Late in the afternoon I’m on sitting at the edge of the lower Collins Company dam enjoying the sparkle and thunder of the water sliding over the precipice. The headlong rush of the smooth, darkly waxed liquid spilling into the curling foam of roaring hydraulics is hypnotic. One moment the water is glossy and reflective, the next it falls into a seething, opaque froth that fractures sunlight into rainbows of color.
On the opposite bank a couple dozen teens have gathered at the old brick gatehouse where each year school numerals and slogans are spray painted in Day-Glo colors. Dressed in vividly patterned bathing suits, some of the boys are jumping from the rusting pipe railing into the foam below and swimming downstream a couple hundred feet to where they climb an old river gauge to the top of a concrete wall. They leap with loud Tarzan yells full of fun and bravado. It must be the right stuff to impress the girls.
In my firefighter’s mind all I can think of is what it would take to rescue them from the water’s grasp, from the jaws of the undertow where foam provides their strongest swimming strokes no purchase. The boys are unaware that the law of averages has not been repealed, that unsafe acts can be performed hundreds of times without consequence, but not indefinitely. We pulled a kid’s body out of here a decade ago.
Their fun is almost painful to watch. Yet, I wish I could trade their moment for mine, their joyful abandon for my knowing worry. Instead, I turn my attention to the blizzard of mayflies filling the atmosphere with their short lives. They float in the ever fading light, hanging in the air weightless and free for the moment.