Deep in the Kokosing
Crammed into the bed of a pickup truck with four other freshmen, I looked back at the rugby field disappearing behind us. We sat facing backwards, which usually causes me to feel sick, but I was still riding out the happiness and laughs of my first rugby practice. I had no idea what I was doing on the field, and I loved it.
The air was a smooth 80 degrees at about half past five in the evening. Soon enough I felt a hint of shade, and my view of the blue Kenyon sky was caressed by what I perceived to be a forest; the trees here were more lucid and freeform than the ash and hackberry found around Middle Path. All five us were jolted as the truck came to a stop, and we jumped out to the grass below. What might seem like just a regular sunny afternoon would become what I remember as my first adventure of my freshman year.
Maybe now is a good time to provide some context. Born and raised in Los Angeles, I wouldn’t often find myself rolling around in the mud or running around barefoot in the woods, and certainly wouldn’t swim through the local river in my briefs. What if I dirtied my clothes? Stepped on something sharp or got a splinter? Encountered a venomous, Ohio-specific bug? Or, worst of all, found a leech anywhere remotely close to me?
“You comin’ in?” asked Alex Freidinger, a junior and captain of the rugby team, nudging me with his wide smile as he skipped past me up to the bank, hurled his Kenyon rugby shirt off into the wilderness, and fearlessly cannonballed into the river below. Every second he spent in the air I thought of another reason not to go in, but a couple other members of the team had already entered the Kokosing, as many others laughed on the bank and tossed around the rugby ball. The decision to jump in was now completely mine. This was the adventure: to make the leap on my own terms, and disregard those little urban voices in my mind I once adhered to. To test the waters, literally, by going for a swim.
And then, all at once, it hit me, and I breathed. If I got my clothes dirty, they were a couple coins and a half hour from being clean again in the McBride laundry room. If I found a leech on my back, it was just a couple laughs and a toss away from returning to its home in the Kokosing River.
Off the bank, folding into a cannonball of adrenaline and excitement, and into the warm, murky waters below. The rest of my time in the river could be equated to any given scene in the 1986 classic “Stand By Me” or the first half of Bruce Springsteen’s “The River,” despite my prior nerves alluding to the horrors of “Deliverance.”
Soon the afternoon heat of September became a chilling evening wind, and I climbed up the bank that I had fearfully jumped from only hours earlier. Only this time, every bit of mud on my legs made me laugh harder and was just another reason to swim more. We dried ourselves with our already sweaty clothes and began to pack back into the pickup. And that’s when I saw it, in all its vengeance and, strangely enough, glory. On the top of my foot, of course, was a leech. But I was too excited to be nervous, and the creature was indeed just a couple laughs and a toss away from returning to its home in the Kokosing River as we all headed back for a well deserved Peirce Hall supper. I thought about how the leech itself meant nothing, how ridiculous it was that a small worm-like animal could scare me away from an incredible memory, and how the real leech was my fear of the river in the first place.