90 Minutes to the Best Childhood Memories

This time of year the river slows to a lazy meander around the U-shaped bend in front of the cabin, and the water, darkly opaque during the angry rushing winter months, clears to reveal the mysterious sloping landscape of rocks underneath. The surface water is pockmarked here and there with the riotous dance of insects, but is otherwise glassy and calm, a verdant smear of reflected trees and blackberry bushes and riverbank grasses.

One hundred and some yards away, my husband and our two young sons paddle to what they call Table Rock. I can hear snatches of their conversation, born on soft green-smelling breezes, as perfectly as if I were sitting in the canoe next to them. It's Saturday morning and my boys are fishing, and I am working to remember this moment for the rest of my life.


The cabin has been in my husband's family for years. It's a small house perched on the Umpqua river, nestled in Oregon's coastal mountains. The nearby country is filled with rolling hills of Douglas firs, winding gravel logging roads, pastured valleys, and vineyards. To the northeast is our hometown of Eugene, to the west is the Pacific ocean. You step out onto the deck of the cabin and you're greeted with a gentle curving horseshoe of water and land, a lush corridor trafficked by salmon and osprey, bass, and bald eagles.

My husband grew up playing on this river, and we dreamed of the possibility that our children would be able to do the same. It took years of planning, but we finally made the move from Seattle to Eugene last summer. Now the cabin is a second home to our boys, and more weekends than not we find ourselves making the hour-and-a-half drive to unwind there for a day or two.

I've watched my sons progress from nervously dipping their toes in the chilly water to taking giant, terrifying leaps off a trailer-sized rock that towers over a deep pool. When once they would toddle around the lawn while I gave chase -- ready to stop them from taking an unexpected journey down the steep bank -- now they rush off through the sharp berry vines together on a mission to hunt crawdads and skip rocks.

At the cabin, my sons devolve before my very eyes: they tear off their shirts and race around with their bony chests thrust out, they break off sticks and carry them like spears, they gleefully pee into the bushes instead of coming inside and peeling off their swim trunks. The wild caveboys aren't quite yet willing to wind the slimy, writhing worms onto their own fishing hooks, but their dad is happy to help in this regard.

I wonder, sometimes, how they'll look back on these years. Will they cherish this time of unfettered childhood freedom? Will they remember our little family rituals -- how I never once forgot to pack microwave popcorn so they could have a treat while staying up past their bedtime, the Jack Hanna Wild Countdown animal show they watched on Saturday mornings, the instantly-melting ice cream we bought across the street at Bob's Market? Will they someday come to the cabin as adults, as best friends, the way my husband and his own brother do?

I can't know these things, but I can remember. I can stop and put down my book and look out across the river and hear my family's voices floating back to me. I can imagine the concentric ripples from their splashing feet moving into the air, traveling across time and distance. Lightly kissing the side of my face 30 years from now with the echoes of this time, the time when my boys were young and we loved being together at the cabin.

Do you have any places that are particularly special to your family?

Image via Linda Sharps

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