The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Swimming In Tumbling Creek

By Mary Joyce Porcelli © 1985

Issue: August, 1985

I suppose I went swimming many times as a young child, with the rest of my family, in Tumbling Creek, since it was a relatively public swimming hole. Despite the fact it was situated in a shady, wooded area along a dirt road back in the Blue Ridge Mountains. My first recollection, though, of being introduced to that clear creek water was, at ten years old, when I was baptized.

As the preacher blessed me then dunked me under I remember thinking it was definitely a good thing I had been saved. Because when I felt the shock of that creek's frigid temperature touching my warm skin, I thought sure I'd be meeting my maker in just a few more minutes. But I managed to live long enough after that to actually look forward to the prospect of taking a dive into that chilly stream.

The phrase "taking a dive", though, isn't exactly correct. The only person I ever saw brave enough to jump headfirst into Tumbling Creek was my father, John Carr, but he is made of hardy stock and doesn't scare easily. As for the rest of us, we went in the gradual route. Which meant we would wade in slowly until the water came up to our bare ankles. Then we'd stop and scream a little from the shock. Then we'd wade in just a bit further. Then we'd stop and scream a little more.

Finally, when the water was just above our knees, and our legs numb from the chill, we'd screw up our courage, over and over again, until we'd managed to get our whole bodies, from the neck down, wet. That process, too, was a slow one. The action consisted of us bobbing down a few inches into the water, jumping straight up into the air from the shock of the cold water touching those still-dry parts of our summer-hot skin, then, once those parts were numb, we'd bob down a little more. Of course, this action and reaction wasn't always as slow as we hoped it would be because Nature usually took a hand during the second or third time we jumped in the air. More often than not, we'd eventually sit on one of those slick, flat smooth rocks that lined the bottom of Tumbling Creek and end up falling in, so that our entire bodies, except our heads, were covered all at once.

I don't know how we managed it, but I can't remember any of us kids, no matter how many falls we took, getting our heads wet. Most of us were afraid of letting our heads go under for two reasons. In the first place, we couldn't swim well enough to risk choking on the water. Second, we were never sure that dunking our heads into that icy stream wouldn't cause brain damage with the shock.

But, despite all that, we enjoyed Tumbling Creek. So much so that we all agreed harmoniously that turning blue and numb for the first few minutes of getting in was a small enough inconvenience to face just to get to go swimming in that chilly, clear, mountain, swimming hole.