Upriver, just before historic Charleston plantation homes, there is a sliver of sandbar revealed at dead low tide. The sandbar is located on the Ashley River, a tidal river that begins at the mouth of the Charleston Harbor and ends inland in a brackish trickle. You wouldn’t even know the sandbar existed—it’s just a tiny crescent of tea-colored sand—but it’s a popular resting spot for shore birds. At dead low tide, you can see the resting flock from our dock where, incidentally, my kayak is stowed. My kayak is nothing fancy, just an old hand-me-down from my father, but it’s stable and safe, which I appreciate since my kayaking buddy is my four-year-old son.
For two years now, ever since he knew enough to follow important instructions (stay still so the kayak doesn’t tip over), Kyle has sat with me in my kayak as I paddle. It’s a sit-on-top kayak, easy to get in and out of, comfortable to paddle even with a small child sitting in the middle. We paddle close to the docks of our neighborhood and don’t stray too far from our own house.
But today I look upriver, hand over my eyes, shielding the sun. I look towards the sandbar. The river is wide in this part of the Ashley. Wide and deep. Kyle stands with me on the dock. He has grown inches this summer, sprouting into a leggy boy. It’s the last day of his summer vacation before he starts preschool. Next year he’ll be off to kindergarten, middle school, high school, college. Just yesterday, it seemed, he was a baby and I was a new mother.
Where does time go?
It’s a dead low tide and the sandbar beckons. I ask the question every little boy longs to hear:
“Want to go on an adventure?”
“Oh yes! Yes mama! Yes!”
We load up and set out. Barely containing his excitement—stay still so the kayak doesn’t tip over—Kyle sits in the middle as I paddle away from the dock, against the outgoing tide. There’s a strong headwind as well, coming downriver, hindering my efforts. But soon we make it upriver, past the last dock of our neighborhood. We begin to cross the wide-open water towards the sandbar. Kyle huddles close.
“When are we going to get there?” He asks.
“Soon, baby, soon.”
We hunch down in our lifejackets. I grit my teeth and push harder.
There is only a short window between the tides before the sandbar disappears. At low tide, the pluff mud banks and cordgrass alongside the river swell above us. It’s a long paddle, an exhausting effort. A fresh blister festers on my left thumb where my paddle rubs. But finally, finally, I feel the bottom of the kayak scrape on the sand. We arrive, Kyle hops off and the shore birds fly away in a flapping display of white wings. My son is a happy package of kinetic kid energy. He runs the length of the sandbar, his feet slapping in the wet sand. He is tan and tow-headed from the summer sun.
We build a sandcastle. We wade out in the water and swim. We enjoy a sandy picnic of sandwiches and apples and talk and laugh. Kyle throws our apple cores into the water. “For the fish,” he tells me, squinting in the sun. We hunt minnows and crabs in the shallows.
And quickly enough, the tide shifts. The water comes swiftly and encroaches our little beach. It’s time to leave. We push the kayak off, hop in and cross the deep channel of water, fighting yet another current on the way home.
The wind is on my back now, helping to push our little boat past the docks of our neighborhood. I’m worn out in a good way and so is Kyle. He rests his head against my chest and stretches his long stork legs out in front.
“I think I’m getting a little big for this kayak, Mama,” he sighs.
“Yes. You are. You’re growing up.” It’s difficult for me to maneuver the paddle around him and I know our days together in this little floating watercraft are numbered.
We pull up to the dock and unload. I pull the kayak out of the water. Kyle and I start down the weathered dock back towards the house. But first, I turn and look back for the sandbar. It’s not there anymore. It’s completely immersed underwater. Gone.
I hold my son’s hand a little tighter.
It was only there for a fleeting moment.