Be who you are at end of summer. Go to a river and step in.
Truthfully, it doesn't have to be a river. Make it tree-cradled and dirt-speckled though; find the somewhat risky embrace of something wholly natural and watery, free from the constraints of your bathtub's porcelain walls or your neighborhood pool's chlorine sieve. Here in the heart of Carolina we are lucky, and have our options when it comes to such aqueous endeavors. There are rivers aplenty, which manifest in mouths open wide and deep, borne of little, twisting creeks that whisper through the woods. Lakes dot the Piedmont; they collect pollutants in weird ways but there's nothing a hot shower won't fix. And quarries gut our landscapes in places least expected, creating mirror surfaces to endless pits that taunt the imagination and beckon nervous swimmers.
When you go, do not prepare yourself, save for your picking of a day that bears summer's kiss with such a persistent vengeance that it presses through your skin. The longer you wait, the farther and fewer apart those days will be, so act quickly and don't let a lack of company discourage you from venturing out. Some of life's most honest, gripping moments come when there's nothing that surrounds your consciousness but wind through leaves and water's melodic ripples.
There is a place in northwest Durham where the Eno loops to and fro, just off highway 15-501. It's the site of a small-scale music festival held each July when the humidity is at its worst and the cicadas scream dissonant chords into your eardrums. An early September visit offers slightly thinner air and sparsely downward-rolling hills free of sweaty foot traffic and unabashed frivolity -- a much quieter and more personal atmosphere embraces you and encourages you to follow bowed grass down, down the hill and to discover what's on the other side of the next treeline.
It isn't visible until you are upon it. There is a wooden bridge, a cog in the antique layout of the old mill house complex which acts as backdrop to nature's reemerging dominance. Atop it, on either side of wooden steps, lies riverbed and in the middle, one straight and slick stone passageway, a man-made waterfall of sorts that separates lazy-flowing pool from low-down, boulder-speckled gullies.
Be who you are at this moment of entry, and if that person that you are says, Find the presumably deepest part and follow that stone barrier until you're ready to jump into the water's anonymous arms, then follow that feeling and do it. (It will knock out your breath with its cold-iron hand though, so brace yourself.) Take of your clothes. Be exposed.
If you're like me you'll need to take it slowly. You'll find a muddy indentation in the riverbank where the bed rises up gradually to meet tiny, rocky planes poking up through the dirt. You'll enter ankle-deep water warily, arms spread wide for balance, feet testing textures gingerly. You cannot turn back now. Go deeper, trust that no one's silently occupying that darkened riverbed, awaiting your toes with open sharp-toothed jaws. Accept that it only gets deeper, and that the scariest things you've got to face are poking, outstretched sticks and the slimy, waterlogged ground that will inevitably give way to nothingness as you overcome the widening gap with one final upwards push and float there on the surface.
It will be cold, but you'll find that by some strange movement of the water's currents the river fluctuates in temperature in what feels like varied breaths that coil around your body, and then move on. Channel your inner grain of salt and allow your mass to be weightless, drifting in and out of tree branch shadows. There will be smells of soil and life all around you, so fragrant and overwhelming that they're practically alien in their vigorous and never-ending purity; rather than being disgusted when you're hit by these earthy wafts, breathe in deeper and explore all its flavors.
And when you're ready, fall backwards until your head is under and your hair is wet; plunge forward, fish-like; jet through chilly wet enclaves that bear down on you from all sides and yet open up your soul with the promise that when you surface there's only greenery all around you and the smells and sounds of a world wild, uncontrolled, overgrown. Be only yourself, worry-free and recreated, there on the cusp of a season on its deathbed, in your riverbed, looking ahead to colder days.