The Years Before by MacKenzie Gansert
There were years before the river fell prey to the random and sporadic cycles of the unknowable winters, before the water was used up by the early spring and the Truckee was no more than a trickling rivulet feebly falling down the rock bed towards Pyramid Lake. In those years, the Truckee fell lush and knowable. We would drive our cars to the west end of town, dragging brightly colored inner tubes, like hollow echoing rubber donuts, through the dust and rocks, avoiding sharp thistles underfoot that threatened to bring the day to an early end – or to be used as an excuse to wedge ourselves in pairs into our tubes, bodies pressed together like sweaty, sunburnt children in the backseat of a truck, wishing they could stretch out in its bed and watch the silhouettes of tree branches like tapering fingers flash by. As we climbed into the river, reaching out hands to steady ourselves against icy water and slippery, moss-covered rocks, we threw off the heavy blanket of worry our parents tried to drape over our sun-kissed shoulders just that morning. Its panels were made from concern, lined with worry about the tug of the cold, rushing current, and careless, lazy drinking. But we discarded it and waded into the river wearing nothing but our swimsuits and cloudless skies, blinding yellow sun, cheap wine, and unrestrained laughter. The Truckee carried us away from the fears of those who years ago had also thrown off their blanket, and found themselves not naked, but covered in inky skies sparkling with a million dancing stars, the scent of pine trees afloat on the dry summer wind, the shadowy lilac of the mountains like sinewy tree roots, and of course, the clear, piercing river water that cut through town, rushing us along.