There was a time when the first hot days of summer didn’t make me think of anything but getting out and having fun.
But after nearly a decade of news writing, I find myself watching the thermometer rise and dreading the tragic news stories that seem to inevitably follow.
Quite often it’s motorcycle accidents. Almost every year, someone in the community is lost on one of those first beautiful days, when motorcyclists take to the roads in hordes after a winter spent cooped up in cars.
Too often I find myself writing about young people who didn’t get away with the risks they took.
Once, I thought I might be witness to news in the making, on an early summer hike up the Wallace Falls Trail.
When my fiancé and I got to the top of the middle falls, which is one of those views that even people who aren’t particularly phobic about heights find dizzying, there were some kids who seemed destined for a tragic end.
There is a rail at the edge of the falls for a good reason; a drop off that edge would result in a plummet of more than 300 feet into a rocky chasm. But the small group of teens were on the other side of the rail, daring fate.
It ruined my hike. It was unbearable to see them, knowing as I do how many people have miscalculated on the edge of that falls.
And each year we lose at least one person, as likely an adult as a child, to some body of water, most frequently the Skykomish River.
Sometimes it’s impossible to know what went wrong; I once wrote about a boy on a church trip who drowned in Lake Tye with dozens of other people nearby.
Quite often, people aren’t aware of how fast and cold rivers around here get this time of year. I wrote about one man who was swept to his death when he merely stepped into the edge of the Sultan River to retrieve a toy rocket.
This summer we have already lost two people to water.
An eight-year-old Auburn boy drowned while swimming in Lake Roesiger June 30. He’d been swimming, slipped underwater and disappeared. No one knows what went wrong; the boy was an experienced swimmer and had been in the process of climbing onto a small platform.
And a young man of 18, from Startup, died July 1 in the Skykomish River at popular Eagle Falls. He’d been swimming across the river with friends, got halfway across and called for help, but his friends weren’t able to assist him.
It’s impossible to imagine anything good coming from these tragedies.
All we can do is try to prevent more of them from happening.
Please know that death is a real possibility when you are in the woods or near the water. In every tragedy I’ve covered, an ordinary day turned into the most terrible day in a family’s history within minutes.
One second a guy is playing with model rockets with his kids, laughing and running to retrieve them. Half an hour later, his shocked family is plunged into a world of grief. At noon, parents are chatting on a lazy summer day while the kids cavort in the water. By one, they are immersed in a nightmare of search crews and emergency vehicles, beginning the process of mourning that will last for the rest of their lives.
It can happen to you. It can happen to your children.
You can borrow life jackets from the Monroe Fire Station if you are going to the river or the lake. Don’t head into the woods without the 10 essentials: a map, sun protection, extra clothing, a flashlight, first aid supplies, a knife or multitool, a lighter, extra food, plenty of water and emergency shelter.
Don’t assume smooth water is calm water. Do assume it is fast, cold and deadly.
If a sign says Keep Out or warns you off an area, pay attention.
And look out for each other.
If I write about you this summer, I want it to be good news, not tragedy.