River perspectives from a River Hugger

May 31, 2021

By Andrea Milano, River Hugger

I began swimming with the River Huggers in the Summer of 2015, soon after I had begun a new job. That job came with a commute that would take me alongside and over the river five days a week. For 16 years, I’d only ever seen the river at random times as I crossed back and forth for various reasons. This new perspective, day in and day out was significant. Similarly, with the River Huggers that summer, I was on the Firehouse dock at approximately 6:50 every morning, three days a week for three months. 

Being in the same place at the same time in a consistent manner affords one a unique opportunity to view our changing seasons, the impact of time and the Earth’s rotation, and a valuable point of comparison. 

During my commute I watch the Willamette climb higher and higher into Tom McCall Bowl and Poets Beach, and then recede temporarily just before the spring melt begins. I watch the river rage through the winter carrying entire trees and all manner of debris to the mouth of the Columbia. I marvel at the mornings when the fog is so low and the river so calm that it invites me to contemplate jumping in and to think about those who actually do. Then the Cherry blossoms appear, fishing boats become more regular and rowing skulls are once again a constant presence. And so I begin to anticipate the return of the swim season.

Now to the Dock at 6:50 in the morning, eyeing the position of the sun. By the time the season starts, the sun is rising before we arrive, assuming its place behind the Firehouse and reflecting off of Big Pink. Where the sun is in the sky by the time we turn around to swim back across the river is just one of the ways we notice its progression through the sky. As summer goes on, we are in the sun on the dock when we jump in the river, and the sun provides us with an, albeit blinding, pathway back towards the dock when we turn around. By September, headlights are required to drive to the dock, at exactly the same time that they hadn’t been in June.

As April turns to may and May into June, I invite you to pick a place and a time to pay attention to each day, and observe the changes around you, and to think about swimming again this summer.