Joyful screams echo off the rocks and sun specks shimmer the surface of the smooth, cool water.

Splish, splash, KERPLASH! Dad climbs to the bank then jumps from a boulder into the deepest part of the swimming hole. Water ripples away from where he landed in ever-increasing circles. I giggle from my haven in the shallow end, and watch him resurface in a crowd of scrawny boys and pony-tailed girls.

Mom sits under a tree with Baby Sister, her bald head covered with a pale yellow hat and her diapered bottom seated firmly on a checkered blanket. If she is this young, I must be two. We’re somewhere in Wawona, above the Yosemite Valley floor, enjoying a hot summer afternoon before meeting our friends back at their cabin.

Mom doesn’t know how to swim and doesn’t like the water. I’m too young to know how to swim, but love the feel of the smooth, cool gush against my skin and the slipperiness of the small pebbles beneath my feet.

My spot in the swimming hole is barely ankle deep and is well protected. Off to one side a shallow fall drops water from the stream above, forming a small pool of bubbles just a few long feet away from where I stand. I try to follow the bubbles with my eyes, each cluster moving outward like the circles Dad made when he landed feet first in the deep end. My eyes move back to where mom sits beneath her tree. She waves and I giggle back.

The slick pebble floor starts to wriggle beneath my feet, pushing me to turn slowly and face the small fall. It looks so close I think I might be able to reach out and touch the bubbles. I step one small foot forward then the other, slowly moving from ankle- to pudgy knee-deep in the water. Cool water rises on my dry skin. Each time it touches a new spot I giggle then step forward so it will happen again.

Soon I’ve forgotten all about the small fall and want only to feel the gentle gush of slippery liquid all over my skin. I bend forward to slip one hand into the pool, and squeal before dipping down to my knees then onto all fours. The sun shines hot on my back and bright on my eyes. I stretch my arms forward and legs back so that my whole body is immersed in liquid. How luxurious and free! I plunge my whole head into the cool, gentle bath, open my eyes, and discover a miracle.

All around me fairies dance. Shaped like bubbles, they slide up and down the green-clear liquid and make a hollow, echo-like sound against the burbling hum of an otherwise silent world. I smile and watch, mesmerized. My hips start to sway and I reach out my hand, inviting the fairies to come, please come…

WHISK! Two hands clasp tightly around my waist and pry me from the watery wonderland into the dry sting of hot summer air. Soon Dad and I are face to face, his eyes looking both panicked and relieved at once. Mom yells something from shore, and I lament the loss of the soft, lulling fairy world.


I’ve told my version of this story (which is quite different from my parents’) ever since I can remember. The obvious adult-minded questions always arise:

What did you really see under there? I’m sure it was the first time I ever fully immersed my head – ears included and eyes wide open – under water. What a jolt to my senses! How could I have had any idea how different things would be under there from out here?

What were you thinking? I wasn’t thinking, I was two. But I did want to hang out with the fairies a little while longer. I’m guessing I wasn’t fully immersed for more than five six seconds. My mom is way too vigilant, and I would have run out of breath.

Thirty-something years later, I have a young stepson and a baby of my own on the way. We’re planning a long, late summer weekend in Capitola with my sister and her family – which includes twin toddlers – and our parents. We’ll play in the sand and shallow pools of water, all far from the treacherous pull of high waves against the shore. I’ll sit on a blanket in a shady spot with my baby and watch my stepson and nephews splash their way around this new world, discovering and re-discovering the graininess of sand on their feet and the saltiness of ocean water in their mouths. And maybe one of them will feel so invited by the water’s call that curiosity will overrun fear and he’ll fully immerse his head. We’ll all be watching, ready to pull him out, just in case the bubble fairies beckon him to stay too long.

Published in The East Bay Monthly, July 2007
Copyright 2007 by Laralynn Weiss Rapoza. All rights reserved.