Friday, August 17, 2012

To Cheat the Dead River

A Michigan Wilderness Essay Entry by Mike Haas 

           It was a sunny day and the Dead River came into view; it flowed through tall conifers and maples which grew up on its sides.  The waterfall stood to my left roaring in its glory, sparkling in the noonday sun as its water plummeted over 20 feet into a large foamy pool below.  
Across the pool on the wild side of the fall the cliffs raised twice the height of the waterfall with a span of jagged rocks at its base. I jumped into the pool, swam to the other side, and got out.  The slope up the cliff was steep with trees growing up its side, bent from their fight against gravity.  A trail zigzagged through the ferns up and up to the top.  In spots I had to hold on to the trees and pull myself up.
The top of the cliff was spectacular:  standing there I could see the forests canopy, the river stretching through, and the pool below.  The water was pounding, birds sang, and a multitude of insects gave off a loud hum that vibrated the atmosphere
I stood alone at the top, then walked to the edge, backed away, then went back to the ledge, and backed away again.  The edge sloped down at an angle like the ditch on the side of a road, and was awkward to move across.  Unlike the ditch though, the edge dropped down some 40 vertical feet with rocks at the bottom, and the pool beyond the rocks.  My heart beat faster merely at the sight.
            I moved forward.  My stomach clenched, my heard stopped, my mind through away rationality, the edge moved closer and closer, my feet moved faster and faster.  I pushed off, there was a single moment where my forward momentum held me above the earth, a single entity suspended in open space, and then gravity took hold.  The trees became a green blur; the rocks moved away the water got closer and closer as I angled downward.  Wind rushed past.  Closer, closer, closer, faster and faster, the water was right before me, I held my breath, and then the world changed.  It happened so fast that I couldn’t register the switch.  But one moment I was dry and falling through space, the next I was sinking through the pool reaching for the bottom with my toes, but if there was a bottom I did not reach it.  I looked up the sunlight was far above and I kicked towards it, breaking the surface as I shot upward.  I took a long steadying breath.  I was alive.  I was unharmed.  Adrenalin pumped through me.  The current pulled on my sides and I drifted triumphantly for a moment before swimming to the rocky ledge in awe. The river did not claim me I had cheated it, and I had cheated death. I followed the footsteps of the dead river, and survived.

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