11 August 2010

Double-luck Death...

I'm not sure that humans have ever been attributed with multiple lives such as our feline friends enjoy. So what do we call those near-terminal events in our lives that fate prods a fraction past us, or time twists to thrust us just beyond? To me it has to be circumstantial luck.

Some people will attribute such saving moments as being due to a deity looking over us. I'm not about to argue that point because I'd hate to spend time in an intellectual debate when I could be out watching the next event that tries to end my life. I really want to be there when luck fails and death wins. Sorry, I've got no iPod...

You see, many years ago, decades past, a span longer than the number of years I'm willing to count, my life was ended by a white Rambler skidding on ice trying to avoid the foolish paper-delivery boy riding his bike in blizzardy snow sliding down an iced drive-way; a direct course for collision. The car hit me, knocked me off my bike and then slid after me for another fifty feet as if trying to reach me for another attempt. I was 12. He was 21. It was the first time I'd ever flown or gone body-sledding and I lost all memory of the event. I've always felt bad for the driver because the accident was my fault and unavoidable on his part. I was lucky. He was lucky. I lived. A 12-hour concussion later, a bone chip in my knee, and my best friends sneaked into my hospital room even though under the minimum age.

I think death got near twice more that same year. The previous summer I climbed up a steep river-side embankment of cliffish nature. It was vertical broken crumbling dried clay with interspersed chalk on the bank of the North Platte River. I always claimed it was fifty-feet up although as an adult I found the spot again and measured it at twenty-eight feet - the river must have raised the river-bed in the intervening years.

I climbed up that wall with hand holds and foot ledges crumbling nearly as fast as I could find new ones. I was showing off to my sister, of course, who didn't think I'd climb up to the square shaped opening near the top that had a tree hanging over it. At that age I'm sure it had to have been an Indian cave. So up I went. And I made it only to discover that the floor of the cave-like opening was a sloped bed of sand that constantly shifted down and outward causing me to scrabble back on butt, hands, and feet trying to stay in the cave. I feared an uncontrolled descent was about to happen. And there were no mummified remains in there to make the challenge interesting. Finding one small solid spot I suddenly stood and leaped out for the river far, far below.

You've seen the famous leaps off cliffs in to deep rivers that all the movie main characters have to do to evade the avengers riding hard behind them. That was me...out stretched, screaming for more distance, riding the air currents, hoping I'd land in the water instead of the solid shoreline. I made it. Hard. I landed in about 18" of water feet first, striking the bottom very hard even as I tried to roll. It is probably there that I suffered the first major damage to my knees and lower back.

And the previous winter, almost a year before the Rambler, I was caught in a snow storm with my boy scout troop and suffered frostbite and loss of memory. Well, I remember the healing of the frostbite and I remember the telling of the rescue. The National Guard had to come get us; as I have been told. But I have no memory of getting back from the camp site, nor any memory of more than the first night.

There have been other instances which I believe have used up more than a cat's share of lives from being hit on my motorcycle and doing a side-over roll through the air to land in the median wheels down, to triple lighting strikes of light pole, ditch, and road where I had been leaning, falling, running. Excursions that included a face full of glass particles and falling backwards off of a 40' ladder, having a nail bounced off my eye, a knife dropped by my best friend onto my head, massive tree fall on my camp site where my tent had been removed by a dozen feet and only minutes before... Well, enough incidents to last a life time, or more probably a short life time.

However, today death took a double shot at me and almost won. Closer than every other attempt besides using the Rambler to crush me. As my readers my recall, one of my pursuits is photography and near my home is a swamp of murky water and cypress trees and a fabulous stump. At least I call it a swamp. It is, more rightly, a lake of smaller dimensions but from the road I didn't know it had the depth of a lake. I have been waiting for the flood waters, and spring rains to evaporate into the air so that the water level of the 'swamp' would go down enough to wade out in to it. I really, really wanted to photograph that stump. It looks like the head of an elder Ent raising from the murky depths.

Should I remind you that today it was 97 degrees outside, humidity at near suffocating levels, and I'm wading into swamp water that feels like a hot bath; all this while wearing a neoprene wading suit, more commonly known as a boiling bag. The water turned out to be about three feet deep in most places but with a two foot deep mucky bottom. And it was sucky bottom material, trying to pull me in deeper, as if something didn't want me to leave. It took me nearly an hour of maneuvering around underwater logs, through muck and water, feeling out sudden deep holes, and perspiring like I was a leaky fire hose.

My waders kept taking on water every time the depth exceeded the top of the coverall bib. The suit billowed with extra warm water heated by my own body heat as it lay trapped between me and the neoprene suit. Finally, I got to where I wanted to take pictures and began working my way around the gigantic stump, hollowed by fire, openings peering like giant eyes. I tried to ignore the ballooned suit with water temperature surpassing my own, so it seemed, and things swirling around inside it with me.

In the process I forgot to test my footing. I don't have to tell you the result of my forgetfulness. Yes, you got it in one thought. I stepped into a deep hole. A very deep hole. Probably gouged out by the fallen trunk that lay across the bottom that now had me pincered between itself and the mucky bottom and sides of the hole. I'm 5'10" in height and there was no air caressing my thinning hair. My left elbow was locked straight up but it was submerged too. My camera strap, hanging down from where it wrapped my wrist was soaking wet, but my camera was skyward, surrounded only by air and humidity and not swirling in muddy water.

I'm not a smoker, and I play woodwinds. I have good breath control. Today I exceeded that control stuck in a mucky hole in the bottom of a swamp. Given a few more seconds and we could have changed the wording to, "There's a body in the hole with the log in the middle of the sea (swamp), there's a body, there's a body, there's a body in the hole with the log in the middle of swamp (sea)."

In what became somewhat frantic efforts I managed to twist my ankle, smash my knee against the submerged trunk, wrench my back and exacerbate the old broken neck injury. I finally managed to free myself with pain in my lungs, air all gone, head pounding and eyes blanking (or was that the mud). And, best of all, my camera remained rigidly aloft.

I managed to slosh to the stump and lean on it for support while I gasped for air and balance. I thought I was fine, breath under control, and managed to slosh some of the water out of my suit. My camera was safe. I again started taking pictures but carefully felt each step for depth. Yet, in only a few minutes I realized something was wrong with me; I was no longer sweating and my head and face felt feverish. My head started swirling with dizziness and my eyesight was fading.

At age 53 I've had three rounds of heat stroke, all since I moved here five months ago, and I vaguely knew I was in trouble. I clearly said out loud, "Damn'it, Daniel, you're going to die out here and nobody will every find your camera." And that statement was enough to urge me back to shore. Needless to say, I made it back and returned to my truck peeling the neoprene suit off while I stumbled down the side of the road still holding my camera up and away from my body. I yanked down the tailgate and heaved myself on to it setting the camera down in a dry spot and then spewing vile bile and gasping for breath trying to regain my mental equilibrium instead of completely passing out. No passing drivers felt a need to see if there was something wrong.

After twenty minutes, or so, with a slight breeze helping to revive me, I managed to get the camera and myself into the cab but could barely get the door open. Once in, I leaned on the steering wheel while trying to open the bottled water I'd left on the seat. I drank three bottles of overheated bottled water and eventually revived enough to drive the two miles home although with arms quivering and eyes trying to stay focused.

I could not find my set belt which is odd since it hangs from the sidewall but I made it home, or I wouldn't be here now. I sat in the front lawn and then later on my handmade Adirondack chair, with the garden hose pouring on me for nearly an hour before I felt strong enough to go inside. We don't have cold tap water here, which is probably a good thing, the shock of cold water on my overheated body and head may have been to much for me. Yet, it was cooler than my own body and the sun had gone down allowing the temperature to drop a few degrees.

The truth is that this really happened to me yesterday, not today, because I was unable to do more than dry off and collapse on my bed in a dazed, muddled condition when I returned. Why have I shared this with anonymous readers? Perhaps because I realized that I've probably used up more luck, more fate diversions, more twisted timelines, more confrontations with cessation of life than any one person has a right to expect. Maybe more so because I realized that an inanimate object was worth more to me than my human existence. I am the sole human companion to two canine pals. They curled next to me, upon the bed, and licked, licked, licked, arms and legs for hours. My arms and legs. They were showing their concern for me and those companions deserve my affection.

Life doesn't matter so much as how you choose to live it. Death doesn't matter either if you have chosen to live your life.

Hours later I still felt shaky, weak, drained, but managed to imbibe more water and ice-tea, and suck down some fresh tomatoes. I lumbered through a shower, dried, and collapsed back on the bed. My trusty companions no longer played nurse and went off to their own sleeping spots. And so, I knew I was returning to life ... once again lucky, but twice too close ...


  1. Damn, Daniel, that was very close! Crazy as it is, I understand how the camera stayed dry, though.

    So did your pics come out? You should take it easy for a while now. The stump sang the siren song to you and now you've conquered the challenge and can rest, right?

    I won't be able to listen to the song until I get home this evening, no speakers on my computer at work :(

  2. I got over 200 pics including a few of my all time favorites: dragon flys

  3. Very Tolkienesque stump, worthy of the struggle to capture it on film/disk.

  4. Wow. I enjoyed your blog. Scary though. I'm glad you are okay.

  5. Thank you Teresa. I was very scared for a time, twice. Sometimes the benefit of having nobody to worry about leaves me stretching the limits. I have to remember my dogs expect me to return home just like a family would.

  6. What an incredible, heart-stopping tale. And your other close calls leave me feeling a little dizzy. I'm so glad you survived! Obviously you have purpose in this life or you would have been gone from it long ago. Great photo, by the way. :-)

    Take care of yourself, and thanks for sharing.


  7. Dude. Nice survival story. I've gotta blog on that. I do have thoughts on death though: http://www.tobyneal.net/2010/08/16/a-charm-against-suicide/

    I like it. You have a nice action packed style of writing and I salute your commitment to a dry camera.

  8. Goodness are you an accident looking ...
    Daniel so glad you managed to scrape by once again.

    I'm thinking this won't be the last tale my friend.

    Would you please take care.

    Moon smiles


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