{ On the Water to End My Time }
Leslie Hoffman

l'OhioAs I turned the pages of Pulp Magazine, I stopped, mesmerized by a familiar scene captured in a black-and-white photograph. The steel spiderweb of a railroad bridge's scaffolding rose in the distance and weepy foliage framed this shot of the pensive Ohio River ambling downstream. I knew the place well because the picture was taken in my hometown of Beaver, Pa., a small town forty-five minutes north of Pittsburgh. I had walked my dogs down by the river, possibly taking in the same sense of stillness and peacefulness the photographer did the early morning that the eye of his camera winked open, taking in the lazy sunlight and cautionary fog.
   The photograph I saw came from a collection of photographs by Andrew Borowiec showing at The Silver Eye Center for Photography. Staring at the page, I was captivated by these photographs; having spent much of my childhood on and around the river, I felt like I could call a few miles of its murky depths my own.
   My relationship with the Ohio River began the spring of 1993, the weekend my family took a trip to Rochester, N.Y., to purchase a nineteen-foot Four Winns Cuddy Cabin Cruiser. Riding home on Easter weekend from New York, I clutched my Seventeen magazine to my chest as my father elaborated on the fun we all would have with the boat and how my two sisters and I would learn not only how to water ski, but how to fish, swim, and navigate the wide Ohio River.
   We never docked the boat on the Ohio because the river is too deep and therefore too turbulent. Instead, we docked at one of the marinas stationed alongside the Beaver River, which gently empties into the expansive Ohio. The first time we pulled into The River Rose Marina, a boatyard as tired and faded as the wilted rose on its peeling sign, my sisters and I gave each other a worried look.
   During the two years we docked at the River Rose, before moving on to nicer marinas, we spent many summer evenings and weekends on the Ohio. My father was especially fond of heading down after supper for a quick jaunt up and down the river. The path he took was often the same, hitting top speed between the two bridges that bookend the portion of the river that marked Beaver's town limits. After this familiar run, my father always pulled the boat off to the side, and my sisters and I would take turns jumping off the bow into the warm water. As the sun set, we each would slowly climb out of the water, shivering in our tank suits, and wrap up in towels. When we returned home after dark, we showered and fell into slumber for the rest that only blesses the well-exercised.
   And while we took much from the river, the river took from us, too, in a sort of twisted, symbiotic sort of way. Both my mother and my sister have lost their eyeglasses in the river, and my father lost his wallet one blistering July afternoon. No one loses anything in the river expectedly; it just happens. My sister lost her glasses when she leaned over the edge reach for something and my father lost his wallet because he forgot to take it out of his pocket before jumping in. The Ohio, however, is not selfish. It returns these objects in peculiar ways and only after it's finished with them. For several years, we participated in an event called The Ohio River Sweep, where we would spend hours of a June morning cleaning up the lost objects—wallets, broken eyeglasses, tires, hats—that eventually made their way back to land.
   In Pittsburgh, I often wonder why we don't derive more pleasure from our rivers. For the amount of water that encompasses the city, a relatively small number of boaters dot the rivers on a hot summer day, and practically no one goes for a dip. Maybe the nature of rivers—so often dirty and muddy because they're constantly moving—causes people to shy away from them in favor of clear lakes and public pools. This is sad. I know few people in the city who've ever even touched this city's waters, fewer still who've spent a day boating them.
   This summer was the first season that my father didn't dock his boat on the river, and the first that I didn't live at home. (He's not permanently retiring from boating, he just wants to sell his Four Winns for something smaller, something he doesn't have to dock.) My younger sister also left home for college this fall, and as this Indian summer draws to a close, our family is changing, and I can't help but think of something my father once told me. He told me that when he was a little boy, the last day of boating season was "the saddest day of the year." There are still times that I think it just might be.

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