People raised in Grand Falls in the central part of the island of Newfoundland were not accustomed to diving off government wharves .It was a mill town and the nearest harbour was 20 miles away( we used miles back then) in Botwood. And even as a child I shuddered at the thought of sculpins and tomcods occupying the same recreational area as me. But we were very lucky to have brook a mere 7 miles up the Badger Road now called the Trans Canada Highway. And what a swimming hole that was! It was a 10 minute drive from Grand Falls near a tavern called the Oasis. . The Oasis was a dark brown bungalow which stood all alone partly obscured by the roadside bushes. It was miles from any other structure and was next to our beloved Leech Brook. It never measured up to its name ,Oasis. But it provided the parking space for the hundreds of children brought there by their parents over the years. The parking lot was unpaved and from there we took the natural path that led to our favourite swimming place.
A mere five-minute skip along the trail brought us to a brook. On the near side there was an area where our parents could keep an eye on us while making themselves comfortable on the sloping gravel grade that led into the water. And while they sat smoking their cigarettes and chatting we carefully picked our way over the slippery stones in the brook . We could cover a distance of about 15 feet without going over our heads. Then the bottom dropped quickly. At that point we would swim to a large rocky ledge in the middle of the brook. We’d grab a hand hold and feel the smoothness of rocks that had been polished over millions of years with the action of the running water. Here and there in a protected crevice or lower where the water was calm the rock would have a velvety feel from the plant life that clung to its surface. We didn’t like to touch that. Because velvety was interpreted as slimy in the context of the water world. If we dared we could swim around the end of this escarpment and cross to the bank on the other side. But we never did. To go there would leave us out of the sight of our parents and that was unquestionably a no no. So we swam and played in their full view .
When we reached driving age we went to the brook ourselves. The area we had enjoyed so much as children was considered the kiddie spot and no longer attracted us. So we ventured further up the path. I remember my first meeting with the Bath Tub or Second Falls.
We slogged through trees and bushes over twisted roots and fallen logs, uphill , panting from our exertion , sweating from the heat , and anxious to be relieved of our discomfort. The distance seemed to stretch on forever. And we couldn’t wait to take a dip in the cool depths of the stream.
The first sign of our imminent arrival was the roaring of rushing water followed by the shouts and calls of people already swimming and diving. Then there was a steep downgrade in the path which brought us to an opening in the trees. Through that opening we viewed the place from which the Oasis derived its name.
A large circular pool lay before us. And a huge waterfall tumbled into it from a height of thirty or forty feet. The pool was ink black and except for the spray that rose from the impact of the falling water, it was still as a well. Horse stingers darted here and there and their wings and the spray shone with rainbows as the sun worked with the water.
The perimeter of the pool was all rock and luckily for the swimmers there was one side of it that provided a more or less flat surface for them to lie or sit on and also served as a convenient entry point to the pool. Trees surrounded the entire area giving the whole scene a lush lagoon like quality. To our minds it was truly paradise.
As we stood there in awe some fearless boys from Windsor noisily climbed their way up the side of the cliffs . And as we watched they crossed one by one , the very top of the falls which was quite shallow at the point where it cascaded over the edge. Then one of them found a ledge where he could balance himself well. He stopped, posed for an instant as he measured the distance. We stared in disbelief that he was considering jumping. Some boys who were sitting on the rock below shouted encouraging words to him and urged him on. I willed him to turn around and descend in a more safe way. But slowly he relaxed his prayerful pose and with a quick upward swoop of his arms and a stiffening of the entire body he leaped , arced into a dive and plummeted to the spray beneath. We all held our breaths . The water continued its splashing unfazed by the further assault to its surface . Seconds passed. We looked ahead of the impact site, to the right , to the left and saw nothing. Where was he? Then as quickly as he had dived he broke the surface and sprang into the light to the sound of whistles and applause. Acapulco held no greater fascination than that lone dive that day. And we felt we had just seen an Olympic event.
A couple of years ago I returned to Leech Brook. The Oasis tavern is gone and the parking lot has almost disappeared. The path is still there. It had never been groomed. We followed it up to the Bath Tub once more. The walk didn’t seem as long as it had been and we reached it more quickly than I remembered. We were not going swimming so the anticipation of a cool down was not there. Perhaps that is why it seemed shorter.
People swim there still .And that day was no exception. As we stood and watched, two young men climbed across the falls and dived. It was as fascinating then as it had been forty years earlier. And the beauty was still captivating.
For more posts on Leech Brook see http://leesacrey.wordpress.com
Thanks to Lee for the beautiful pictures.