Featured Post

The Autumnal Equinox

                                           Last rose petals linger....                                                               ...

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Jump from Second Bridge

Young jumpers leap from Second Bridge       dee
           There has been a lot of water flowing under the bridge since I last wrote regular postings to my blog.  Before I return to the practice of writing my blog, I feel as if I must visualize a bridge under which both the detritus and delights of my life have been flowing. In my mind’s eye, only one bridge will do. It is the bridge called Second Bridge or more colloquially, the Jaws Bridge.  It was made famous during the filming of Jaws.  Roll some Jaws footage and you, too, can see the Edgartown bridge under which I imagine the waters of my life flowing out to sea. This bridge connects two fingers of land by spanning a narrow channel of water. The road over the bridge consists of a fifty-foot wide strip of land called Beach Road; it connects about six miles between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. Beach Road, itself, divides two bodies of water. One side is graced by a usually gentle beach named the Joseph Sylvia State Beach.  It is the home of protected plovers and thoughtful beachgoers shielded by colorful umbrellas. Only when tropical storms and hurricanes strike do we see its tumultuous side.  Most Island vacationers and day-trippers practice the rules of Beach Etiquette (that topic – The Twelve Rules of Beach Etiquette must be addressed in another posting.).  State Beach looks out over the Nantucket Sound.  Beach Road can be summoned wherever you are by picturing twenty feet of pavement designed for cars, trucks and mopeds, 9 feet of parallel parking on the Sound side of Beach Road, and finally, designated by a low rail of tree trunks -- four feet of Macadam designated a bike pate for bicyclists and joggers, walkers and roller-bladers alike.  This description fails to include mention of the summer atrocity of bad drivers, thoughtless – and often precarious --  moped drivers, entitled bicyclists and lost (or worse, rude) tourists with whom safe drivers are expected to share the road.  Second Bridge divides the Nantucket Sound from Sengekontacket Pond. Sengeknotacket is a large, calm, brackish body of water that attracts scallopers, fishermen and some boatsmen.  Rimming Sengekontacket is a quieter, less frequented beach, where the high tide mark is barely disturbed by human footprints. Water ebbs and flows under Second Bridge between Nantucket Sound and Sengekontacket Pond at the bidding of the tides and the moon.  Depending on the nautical rhythm, the channel depth below Second Bridge is about 12 -15 feet.  That leaves plenty of safety for the daring adventurers who wish to take the plunge. There is a siren call that lures jumpers to Second Bridge.  A delicious edge between thrill and reason is harnessed in the instant just before one springs off the rail into nothing but air. Taking the leap has little to do with edge, but everything to do with attitude: I have seen a three-year old in a life jacket jump off the bridge, a seventy-year old man-- emaciated and frail -- jump, and a twenty-nine-year old woman from Texas -- terrified of the sharks she imagined might swarm below -- take the plunge…..   
No disputing that the signage exists...    dee
At the height of summer season, the bridge swarms with jumpers.  No one takes notice of the posted signs saying KEEP OFF BRIDGE RAIL.  This is a relatively new bridge. The old bridge Second Bridge required jumpers to jump more than two feet over a walkway in order to clear the safety rail. The new design makes it significantly easier to leap unimpeded. For all those who bring themselves to stand on the narrow, wooden railing, their intention is clear. There is a moment in all of this that fascinates me.  It is that moment of intention.  That precise razor’s edge between thought and action in which the jumper is in position, ready to surrender to gravity’s pull, but hasn’t unfurled his or her body to the snap of free fall.   There is just enough time before hitting the hard surface of the cold water to register it is really going to happen. With twelve feet of water protecting them from hitting the channel’s bottom, jumpers have plenty of room to scissor kick their way back to the surface for that gasp of air their bodies crave. The swim back to shore is exhilarating and leaves most of these intrepid jumpers eager to return for more.  I can just about guarantee that the majority of  jumpers who stand on the rail, summoning courage, with eyes open, sights on the Nantucket Sound, are not doing  calculations. What is the percentage of salinity of the water? Will it be brackish? What is the parabolic velocity of the water flow?  They are not dwelling on these or any number of other arcane or irrelevant factors.  The questions jumpers ask as themselves as the steel-blue water water flows beneath them is, “Is it deep enough? Is the water cold? Can I swim to shore? Is anyone watching me? Is the right person watching me? Will my bathing suit stay on? Am I crazy?” At the end of the day, the most important question on the bridge for any jumper is this: “Can I do this?”
                              A life-guard’s instincts caught on film-                  dee
          Today, I saw a first. I watched a young man walk toward the center of the bridge and put one foot on the guardrail. I was drawn to his hair and how it lay tight to his head in carefully coiffed cornrows. My eyes shifted to a girl in a pink bathing suit who, three times, climbed up on the rail then talked herself out of jumping.  In fact, I was looking through my camera lens at this petrified young woman when the young man jumped…I did not catch on film that he moved without pause, nor hesitation.  Suddenly, someone yelled, “HE CAN’T SWIM.”  My first impulse, as a former lifeguard, was to dive in.  But I had to measure reality with the chances I had at saving him and realized that wasn’t sensible. It was unlikely that my body would weather the dive and even less likely that I could rescue someone his size after such a dive.  I watched as one of the swimmers nearest him, threw the young man’s clinging arm off of his saying, “Don’t hold on to me.” It took me longer than I thought process all that was playing out before my eyes.   Grasping the urgency, I yelled --  along with several onlookers -- to the several swimmers below, “He needs help.” Bystanders along the shore threw floats toward the center of the channel, but they were not within range to reach the scene. Two men flanked the floundering jumper. It wasn’t clear if the one who demanded to be unhanded did so because it is one of the first tenets of lifesaving, or because of his own instincts for survival.  I felt encouraged when a middle-aged man dove straight off the bridge, keeping his eye leveled on the jumper, right until he broke the water.  This man had training.  The jumper’s arm flailed overhead, his face was turned skyward. When the lifesaving man came up from a shallow dive, his head pivoted, expecting to find the jumper. Simultaneously, the two nearby men seemed to reassess the truly life-threatening nature of the situation and in unspoken solidarity, put aside their own fears. With a few strong over-hand crawl strokes, they pulled toward where the jumper had been silently struggling.  Inexplicably, before the diver surfaced and the two men responded to their higher instincts to work cooperatively, horror struck.  Inexplicably, in a five second window, right before my eyes, the jumper simply…………………………. disappeared. A few large air bubbles, and he was gone. There was no hole in the water where he had been; the water simply swallowed him.  The rapidness of his disappearance was stunning. He was there. Then,                                           he wasn’t. The bridge diver took a deep breath then upended sinking below the depths, his feet the last to disappear like a mermaid’s tale. His determination to search the opaque and murky dark green waters of the waterway was clear. Quickly following suit, the two other men, middle-aged as well, dove under. It was evident  that all three were invested, with no holds barred, in saving a life. I counted one, one thousand, two, one thousand, three, one thousand, four, one thousand, five, one thousand. We onlookers couldn’t see beneath the surface.  Beyond a slight chop kicked up by the wind, the water was calm. Anxious faces lined the bridge. All activity ceased.  In the long, anxious seconds before the three wanna-be, middle-aged heroes surfaced, there was a palpable fear that rode on the wind.  It was abruptly dispelled when the head of a dark-skinned man with intricate rows of cornrows rose well above the surface of the water. The young jumper rose higher and higher until he was nearly waist-high out of the water. I saw the same maneuver in a water ballet once. His saviors remained invisible and submerged, working to keep him well clear of the the water.  Eventually, the first responders came up for hungry gasps of air.  They grabbed a float that had drifted nearby and the young man clutched it, his eyes closed.  Knowing they had succeeded in hauling this foolhardy Second Bridge Jumper from the clutches of the sea, I turned away.  For the first time, the thought surfaced that the corn-row haired young man may have had a motive darker than seeking a thrill when he jumped off of Second Bridge. The very thought caused tears to prickle my eyes, but I fought them back. I wondered to which of the Gods (who man has ascribed so many names) I should give thanks for the bright outcome. If we are all riding on a carousel of life, then, in my simplistic way of thinking, the corn-rowed man had just won the gold ring on a carousel with horses names Zeus and Hades, Demeter and Hestia, Hera and Poseidon.  I think it must have been Poseidon who felt most cheated.

         It has been over thirty years since I have stood, toes curled on the rail of Second Bridge. It is still easy to summon the sensation of my muscles clenched against the wobbling –made more pronounced by the wind’s buffeting – as I prepared to jump.  These days, I often find myself on that razor’s edge of intention, watching the water flow far beneath me. Yes, a lot of water has passed under the bridge; in my imagination, attachments, memories, and uncharted dreams roil the waters under Second Bridge.  As the tide races out of Sengekontacket into the Sound, it comes to me 
that so much of what was once so important is nothing more than dross.  I keep my eye fixed on those receding memories, squinting to improve my focus. But, like the young man with corn-rowed hair, from my vantage point on Second Bridge, they disappear beneath the water’s surface with not a trace. 
                            Jumpers resume.                     dee

No comments:

Post a Comment