Reflections | Appreciating nature and saving a life at Shady Creek River

Shady Creek River during sunset with haze over the water in July 2021. (Shannon Lorusso)

Three friends bumping along a long, narrow road in a silver Honda Civic — on our way to Shady Creek River, Georgia. We arrive in style at a gravel parking lot, churning a big cloud of dust from our tires. Piling out, we gather our stuff. And there is a lot of it — towels, Eno hammocks, picnic blankets, snacks, water, speakers. You name it, we have it.

The sun beats down on Shady Creek River.
The river and various branches in high tide in July, 2021. (Shannon Lorusso)

Shadows cover the path to the river, protecting us from the scorching sun. I feel the sweat running down my back as I readjust the basket under my arm. Skirting a big branch, beds of clay, and lines of rock, we arrive at our destination: A flat patch of grass overlooking the river — perfect. With picnic blankets spread and the Eno set up, I hop into the hammock and look up.

The water oak on each end of the hammock leans at the perfect angle to cover the space around me with a cool shade. I watch the branches above me, each twisted in its own unique way. They looked almost like the towering branches I would climb as a child when my babysitter took me to a local park. I’d climb a magnolia tree, take home its white blossom as a prize, and watch it wither away on my bedside table.

The sun shines through leaves and reflects on the water.
A view from the hammock in July 2021. 
(Shannon Lorusso)

My daydream doesn’t last. I hear a loud, "OMG Josh, stop!” There are four teenagers horsing around near the river. One, a girl, is pushed into the water. She quickly finds herself in the middle of the river. The current is strong and fast-flowing and she is pulled away. I jump out the Eno, and with my friends, we run to the river, to a point where we might be able to reach to her.

I see a protruding branch from a tree. I grab it, break it, and carry it to the river's edge. Along with my friends, we stick it out just in time. The girl grabs it, and manages to stumble out onto the rocks near the river, safe.

After thanking us, she returns to her friends. I crawl back into my Eno, exhausted. I look up at the branches above me again — this time with a new appreciation for them. This tree that I am lying under must have seen so much: children clambering up, teenagers breaking its branches, and adults slumbering in hammocks. And so, as the music from our speaker begins to play again, I silently thank this tree.

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