Take a U turn at Near Death

We have a river called the Kern and nicknamed “Killer Kern” that races and roils just north of our city.  There are two signs at the mouth of the canyon, one in English, one in Spanish that simply shows the running count of people who have lost their lives in the Killer Kern.  I Googled it just now, wanting the number.  I found it: (216)  along with the picture.

None of this seems to matter.  No one heeds the warning of the signs. Two or three people die each year, nearly all during the baking Bakersfield summer, when the temps can soar to 110 or higher.  Some bodies are not found until late fall, early winter.  It’s a terrible waste.

The Killer Kern scares the bejesus out of me.  I won’t so much as stick a toe in it for fear of it sucking me in.  I’ve often wondered at what a horrible death drowning in the Killer Kern would be.  None of the 216 will ever tell us.  I’m a writer, but for that I prefer to exercise poetic license.

There is one writer who might take you closer to the experience than you’d prefer to be taken.

On July 30th, I opened Ellie Ann’s Spirit Saturday: Quiet Chaos blog and within the first few powerful words I found myself sucked into what — with just a slight change of venue — could easily have been the Killer Kern.  I lived through it… barely, but with my value system tweaked by her message.

Here, come on it.  The water’s fine….

I never thought I’d die this way. Suffocating, struggling, drowning. The river pushed me deeper into its murky depths and white bubbles exploded around me. The thunderous roar of the rapids sounded muffled, a distant voice. The current whipped my body upside down. Pain shot through my shoulder when I crashed into a rock. I desperately wrenched my body into a fetal position, but not before my head slammed against the river bottom. Darkness and stars of pain filled my vision. I almost succumbed, almost sank into unconsciousness.”

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My Twitter account identifies me as “a writer, a salesman, an optimist, a dreamer,” and adds: “may the four always cohabit and produce wondrous progeny.” Each of the first two identifies a blood-and-bone human being, living in the real world who works very hard at being honest and caring—but, who is still evolving in these areas. The last two (“optimist” and “dreamer”) are foundational qualities in my life. They keep a fire crackling under me that hopefully fuels the writer … and also the salesman, whose hat each of us is hard-wired to wear. Sandwiched somewhere between writing and selling, I attended college and even tried my hand at selling high school kids on why they should love learning and reading and writing. That was a brief stint. Whether teaching failed me or I it, I don’t know. You’d have to ask the kids—though many might be doddering by now, and some dead. Still, experientially, it is a part of me. I am married, living with my dog, Sirius, in Bakersfield, California, and separately from my wife.

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