Free Will: Sinking
ASSOCIATE NEWS EDITOR
The beauty of Lower Slate Creek lake was unyielding. At close to 10,000 feet above sea level, the alpine lake reflects the oxygen-deprived imperfections of this landscape, stitched together with old-growth pines and firs, a patch-work systems of mossy boulders and fields laced with the divinity of wildflowers.
Cold to the touch, the lake tenses up my system upon first touch, perhaps a warning sign of a frigid, bitter world underneath the plane of this aquatic barrier. I recoil, the feeble hairs on my arms and legs standing attentively, primed as if ready for battle. A brief moment of readiness showers my body from head to toe. The degree to which this water has shocked me is big, but just as quickly as my body wakes up to the feel of the water, it begins to dim.
I take this moment opportunistically. I momentarily spike with desire and ambition. I strip down, wearing just the bare necessities to take the plunge. As you climb the ladder of Earth’s atmosphere, the world becomes a private oasis. Decisions become less dependent on the judgements of strange eyes and foreign perspective. I felt closer to the top of the world than ever before, elated with the chance to indulge in the bitterness of jumping in. It felt right, but more importantly it felt like the right thing to do.
The platform for this venture is nestled in between a grove of trees, and their branches act as swinging doors to another room. I swing them open and immediately I’m greeted with a view that overflowed my senses. Looking out at the lake felt like a renewal of the spirit, a chance to expel the varying leeches on the mind. The birds ceases their conversations. The wind died down. It felt like daydreaming — those instances of pure imagination unhinged from reality, where scenes feel real until your pulled out of the lull. I felt connected, yet unattached from everything.
I find my place to jump, and without hesitation I dive in. I hear the initial crash of my legs and torso hit the water. Bang. The rest of me is engulfed, and now I’m sinking. Sinking fast. My world is now refracted light, pieces of sun scattered across the bottom like a broken stain glass window. I continue sinking, balled up, my weight concentrated in order to sinker faster.
I’m holding my breath; each second increases my heartbeat one step quicker, and quicker, and quicker. I’m trying my best to hold it as long as possible. I don’t usually live like this, in this moment.
I often wonder how life above the water affects me. Just seconds before jumping in, I was enchanted by my surroundings, but I couldn’t open my senses fully to the surroundings. I wonder how, if at all, I’m not engaging with the world up here, or down toward sea level. I feel alive, but instead of living it can, at times, feel like existing. If life is just a sequence of platitudes, what can you really get out of it? What is being alive if you’ve dulled your awareness?
Down below the water, I feel the rush of primal instinct coarse, matching the cadence of my heartbeat, quicker and quicker. I didn’t hold my breath in the water’s glacial bite to be reckless, but it feels good. It’s invigorating. My lungs feel like they’re under attack from thorny needles. My muscles lock. Mobility decreases. An inner voice is warning me, warning me of my time and how I should bolt to the surface. I refuse to listen.
Down here, I’m reminded of what it feels like to be alive and engaged. I can’t imagine any other feeling better than this. I’m using my eyes to look, and what I see is a transient array of colors and visuals. The water distorts my vision, but I’m awakened and enthralled, not so much by what I see but by what else there is to observe. I’m curious, more curious, and my head is on a swivel, albeit with an infiltrating cold that nudges me closer and closer to the top.
Every movement is purposeful as I try to conserve my riddled oxygen levels and stretch them out for as long as possible. How many times can I say this when I’m walking on the concrete? I don’t know; there are so many moments that one could not realistically keep track. The purpose of my moments on land pale in comparison to those below. In the brief amount of time submerged, everything matters.
This must be what the creatures of the underwater world feel: attentive, alive, aware, no longer beleaguered by complacency. I hear their stories underneath the water. I take my last few ounces of air to listen, and listen well. I’m seconds away from choking on the water, choking on my own desire to feel alive.
I spring for the oxygen I so desperately need. I break the surface and take a deep, panicked breath of air. For a short while I’m as awakened as I was under the water. I’m looking curiously, a newborn seeking to understand. I breathing intently, reminded of the precious gift of life I’ve been given. My head is on a swivel and my movements are brimming with purpose. My perceptions are unbiased; I feel only the need to be. It feels instinctual and right and more human than before. My senses guide me to soak in the beauty of this alpine landscape. The daydreaming stops.
Let’s squeeze onto the world hard. Let’s feel the sharp pain of frigid water, knowing it gives us life. Let’s mute our words, our one-track minds, and engage with the aesthetic of everyday. Let’s remind ourselves that jumping into an alpine lake will reward us with unimaginable joy. Let’s remind ourselves what it feels like to be alive.
For awhile, I was sinking to the bottom. I guess you could say that I knew all along how jumping in an alpine lake would go. As soon as I reached the bottom I began to rise up toward the surface, greeted by an unyielding beauty. When the sinking stopped, I began to float.