Timing the Jump–

A.V. Walters

great lakes

When I was little, there was no better escapade than when my brother would deign to include me on one of his adventures. Not that I was dull, but usually his idea of fun included trouble, maybe even… danger. The only time I was ever picked up by the cops, was with him. Not that he was a bad kid, he just had the ability to put normal, kid adventures together with opportunity, in his own unique way. He was the one who taught me how to “safely” jump off the roof—to scare my mother. She’d be parked on the couch, or doing dishes, and we’d launch off the roof from just above where she was—with a blood-curdling scream. It usually had the desired affect.

One winter, Lake St. Clair froze over smooth. That is, the chill that froze its surface came when there was no wind, and it looked as though the whole lake was one big skating rink. My brother and I went out skating time after time, even on bitter cold days, to take advantage of that open, clear span of ice. On windy days, we’d sneak out towels, or even bed sheets, and skate like demons, upwind. We’d turn around, after what seemed like miles from our start, just before Pike Creek dumped into the lake and the ice thinned out. Then, we’d unfurl our makeshift sails, gripping tight to the corners, and ride the wind at breakneck speeds on skinny blades and wobbly ankles, all the way back to the public beach where we’d left our boots. Exhilarated, we’d roll up the sheets, tuck them under our coats and do it all again.

After the second run, we noted a small crack in the ice. You couldn’t miss it, though it wasn’t big—only an inch or so wide. From time to time it spurted water as the lake’s smooth cover heaved in the wind. We got down on our knees to explore it, measuring the ice depth with our fingers; it was easily five or six inches thick. More than safe for skaters. But, each time we returned to that spot, we saw the crack had gotten wider. Our skating rink had become a huge slab of lake ice pushed by the increasing winds. My brother shrugged, seeing no need for this to get in the way of our fun.

And fun it was, we skated till our toes were frozen and our cheeks were wind-burned and ruddy. On the returns, our wind filled sheets carried us, flying, bobble-kneed over the ice, as fast as ice-boats, or so my brother claimed. Our eyes streamed from the speed of it, a pace we’d never experienced under our own power. Our fingers would go numb, wrapped tightly around the corners of the sheets. Only the low slanting light of the short winter day convinced us it was time to wrap it up. But when we reached the crack, it wasn’t little anymore. It was now a yawning three-and-a-half-foot gap, with the frigid dark waters of Lake St. Clair lapping up over its edges. My jaw dropped as I turned and realized that our side of the ice was headed out, across the lake.

“What do we do now?” I asked. After all, he was older; he would know. Though the ice was thick and solid enough, we both knew there’d be hell to pay if we had to be rescued from our floating island by the Coast Guard.

My brother didn’t hesitate for a minute. “We jump.” I stared at the gap. It was nearly as wide as I was tall. “Really, it’s not so bad, we’ll make a run at it, at high speed. We’ll have the wind at our backs.”

I wasn’t so convinced. He unwrapped his scarf from around his neck and wrapped it around his hand, “I’ll go first. You watch me. If I fall in, you pull me up with your scarf. If you fall in, I’ll pull you out with my scarf. Watch me.”

I nodded… without conviction.

He skated back some forty or fifty feet and, curled like a speed-skater, let fly. When he reached the edge he launched himself, horizontal, like a swimmer’s dive, landing on his belly, skidding and sliding on the safe side of the gap.

He rolled over smiling, triumphant. “Piece of cake. Come on, it’s easy.”

I wasn’t so sure. I took several practice runs. I tried some small, test jumps. All the while, the gap was steadily growing.

“Hurry up, it’s getting bigger!” He was standing safely on his side. And, he was right—every minute I waited, the jump would only get harder. I wanted to cry. I skated back to get a good run up to it and skated my fastest, pumping my legs nearly to the very edge before I finally jumped.

But, I wasn’t horizontal enough. I was afraid to dive head first, so I flailed, legs peddling through the air. After what felt like forever, I hit the opposite edge, a little short. Landing on my knees, my lower legs slapped into the water, while the top of me hit the wet ice with a thump. True to his word, he grabbed me and dragged me away from the dark abyss. Without another word we hustled to the beach to change out of our skates and into boots for the walk home. Tying the last of his laces, he looked over, “We probably shouldn’t mention this when we get home.” Right, like he needed to say it.

Rick and I moved to Michigan about eighteen months ago. It was a big jump, fueled by a number of issues. For a start, I already had property here and, I’m originally from here. We’d tried several times to buy in Sonoma, but our offers seemed to always be just behind the curve of the real estate recovery. Some properties we rejected because of water issues. The wells were either marginal, or contaminated. Mostly, though, we left California, because my mother was here. We pulled up stakes with a sigh of relief and we’ve continued on that momentum. My mum is thrilled.

Back in California, there’s news that the state is on its last legs in water supply. A year’s worth left in the reservoirs they say, and the annual snow-pack needed to replenish them, at only 15% of normal. And still, they have yet to enact any serious or mandatory conservation measures. It’s as though Californians still expect the next miraculous rainfall to save them. There have always been droughts in California; they’ve always pulled through before, somehow.

When we first arrived and people would ask why, I’d jokingly say, “Michigan has water.” Some of our friends think we left only for that reason—as though in the months and years before we actually did it, we had some secret knowledge about the worsening drought. Believe me, I’m no oracle. (Though, I didn’t need to be one to see that coming.) But I’m glad to be here. I grew up with Great Lakes and seasons, and it’s good to be home. I’m happy to have found a sense of place that fits me. Easy for me to say, but Rick seems to have settled in nicely, too.

It’s what I wish for everyone—that they find that sense of place and comfort. I worry that, if nothing is done about our climate upheavals, many will be uprooted from the kind of comfort that knowing one’s way in geography brings. Maybe we’ll all suffer, when the place we know changes around us, bringing new challenges. What will Californians do, without water? What will become of the Sonoma county farms and vineyards? California, the state that fed the world–what will come of its desert agriculture? And, what about the emus we left behind?

In my heart, I hope that everyone who loves where they are will stay right where they are. Stay and fight. We need enough of a commitment to place to make people adjust their ways to save it, and hopefully, in the process, save the planet. Some friends have asked me if I think things are really that bad. I’m afraid that the science says yes, and our species refuses to accept that answer. They’ve asked me to tell them when to bail; when to max-out on their California real estate and escape with top dollar in their pockets. As if I knew. And, as if that very attitude isn’t what dooms us to start with—the concept of disposable landscapes. Stay. Fight. Change. Make it better.

This situation isn’t like my brother, leaning over to help me with my frozen laces, and grinning, “See, it’s okay. It’s all about timing the jump.”

Advertisements