In the summer, we belong to the Junction Creek clan.
Entrance into the club is easy: Come bearing buckets, shovels and an affinity for the magical mix of sand, water, rocks and sun. The kids gather almost daily with their people to ford the pebbly creek bed, like intrepid Western explorers whose mothers are back East on the farm (or really 10 feet away gabbing under the box elder tree). It brightens the children's outlook to dig in the sand and heft bone-crunching rocks to and fro.
Col (rhymes with soul) and his buddy Matthew use all their 4-year-old brainpower to devise a muddy slip-and-slide by pouring buckets of creek water down a steep, dirt slope. The boys claw their way up the mucky mountain, looking like a walking impressionistic painting titled "Wet Dirt Nirvana."
And there's something about the sculptability of the sand. Like the tofu of inedible substances, sand takes whatever shape your heart can imagine. Playing on a sandy island in the Animas River is like field camp for engineers, with an emphasis in hydrology. Col and his cronies get all serious, wielding shovels like they're on the clock. Their lovely 4-year-old backs bent over like smooth stones in the sun, they dig reservoirs and construct dams, readying the job site for incoming buckets of water. When a younger sibling crashes past their symbolic orange cones, the boys groan, cast out the clumsy interloper and get back to work.
I love watching these boys. They're so hands-on and purposeful, so cause and effect. I'm sure some day they'll trade their shovels for sporty kayaks that cost more than preschool tuition, but right now I want these boys to stay 4 for about 100 more years.
Rose, 2, is typical Rose, sticking close to me while making a bakery full of sugary sand-treats. "Dis one is a cupcake, Mama!"
She gets so caught up in her confectionery, she'll take a surprising, gritty bite, then look at me all shocked with these sad, sand-clown lips. I wonder, for the 80th time this summer, if I can get one of those dental water-spraying tools over the counter.
We always stay too long, pushing naptime or dinnertime. Leaving is a sad production. Everyone is dredged in skin-chafing sand and wearing 20 pounds of water weight. You'd think shivering from racing around in snowmelt might make a kid comply with toweling off, but leaving the river is like being handed a cherry popsicle and then having to toss half of it in the bushes. You know it's still there, melting into the chops of some lucky raccoon, while you're headed home for a scrubbing.
I'm afraid our river days are numbered. The blanket of autumn is floating down, covering more of the land each day. It was another glorious Durango summer, and every grain of sand I find crunched into our wood floors or between the kids' toes reminds me of how truly lucky we are.
Rachel Turiel says summer is not over until the last tomato ripens. Her column runs the first and third Sunday. Reach her at email@example.com