Living on the Edge

lake hiawathaIt was probably not any earlier than just about now, in May, though more likely in June if we were not kidding ourselves, after a string of pretty warm days, the snow and ice of winter only a memory, school almost over, that we would go down, or over, to Lake Hiawatha in Minneapolis, on our bikes, carrying a towel, wearing just a t-shirt and swim trunks, and get ready for the first time in the water. It had to be a warm day, and a weekend, since school was still on. I am pretty sure we did not wear shoes; our bikes were Schwinn one speeds with flat pedals and we never heard of helmets or hand brakes.

Hiawatha was a relatively small and shallow lake so the water warmed a bit faster than the other lakes near by – Nokomis or Harriet – and my two best friends, Dave and Dave, and I would get ready. We took off our t-shirts, laid our towels down and usually walked to the small dock that ran out maybe 30 or 40 feet into the lake.

And then – well, the deal was to run and jump into the water – even though we knew it was going to be freezing. It was our yearly rite of passage, a test of manhood, a contest of bravery and courage – no Prufrockian wondering for us – we dared to eat a peach and hear the mermaids singing each to each; we were ready to disturb the universe.

Remember those times? Times when you took a leap? A time when you had courage, were not afraid, or were afraid but went ahead anyway, a time when you took a risk and experienced the thrill of having come through alright? Remember being on the edge?

Remember how much fun it was to be scared of something and then do it? Climbing a tree, or sidling along a slippery ledge to get behind Minnehaha Falls? Taking a chance, swinging on a swing so high the chains went slack then snapped.
When was the last time you took a risk – went bungee jumping or shot down a ski slope? Maybe the last time you thought something radical, or ate something different? Risky business The Talking heads sang …

w. h. auden

W.H. Auden

Remember the Auden poem I read a while back?


The sense of danger must not disappear:
The way is certainly both short and steep,
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap.

Tough-minded men get mushy in their sleep
And break the by-laws any fool can keep;
It is not the convention but the fear
That has a tendency to disappear.

The worried efforts of the busy heap,
The dirt, the imprecision, and the beer
Produce a few smart wisecracks every year;
Laugh if you can, but you will have to leap.

The clothes that are considered right to wear
Will not be either sensible or cheap,
So long as we consent to live like sheep
And never mention those who disappear.

Much can be said for social savoir-faire,
But to rejoice when no one else is there
Is even harder than it is to weep;
No one is watching, but you have to leap.

A solitude ten thousand fathoms deep
Sustains the bed on which we lie, my dear;
Although I love you, you will have to leap;
Our dream of safety has to disappear.
You will have to leap. The edge is where I want to be.

Last week I went out to Joshua Tree for a couple of days with my best friend. We have been going out there almost yearly for 25 years, for day hikes and for overnights. He grew up in Orange County and camped there as a kid; he took his children there, and he knows the park really well. Joshua Tree is a magical place, and there is something healing and redemptive about being out there. Spirits abound there.

We parked in the overnight lot by Pine City, and walked for about an hour up a wash to our traditional campsite. There is no water at all in the park so we had to carry that in, along with camping gear, food, and what not. I took the novel ‘True Grit’ and my journal. I forgot a book of poetry, which I usually bring in order to read poems aloud. We go our separate ways during the day – each taking solo hikes.

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