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24 Feb 2k5::621pm
Niantic River starts at Long Island Sound. Niantic Bay, funnelling The Sound, takes The River past Milstone (power plant), under two bridges. From there we snake about 15% east, into the wake zone of what would be the small commercial port of Waterford, and Niantic. Lots of fishing vessels, and the businesses that support them.
At the next crook, straightening out to face North, we are now in The Channel--The River proper. In my early years, we living along the shores were separated from The Bay by the tandem of aged, all steel, industrial-looking, reconstructavist-era train and turntable-style car bridges.
The car bridge was replaced in 1991, or was it ’90? It looms 42-49 feet above water, accomodating 90% of sea vessels. It’s usually the pleasure craft, with antenae, masts that cause delays during summer.
Oswegatchie Bay ends the Niantic proper. Our treck would end at about 5 miles, hitting its Northern most point, the Route One bridge. Since it doesn’t open, larger boats need take care not to so do. Continuing from that bridge we would jut into a small bell. Only shallow bottom boats, or yes, hovercraft, would venture into there. This is a very lovely area to live.
Snaking back in a wide flowing swoop, we come to the second Route One bridge. During severe flooding, this bridge gets submerged. That doesn’t happen often.
Past this Route One bridge, we have a little pool which is receiving the water from Latimer Brook.
The tributaries are fresh flows, but once that water hits sea level, it’s brackish, or mixed salt and fresh. The biggest starts in the Oswega Hills, leading through Latimer Brook, under Interstate 95, to the “waterfall” behind the old saw mill. It is this little rock- lined drop in elevation where it reaches it’s actual level with the sea; which is to say the L.I. Sound.
Since the river starts at the end of the Oswega Bay inlet, it’s all salt water.
Oswega Bay to Sandy Point--The Point--is about a mile south. It was from the Point that we launched that ill-fated drunken row after that seniour skip day party on the beach.
The channel starts about 200 feet beyond the point, since it is not longer considered part of the point inlet. From here there’s a slight direction change to about 15 degrees south southeast.
Mid river, the part near where I crossed, is about 2 nautical miles further south. At this point it is about 30 feet deep at high tide. It has a definite current, as one rowing up the river will tell you.
When i was a senior in high school, 4 of us took my friend Micky’s father’s dingy and rowed to the point. It took about two hours to row there, and it took about 6 hours to get back, due to the current. The fact that we were all drunk didn’t help matters.
Growing up, I was told that the river is not supposed to freeze. Of course the periphery does when it’s cold. Down toward the sources where it’s more fresh, of course it will froze. It’s shallow.
But the entire river isn’t supposed to, or at least not freeze as far up as i am. It was so cold in the winter of 1978 it did exactly that.
Anyone around my age, grown up in New England, would remember the Blizzard of ’78. Memory has it that the final tally of snow was two feet. It broke records; not only for the amount of snow, but the temperature, and the amount of days that it was sub-zero. It was fucking cold and snowy even by NE standards. I was 10 that year. That was also the year that i walked across the Niantic.
Falling through ice is neither fun, nor pleasant.
It is a horrible experience.
Kids are stupid.
Really, truly i mean that. And that goes for all parent’s kids, not just my sisters’.
As an adult (or at least anyone 13 or over) when you are warned that the ice is thin, that you shouldn’t go on it, but yet you walk on it anyway, you fall into a very special category of human being.
However, kids have a “common sense” defense. They just do what they do for their own reasons, mostly due to the lack of common adult sense. Hopefully at some point in life, that sense becomes activated.
It happened to me when I was 7 or 8. It was the pond at the bottom of my street. The older kids were enjoying their camp fire slash wine-jug pass-athon. I think 3 of them told me not to go out there, it was unsafe.
“The ice is cracking,” one of them said.
I think I said something like “I know what I’m doing.”
“Don’t go out there...”
...and I went any way.
So, after you’ve been warned and still do it anyway, and then you go right ahead and fall thru (just like you were warned would happen,) it makes the experience ever-so-much-more horrid. And rememberable.
But it begs the question, that since this experience was so traumatic, i should have learned that adult common sense. But i ignored it in order to do what i did on the river.
If i were an adult doing this, even with a minimun amount of safetly gear, i’d probably just be labled a “thrill seeker.” But at 8, you’re really just a problem’d child.
So, it was perhaps 3 years later at most, when i started the first few steps of that faithful journey across.
Let me divigate a point a moment to mention something about geological scale. The distance from my house, this very room i’m in writing this, to the point where i made those steps is only about 150 feet.
By contrast, the distance from those steps to the last ones off the frozen Niantic, in 1978, was about 1500 yards. Nearly three quarters of a mile across, that sheet of ice had a thickness which allowed a 112 lb person--i was big for my age--to safely cross.
Of course, since this was in the middle of the day, and it was sunny, it was not so bad. The temp was in the high 20's. For the most part a cheery-enough winter day where it’s moderate enough to want to go outside.
I seem to remember that i wore really skimpy, loose knit gloves. Either that or socks. And i don’t think that i wore a hat, against my mom’s strict orders. In fact, if memory serves correctly, i was off doing something else, and wound-up at Bayside Beach at that point. I was walking on that outer crust because i knew it was safe. But for some reason, i just kept walking. I think i just wantd to see how far i could go out there before it started to “really crack,” so i started walking.
It was at the middle of the trip across the ice that one overwhelming thought came to my head. I am going to die. The ice is going to crack. And it is going to be a whole big sheet of it, and it’s going to turn over completely and trap me under it. I thought that they would be finding my body in the spring wedged in one of the water inlets in Milestone the nuclear power plant.
I just knew, that at any second the ice was going to make that really big, hellacious cracking sound that sounds like it just came blamming out of a shot gun. The one that makes your heart stop--that crack was going to come.
There were old, settling cracks in the ice. Almost no snow on it cause the high winds that year literally swept the ice clean, even though there were still inches on the ground. I could see through it in parts. I knew that the water just under the ice was near freezing. The ice was thick. But was it thick enough? How long was it going to hold?
And because of it’s thickness, it means that the ice would break into large pieces. From the topside, a person my size would have no problems flipping it over, or tipping it. Once in the water, could get stuck under the ice.
I’d be dead within minutes.
I think that for a 150 lb person, the ice needs to be almost 2 inches thick to support his weigh. Most of the ice in the path i crossed, i estimate, was around 2 inches.
Even still, i just knew that i was going to hit an air bubble that isn’t as thick as the rest, or that a log just in my way would be frozen, making the ice weaker. There were all sorts of things going through my mind.
I was so incredibly relieved by the time i finally reached the other side.
I think if asked why i really did it, it might have been just to see if i could, but to say that I did it. i had enough guts to do something that ballsy, which I knew was just deaad wrong. I faced my worst fear, and survived.
But now I had another problem. I had to get back home.
Should I walk back across?
Walking along the shore, I noticed that patches of ice a few feet across were framing water. There were holes in the ice. It reinforced all that much more that the ice really was not safe. It was very likely that those were spots that people had small boats.
I didn’t connect it at the time, but the owners decided that it was going to be too cold to keep their boats partially submerged. Unless the boat is completely under water, the ice by freezing and contracting can ruin boats. It can uproot pilings the size of telephone poles when those posts are put in too close to winter.
The tide’s rising and regular falling make these ice sheets a hazard for stationary objects. In a sense, that first 5 or 6 feet of ice alone the shore is a type of expansion zone. Because esentially a “ledge” at the edge of the water is subject to the rising and falling height of the water during its regular cycle, it creates these pockets of air. That is a buffer that happens cause ice freezes to itself rather than the water; or better put, water freezes to ice.
There were kids playing hockey on the frozen river. I could see them as I was coming across. Noone seemed to particularly take notice of the fact that I travelled across the river. They were, as most kids are wont, most interested in their hockey game. None of the kids thought it was particularly interesting that I walked across. Actually, I’m not sure I actually told anyone what I’d actually done. I didn’t talk with any of the guys.
Looking back, I think what only through the discussion of this story I recall yet another blunder on my part. I buddied up to one of the guys playing hockey. I offered to play goalie. I’m a decent one. Of course I didn’t bring any gear. I could borrow theirs.
I was really shy back then, but I loved playing hockey. I was usually the idiot that sat in gaol cause my feet were too big for skates.
I buddied up with one of the dudes. So for the next 3 hours or so I played hockey with some of the guys from Niantic. It was really cool. I fit right in, even though I wasn’t the best goalie. I’m still a great defensive player. Even at 10 I was big. And for some things, size matters.
So Eric, my new friend, invited me to his house. I knew at some point I was goig to have to call the folks, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. I got to hang out with him, and eat dinner at their house.
During the meal, they asked me where I was from, and I told them across the river.
“How did you get over here? Are you visiting?”
“No, I walked across the river,” I told them.
Both the folks looked at each other, and then me. It was almost funny.
“Dear,” the mom said, “we’ll call your parents as soon as you’re done eating.”
Of course, when my folks got the call, they were firstly astounded.
“He’s where?!” i heard my dad scream.
“We’re in Pine Grove,” he told him.
“You father said that he’ll be here in 20 minutes,” the man told me.
It was 22 minutes of torture, and hell.
Of course it was worth the wait cause I get beat soundly. More than any punishment, I remember how disappointed mom sounded. There also intoned a note of resignation. Of course I walked across the river: children are stupid.
It’s now Saturday night, and it’s snowing. Yet another snowstorm, supposed to drop 6 inches. They say that another Nor’easer next week will drop 8 to 12 inches. March 1st we will be getting yet more snow. Except for the cold, it reminds me of the winter of 1978. Inside all winter, and nothing got done till well into the spring.
Except back then I was not working. I didn’t have to support myself.
I need to start working. I have money problems, but this is the tip of the iceburg. I have a world of hurt, and hatred bouncing around my head. I’m severely depressed.
Tonight I may be just as troubled as I was that day, back then. Tonight i know i want to kill myself.
Tonight it snows, and I walk along the shore. It’s a heavy snow, and the wind is kicking up a bit. I’m now walking on the beach. I stand at the very spot i started walking from. There’s no ice tonight, only water. It is calm, and there are no waves.
It looks like a sheet of ice i think.
The snow is driven into my face. I tighten down my hood, and start walking. I start walking the shore I must’ve walked a million times growing up.
I heard a man at one of my meetings say that he couldn’t imagine the pain that it would make him go through the pain of drinking.
I thought to myself, I do. I can imagine that kind of pain. I don’t need to expend precious mental energy imagining. If I could’ve spoken i’d have told you that I have a brain hurt that no asprin in the world can cure.
I can understand a pain so sever, and mind-numbing that you not only want to drink your hurt away, but literally wash it clean with alcohol.
I can understand a hurt, and pain, and bitterness, and sorrow, so profound that the only solution that looks doable is to peel off my skin and drown in a vat of pure alcohol.
I listened to my pain, and misery
If the water had been pure grain alcohol, I would have fallen in. Or tried to jump in.
It was like I was trapped beneath the ice. I was feeling quite hopeless. I have no way to move through this feeling. I have to keep moving.
I walked about a mile along the beach. I had to start back home. About 2 inches of snow had accumulated. It was becoming difficult to trudge through the snow.
This is my life, I thought. Trudgery and drudgery.
It's more interesting to read about someone who fights this shit, I thought, rather than the one who just gives up.
I don't have to balls to committ suicide. I wouldn't be buying sleeping pills and liquor in the morning.
I decided that I'd have to talk to my partner about my thoughts and feelings. But it won't be tonight.
Tonight, I live in my caccoon of hurt and torment.
The snow will have stopped by morning.
Once Fred Neitszche declared God is Dead, f*ck became the most important word in the English languag
This post was edited by zen on Mar 08, 2005.