Danny Heitman: Keeping time by river a big joy

While shaving each morning, I now notice two wristwatches on the bathroom sink. One is mine, and the other belongs to my 12-year-old son, who got a new watch for Christmas last year.

“I’m glad I got that watch,” he told me the other day. “I look at it all the time.”

I have mixed feelings about my son’s newfound embrace of punctuality. I’m relieved, of course, that he’s learning to be mindful of the need to show up on time. But I also know, as he buckles his watch each morning, that my son is slowly leaving boyhood, where the days stretch in endless ribbons of possibility, and entering the adult world, where time gets broken into little blocks of obligation. Like any father, I’m both happy and sad that my children are growing up.

I was glad, then, when my son and I stowed our wristwatches inside my locked car last Saturday and joined other fathers and sons for a day of tubing on the Bogue Chitto River, just across the state line in McComb, Miss.

Boarding the yellow school bus that would carry us to our drop-off point, I thought about author Janet Lembke, who wrote a book called “River Time” to describe the life she once led along the Neuse River in coastal North Carolina. Lembke made the point that when you stay in or near a river, the rhythm of moving water establishes its own chronology over your hours — a saner, calmer way of keeping time than the mad march of the minute hand across a clock face.

River time takes some getting used to, as I was reminded when we dropped our floats into the water, took an anxious breath, and braced ourselves for the gothic chill that would shake us awake after we settled our rumps into the doughnut holes of our inner tubes.

We briskly paddled our arms — more to get our bloood circulating than anything else — and fretted that so much backstroking was, apparently, not getting us very far along.

After a few monents, though, the splashing subsided. We remembered that we weren’t racing to a finish line, but letting the river carry us through a Saturday in late August, the air touched by the slight cool of approaching autumn, the sun moderated by a patch of welcome clouds.

The Bogue Chitto moved slowly, its rapids hardly more potent than the whirlpool made by a teaspoon in a cup of coffee.

Maybe coffee came to mind because, after only a little while in the water, I began to think of lunch. Why does something as sedentary as tubing make us so hungry?

We steered toward a sandy bank at midpoint and ate the usual fattening picnic food — baloney and cheese, peanut butter, Oreos and chocolate milk.

I’m back at my desk as I write this, my watch returned to my wrist, an office clock hanging above my head like a moon that governs the tide of my daily ambitions. But I’m thinking of the day, hopefully not too far away, when I can go back to River Time, leaving my wristwatch behind.