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A dripping wet hippie wasn’t our usual Thanksgiving guest. The door to the deck opened and there stood Jimbo, fresh out of the river below our home. He was at least a foot taller than anyone in the house, had gray hair tumbling around his face in dreads, and was wearing a plaid flannel to show respect for the occasion. A Coloma regular, he was known for stunts like this. He, our neighbor from across the canyon, had walked a mile to the river, shed his clothes and put them in a waterproof bag, and then swam across the whitewater to reach our side. His heels crushed soft moss, rotting buckeyes and golden leaves as he hiked up to our house hidden among the oak trees. My aunt Mimi, who reacts to such unnerving sights with over-friendliness, immediately began her inquisition.

“How did you get here? Why are you wet? Are you one of Austin’s river friends? You must be starving. You better move quick because everyone here knows how to eat. Where is your family this holiday?”

She moved quickly around him, like a bee swarms on honey, trying to gather the imperative information. My dad swooped in to save Jimbo and gave him a pat on the back.

“Jimbo, welcome. You made it out alive! How was the water today?”

Jimbo responded so quietly that I could hardly hear him from my perch at the counter, where savory smelling Thanksgiving food was being splayed out by bustling family members.

“Thanks for having me, Austin. Its been a long time, man. The river was cold, man. Real cold. But if felt great, it really did,” and he cracked a wide grimy smile.

I could almost see them as they used to be, living in tents on the riverbanks of Coloma. My dad, the young punk, and Jimbo, the river guide everyone wanted to be. Coloma is the river and the river is Coloma. Every summer, the small town watering holes are filled with tan and lean men and women in their 20’s making a living paddling tourists down the American River. Jimbo and my dad were some of the first to do it. Now, my dad is a straight laced math and science teacher taking care of his family and kayaking down the river when he has days off in the summer. Jimbo lives alone and chooses to have no car, no heat, and can still be seen in those watering holes, with the young raft guides who see him as a sort of eccentric god. As I watched them talk, it was obvious that both men were happy, but the happiest when they talked about the river.

Soon, Jimbo stood alone, sipping his beer periodically and looking at everyone, somewhat contently. I considered going up to him and starting a conversation, but his quiet demeanor intimidated me. I smeared some brie on a cracker and when I looked up, Jimbo had gone outside to gaze down at the river he’ll always call home.

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