The river is a powerful force.
That is a reminder many of us were awakened to most recently when a little girl went missing. As her accidental slip into the Stanislaus became news throughout the state, one couldn’t help but wonder how could she possibly survive its power.
During the days that she was missing, as a journalist, it became clear to me that optimism is alive and well. Hearing stories of individuals hopeful that she was hanging on to a branch or had washed up to an island area along the river and might be waiting to be found, confirmed that.
The Monday following the accident, I found myself in the Knights Ferry General Store grabbing a quick bite before heading up to the ‘little school on the hill.’ As the helicopter circled the sky, it quickly became apparent, this was not an average Monday.
Speaking to the clerk, we shared thoughts on the force of the river. The power which goes under estimated by so many. He himself, shared a story as an experienced rafter once requiring rescue.
I shared that as a coast girl, I understood all too well the power of the ocean. The education that myself as well as my family continue to instill in my children on “respecting the ocean.” Additionally noting how now my boyfriend and I transfer that to the river as well. Two bodies of water which are so beautiful, seemingly harmless, yet not so.
The power and strength of their forces are ones that can humble the strongest of men. How could a five-year-old survive that?
Yet, faith is a powerful thing and as the days which followed showed when things go south, people become true to their faith.
As the news of her body being found circulated last Wednesday evening I couldn’t help but feel many things. I felt relief as well as sadness, for the family, the search team, as well as the community of Knights Ferry. There’s nothing easy or comforting about learning a life is taken prematurely.
Then I prayed.
A simple prayer of comfort for the family. The mother and father who will no longer kiss their baby good night, hold her hand or hear her giggle.
Oh sure, thanks to social media I heard the criticism as well. The trolls who found it necessary to sit behind their keyboards and demean the father in a way not worth repeating. The fact still remains, little Matilda is gone and gone too soon.
My hope would be that this type of death would help others not just recognize but respect the power of the river. Sure, hers was a slip, an accident, she was not out rafting, but that type of accident can (and does) happen all too often when the river is at a high level.
Her passing should not be in vain or without something good coming from the life she left. Her passing should come as a reminder to us all not just that life is fragile, but that the river is powerful. Our winter has been wet; the river is currently high, fast and cold.
Granted this is not a time of rafting, however our sunny days arrive and many of us love to go spend the day by the river … just like she did. Look from a distance. Stay clear of its current and when the time comes to play in the water, humble yourself to the current. Be mindful that still waters do indeed not just run deep, but with power.
Rafting season is months away, let us not forget the life of Matilda, as well as those lost to the hands of the river before her. Be safe, be mindful and be smart. Rest well sweet little girl, we should not let the loss of your life go in vain. God bless.
Teresa Hammond is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 847-3021.