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Spirit of Adventure

Posted by johnnieraz on January 5, 2025 at 1:40 AM

By John Rezell

     As a parent, there are countless moments when your children reveal a pinch of their essence. You get invited to appreciate a rare glimpse inside.

     One of the biggest moments for me remains as crystal clear as the day it happened, many years ago.

     My stomach suddenly started doing handsprings in one of those moments of shock and disbelief filled with more fear than anything else.

     It wasn't terror staring death in the face fear. No, more like rollercoaster anticipation fear. Regardless, I found myself in one of those moments where I could have easily backed away rather than forge forward. Had I done that, we'd have no memories to share.

     Having gingerly climbed out to a somewhat lofty perch on the rocks overlooking swirling water below that had just crashed over the edge of Wildwood Falls, I faced a moment of truth.

      I looked down from the perspective of a protective father rather than the inspirational dad whose gut instincts brought us here just moments earlier. Then I turned to look at Sierra, sitting next to me.  I wondered just how in the world I got to this point.

      I mean, I know how I physically got there, to the edge of Wildwood Falls just east of Dorena.

      I stumbled on the picturesque spot during a bike ride. We were camping at Baker Bay, enjoying our first Fourth of July weekend in Oregon. I couldn't wait to show the girls the falls because, deep down, I knew something like this was bound to happen.

      We were one year removed from our epic adventure, when we spent the entire summer of 2005 traveling America's West in search of a place to call home. Both Sierra and Taylor grew magnificently before our eyes during memorable hikes at the Grand Canyon, Bryce and Yosemite, among other stops (that's all chronicled in "You Can't Cook a Dead Crab and Eat it").

     The real question: Did that adventure change them permanently, or would it remain a memory of one wild summer never to be matched?

      Debbie decided she had seen enough waterfalls in our first year in Oregon, and wanted to stay behind relaxing at the campsite with her book. We drove to the falls and looked at its beauty. Row River wasn't raging and wasn't too deep.

     I suggested we go to the top of the falls and take some photos. That's when Sierra flashed her devilish grin, and I knew right then I had pretty much been caught red-handed with my true motive revealed.

     We waded across above the falls in knee deep water, each daughter clinging to my hand as they felt the rush of the current against their legs. We took a couple of shots of some people taking the plunge into the refreshing water. Sierra's eyes beamed brightly as she soaked it in.

      That's when Taylor realized something was up.

      "We are NOT going to jump off the cliff, are we?" Taylor asked, already well aware of the answer by the look on Sierra's face.

      "Well, Taylor," I said, "You just never know. If you don't want to, don't worry, you don't have to."

      "I'm jumping," Sierra interjected confidently.

       "We'll see," I said, "We'll see."

       Let me note here that we had never jumped into a river from a rock, much less a high perch, so having it pop up like some piece of common conversation was bizarre enough.

       We sat atop the falls for a good 20 minutes watching others -- mainly teenagers -- jump. Then we maneuvered into position to check out the scene from the edge.

      "We're not jumping, are we?" Taylor asked again, trying hard to get a handle on a situation that made her more than a little uneasy.

       "Do you want to jump?" I asked her.

       "No!" she said emphatically.

       So, Taylor volunteered to take the camera and towel down to the bottom to record the proceedings.

      Next thing you know, Sierra and I are on the side of the rocky ledge looking down at the water. I began my lesson. We tested depth first by climbing down to the edge, dropping in rocks and watching them disappear (part of the beauty of Oregon lakes and rivers, where you can see to amazing depths. Crater Lake is clear to 140 feet!).

      Then we figured out what the currents were doing by tossing in a few sticks and watching them gently twirl before heading downstream. We weren't about to jump into the swirling whitewater at the bottom of the falls. We found a calmer, safer spot off to the side.

      I continued through my laundry list, explaining everything that would happen: How you have to leap far enough out, away from the rocks, to be safe. How you go pretty far under water for a spell. You might not know which way is up. You'll feel the current. Above all, just be calm. Confident.

       I kept taking my time, making sure Sierra had plenty of opportunity to change her mind if she wanted. But I'd turn and look into those eager brown eyes, and know that nothing was going to stop her.

      That's when I paused to take one more look down, and suddenly realized the height and magnitude of what might transpire in the next few moments.

      "Are you sure you want to do this?" I asked. "It's a ways down there."

      She looked at me with lively, steely eyes and said, "Daddy, I'm not looking down. I'm just jumping."

      I looked at Sierra in complete and utter awe. I couldn't think of a more inspiring response. I stood up on the edge and could feel a tremor in my knees and flutter in my stomach. I thought back. No way would I have done it my summer after fourth grade. I'm not convinced I want to do this now! But the only way to be down there ready to offer any assistance to Sierra is to get down there and know what it's all about. Show her how to do it.

     So I jumped.

     Of course, it was a gas.

     Oregon lakes and rivers -- even in the hottest days of summer -- will shock you. They are stunningly cold. These moments move with lightning precision, from a flash of complete terror to euphoria. I explain it to kids in my dream presentation as moments when every cell in your body screams at the top of its lungs: IT'S GREAT TO BE ALIVE!!!!

      When I bobbed to the surface I could see Taylor's eyes the size of golf balls. I looked up and watched Sierra quickly move to the edge. I could see her eyes concentrating as she went through her mental checklist. Then she paused. She locked her eyes on me, and I knew what she wanted.

     "One, two, three!" I shouted.

     On three she went flying. Just like her initial dives into Zion's Virgin River the previous year, the only real danger was her choking from laughing so hard. She erupted as she popped to the surface, screaming along with each of her cells.


     We crawled out of the water on the rocky shore to hear Taylor boldy announce, "I want to jump, too!"

      So, Sierra manned the camera. Taylor climbed up the rocks with me. We went through the whole checklist. I jumped. She got to the edge, and paused.

     "One, two, three!" I shouted.

      She jumped.


     Again, the look on her face as she broke the surface will be unforgettable. She laughed out loud, just like a third-grader-to-be.

       And so it went, for the next 45 minutes or so. Over. And over. And over.

      When we returned to camp both girls sported wild-eye grins. Debbie simply said, "No, you didn't!" They both exclaimed, "We jumped off the waterfall!!!!"

     Later that night at the campfire after Debbie finally calmed down, I told them that one of the reasons we left Tennessee last year for a summer of adventure was to show them how to make life happen. How to live life to the fullest. How to enjoy special moments.

      Of course, I added, you girls didn't need to learn that. You already knew.


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