American colonists did before they had witches to put on trial. It’s what Grandma and Grandpa did before they had a movie theatre in which to make out. Throw rocks into the river?

I don’t actually say these hilarious things out loud. I usually just smile and say, “Oh. OK. Sure. I guess that sounds fun. The kids will like it.”

Then, a half hour later, I’m standing on the shore of the Chippewa River by Owen Park watching my kids scramble around the muddy rocks. They’re chucking stones into the water, hearing the plunk, seeing the splash. They’re feeling the weight and shape of the rocks in their little hands, feeling the exhilaration as it flies from their fingers.

So I join them. I pick up the nearest stone and casually toss it into the river (like it’s no big deal).

Plunk.

Huh. I kinda liked that. So I do it again. And again. My wife is skipping stones like a Pro Stone Skipper and the kids are yelling at me to throw this one into the water, pointing at some five pound behemoth. I reach down and grab onto the smooth rock, pulling it up. Slowly, and with a satisfying fffffwuuuup sound, the rock comes out of the mud. I chuck it clumsily into the water.

KER-PLOMP!

Nice. As usual, my wife had an awesome idea, and I can’t for the life of me remember why I wasn’t 100% on board from the get-go. There’s just something about that sound. Plunk. There must be something in our DNA (our ear DNA) that causes an automatic response to this sound. I can best describe this response as “the most amazing thing ever.” But you know ... in a subtle way.

We’re lucky to have some prime rock-chucking spots right here in the heart of Eau Claire. We don’t need to drive out of town or stumble through wild brush to get our plunks in.

The Eau Claire River actually runs along the north side of my neighborhood, and our largest park runs along the heavily wooded riverbank. I think it’s great to live so close to the water, but not everyone thinks so. A while back, a former neighborhood resident came to a neighborhood committee meeting, looking to gain support in putting a chain link fence up along the edge of the park – to discourage kids from going down the steep bank. A fence used to run along that very spot, but it was ripped out when the park was revamped over a decade ago.

The man’s concern stemmed largely from an experience many years ago when he was part of a search party looking for a neighborhood boy along the shoreline. It didn’t end well, and I can only imagine how something like stays with you and shapes how you approach things.

However, for a number of (in my opinion good) reasons, he didn’t find any support. Now, I understand the guy’s motivation. Rivers are dangerous. But they’re most dangerous when you don’t know anything about them.

I’ve already used this very page of the magazine to (eloquently and wittily) point out that kid’s need playground equipment that is safe yet doesn’t eliminate chances for falling. Otherwise, kids start living in a la-la land (and not the good kind) devoid of natural consequences for barrel rolling sideways down the twisty slide. So when they’re off the playground and out in the real world – with pointy corners and cement floors – they’re bodies don’t have the muscle memory and their minds don’t have the risk assessment abilities needed to navigate their environment.

Same with rivers. I know the Chippewa River (and any body of water) poses a significantly higher risk factor than a playground with fewer handrails, but it’s all the more reason to teach a kid how to interact with it safely. Sheltering them from it just opens doors to bad judgment that can lead to awful results.
Look, my family is not the most adventurous clan when it comes to outdoor activities. But thanks to my wife, our kids have been on river shore, and they’re learning how to have fun and stay safe.

I still fight the urge to constantly remind them to STAY BACK from the deep water/sharp rocks/festering fish guts but I’m starting to relax. The very best thing I can do for them is give them a good example. They need to see their dad being all awesome, traversing the shoreline, staying safe, and you know, not slipping on a slimy rock and butt-flopping into the water.

But if I do fall in, they need to see me standing right back up. And then the need to see their awesome dad using his powerful dad-hands to hoist that stupid rock up over my head and hurl it as far into the river as I can, sending it back from whence it came.

KER-PLOMP!

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