Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Temptation and tragedy at Temperance
There is no place finer on the North Shore than the mouth of the Temperance River, where you'll find a gravel beach and some very scenic campsites. The river has run through the deep gorge and rounded kettles and completes its path to Lake Superior in a last push of current. When the river was first named, there was no "bar" at its mouth (hence the no-drinking name), but now it does. It was right here on Saturday the Fourth of July that divers searched for the body of Ari Sommerfeld.
You'd think with a name like Temperance, a famous North Shore river would be a place of modesty and caution. But the Temperance River took another life this weekend. Overly brave men take risks there all the time, and in a few cases, the odds turn against them and the power of the river wins. The temptations at Temperance are too strong.
At least eight other people who have died in the Temperance River over the last 25 years. Four of them were men in the dangerous age range of 14 to 31. Statistics show that young men are by far the mostly likely to be drowning victims, probably because they overestimate their abilities and feel immortal.
But tragedy has struck older men and also women at the Temperance. Two young women drowned last year when they were carried into the current above the gorge.
Ari Sommerfeld, the victim this weekend, was exactly my age, 45. He was not saving a child's life; he was jumping into a whirlpool he'd jumped into numerous times before just for fun. His widow urges that no one go there again. But they will.
When I was young and immortal, my cousins and I used to jump off the cliffs just upstream from the highway, at the mouth of the main gorge. It was a thrill. We all survived. Once as an adult I met up with a group of teenagers from Duluth for an educational program on Lake Superior. They were polite but restless, asking their leader during most of my program "Can we go jumping now?" As a liability-conscious grown-up, my only response to that was, "After my program."
For me, the saddest tragedies at Temperance came in 1999 and 2000. Twice, fathers age 48 and 50 found their child in trouble, went in and saved the child, but then drowned themselves. Not even swimming themselves, taking no risks for themselves, they were drawn into danger by the tragedy of their child. As a now-cautious dad, I totally understand that.
You can't ban swimming at Temperance, any more than you can ban hiking on steep trails or crossing wide highways. With the temptations, there will always be tragedy.