French Gulch, Lake Isabella – A Memory
More than a decade ago, I did one of the two things on that sign, and it didn’t involve bass or bluegill. Although, technically, I didn’t do the other one either-diving is head first, and I had the common sense and wisdom to go feet first, just like I would off a rock on the edge of the lake.
It was a good, wet summer for the lake, and the water levels were unusually high. In fact, they were the highest that I can remember seeing since then. In my mind’s eye, as I swung my feet over the edge of the bridge and jumped feet first into the deep, refreshing lake water, I was looking at a drop of between 20-25 feet. The intervening years may have exaggerated that distance, as the memories of adults tend to exaggerate the legendary and heroic exploits of their youth. Objectively, it may have been closer to 10-15 feet. Yet, who knows? Not I. There is no way I can travel back in time and measure the distance that I dropped that day, and I wouldn’t want to even if I could. Those types of memories, of feats of daring-do are important for kids and adults to have, even if exaggerated. Through them, we gain a greater sense of what we are capable, of what in this great wide world may be possible.
Yet, as I went to the Lake this past November and drove around, visiting all the old places and locations from my youth up there, from the summers and autumns spent up there fishing and hunting and camping, the low water levels brought the difference between memory and reality into stark relief.
As you can see, there was no water in the French Gulch. The whole cove was dry. I remember innertube fishing here in the middle of the cove. I remember hiking back into the hills, where rocks formed a series of natural pools and water slides to play and frolic in on a hot summer’s day. This, this was not as I remembered it; the water was lower than I can ever remember. It was the exact opposite of that day that I leapt into the lake.
I took this last picture standing on the bottom of the lake, looking up at the bridge from which I had leapt all those decades ago, amazed that I had done such a thing. I distinctly remembered the rush of air as I fell, and the water pushing around me when I hit the lake feet first.
As I stood there before the bridge, as it framed the mountains behind it, I thought: maybe my memory hadn’t exaggerated how far I had fallen that day.This is an awfully big bridge.
Maybe it was the way I remembered it.