Recently while working my garden near the Beaver Kill River in Cooks Falls, a passing black pickup slowed and stopped in front of where I was working. The darkened passenger window rolled down slowly …
Recently while working my garden near the Beaver Kill River in Cooks Falls, a passing black pickup slowed and stopped in front of where I was working. The darkened passenger window rolled down slowly and a man leaned out and said, “I have been wanting to thank you for saving their lives.”
A chill ran through my body as I remembered last August, swimming in the river alone as I do most evenings. I had found a wonderful spot where the river bends, tumbling over stones and colliding with a 20-foot rock wall as it makes its turn. The currents are strong here, forming a sort of whirlpool. Each spring, the river floor has a different configuration of rocks and beach from the millions of tons of water and detritus that roll through during heavy spring rains. The water here can be nine-feet deep and is a favorite spot for the trout to stay cool in the heat of summer.
That day last summer, I noticed two young girls on the far bank, unattended and walking on the large slabs of rock near the river. It was a common and safe place for children to play in the water while their parents watched on. Today, however, no parents were in sight.
My usual routine is to swim against the current, keeping a steady swimming-in-place workout. I vaguely noticed the girls making their way to the bend where the river rushed over the rocks, and I continued swimming. Suddenly I heard a fragile voice calling, “Help me! Help me!” About eight feet away from me, one of the girls was struggling in the water, perhaps caught by the deep, hidden current. I fixed on the child’s eyes. I spoke to her calmly and firmly letting her know that I was coming and that she should stay.
“I am coming. Relax. Don’t fight the water,” I repeated over and over.
Within seconds I was close enough to be able to firmly grab her around the waist and carry her calmly back to the safety of the rocks on the bank. Her friend followed behind.
I was shaken when it was all over and, of course, wondered where the parents were and what might have happened if I had not been close by.
“You saved my niece's life. I have been hoping to see you so I could finally thank you. You saved her life. Thank you, thank you,” the man in the pickup said, and then he drove away.
Going back to work in my garden, I found the steady sound of the river soothing, comforting, yet disturbing. In a few weeks, people would be back in the water and few would even be aware of the possible danger hidden there.
I will never forget this man’s voice calling out from his pickup, so urgent, so grateful, so disturbing, “Thank you for saving their lives. You did. You did. Thank you for saving their lives.”
Let’s have a safe summer, all of us!
Rodney Harder and his partner Tony Gray have had a second home in Cooks Falls since 2004. Rodney is an artist with studios in Cooks Falls and the Garment District NYC. He teaches art at Collegiate School, and is an avid collector of works by self-taught artists, as well as that of the developmentally challenged or disabled. His own work can be seen on his site www.rodneyharder.website.