We were between hurricanes, the sky was clear for a few hours, and the house was deep in cabin fever.
Loading a backpack with water, snacks, flip-flops for wading, leashes and an extra layer of clothing, we headed for the river. Two very eager dogs, two get-us-out parents and one bounding daughter.
We chose a path-less-traveled, a mile and a half hike past an old mill with a wonderful, but not so flat, rock out-cropping in the middle of the river.
We talked and juggled the dogs the whole way.
A mile into the hike we arrived at our rocky rest area.
"Toss me my flip-flops will you," my daughter called to us. "Join me!" she called again as a challenge. We passed. She took off. The force was with her.
We were all surprised when our older dog waded in after her. We laughed as the leashes got tangled and the dogs swam out farther with the promise of trail mix. Resting on safer, "grown-up" rocks, we spread out, waving our daughter on as she bounded across the rapids to mid-river.
When the dogs got restless, it was time to pack up. We waited while our daughter clambered back to shore. We were a funny sight as we slipped and slided up the muddy bank. The eager animals earned their fare by pulling us as we grasped for tree roots. Single file, we headed down the trail homeward bound.
Just as we started getting our rhythm again, a water moccasin crossed our narrow path. Looked just like a big root or downed tree branch.
Back home we shook off, unpacked and relived the whole snake experience.
The next morning as we were getting ready to start the new day, my daughter poked her head into the kitchen: "Anyone seen my sneakers?" We did the whole "when/where did you last see them" parent thing, a frequent game in our house. Then, at the same time, we all remembered the last time we saw her sneakers. They were on the edge of a rock pile in the middle of the Eno River. Still there, we hoped, 12 hours later.
Now, you know what those weeks had been like. Rain, in sheets, coming on and off, all the time with a decidedly unpredictable schedule. True enough, the winds were blowing stronger today, the river would surely be rising, those sneakers would be miles downstream by nightfall.
Hopping in the truck, without the dogs and snacks this time, I returned to the Eno and retraced our steps on the trail. Rounding the corner just before the rock sprawl, time kind of slowed down. The wind was picking up, I was out of breath from running and really had no idea if the shoes would be there.
You know all the hats we wear throughout the day? Behind this computer screen, on that road, in this car, on that errand, heading in this direction. Lately I've had these feelings like, "Is this where I'm supposed to be?"
Peering out across the Eno River that afternoon, searching the rocks, I saw the sneakers. Three inches from the rippling river, the sneakers looked precarious. But there they were, socks tucked neatly in the tops, waiting to be rescued. This wasn't a life and death drama, just a pair of forgotten sneakers completely out of place 20 yards out there in the middle of jagged rocks surrounded by very swiftly moving water.
There was no one else around.
This was where I was supposed to be.
Or rather, "out there" was where I was supposed to be. So, lacking my daughter's confidence, on all fours I started crawling across the slippery rocks and boulders.
My heart was pounding; I hadn't been this excited in months. I didn't look back.