Oxygen Falls


15 Sep Oxygen Falls


“Oxygen Falls” was written by Ithaka, and published in Water magazine for his column “Fishdaddy Chronicles”.


I’d been here fourteen days,

ever since they’d

brought him home

from the hospital.

And for fourteen days in a row

Zeus, Athena and I had walked;

across the cotton field,

through the lemon orchard,

into The Reservation

and along the bank of the canal

until we reached

the base of Oxygen Falls.

The air here was thick with humidity,

the roar of the water threatening.

Haunting and intriguing at the same time.

Three years ago,

he’d been transferred here

from his job at a Los Angeles

aerospace corporation

to their production division

in a rural area outside of Phoenix.

Unfortunately, my trip wasn’t

a family social visit,

my Pops was sick.

Terminal they’d called it,

I called it unfair.




These faded red letters,

on a now rusted-out piece

of white sheet metal,

had been a never ending subject

of controversy and speculation

between Niles, Joe and I

during every holiday

we’d spent together

since Pops and April

had moved here.

The sign was posted

on the first of two parallel,

barbed-wire fences

guarding potential victims

from the hazards

of the falls behind the them.

Oxygen Falls in actuality

was a hundred-foot high

aerator slope

just downstream

from the Red Mountain Dam

on the Saguaro Indian Reservation.

After first corralling

a section of the Salt River

in form of a small lake,

back out through its spillways

and down a descending

eighth-of-a-mile long

boxy, narrowing concrete waterway.

This compressed the river water volume

from an area of about 40-yards wide

into an end width of just twenty-five feet,

quadrupling its velocity.

The water then rocketed

out of its square cement chute

and down the eight-story,

sixty-degree slope

into a churning, chaotic maelstrom

at the bottom.

This process whipped the water

abundantly full of oxygen molecules,

(essential for retarding algae growth

and increasing crop harvests).

Immediately after this frothy,

turbulent area,

the water abruptly tranquilized…

quieting down

into a deeper,

much wider body of water

known as Lower River,

which eventually dissected

itself into several smaller,

slow-flowing canals and ditches,

(providing the

agricultural water supply

of eastern Phoenix).


For fourteen mornings in a row,

I’d stood here with my two friends

and reread the words:




wondering what exactly it meant.

An old Indian citrus-farmer,

whose land bordered the canal,

had once told my brothers and I

that the submerged obstructions

were in reference to underwater rake-spikes;

sharp, metal, vertical bars

mounted underneath the white water

at the base of the falls

that prevented logs

and other larger debris

that had managed to make its way

through the dam

and down the aerator slope

from continuing any further downstream

(potentially clogging up

the subsequent farming canals

and ditches).


that old Red doesn’t know shit,

proclaimed my stepbrother Joe,

an ex-marine,

my elder of two years.

No….I think he may be right,

protested Niles,

my other brother,

also two years older

and the brainiest of us three,

…I think I read something

…about something like that ..somewhere.

For the moment

I’d remained undecided on the subject,

but had later asked Pops about it.

He’d said that the underwater rakes

did exist on some dams and aerators,

but on which ones was impossible to tell,

unless the spillways were closed

and the water level low enough

to expose them.

But here at Oxygen Falls,

the water was kept flowing year round,

quenching the thirst

of the area’s perpetually arid farmlands.

What do you guys think ?

I asked Zeus and Athena.


howled Zeus.


echoed Athena in feminine equivalent.

Zeus and Athena,

brother and sister Rhodesian Ridgebacks

agreed on everything.

I sometimes wondered

if they shared the same brain.

We walked back to the house

where April had been waiting for us.

She had some errands to do in town

and Pops couldn’t be left alone

in his condition.

I’ll see you in a couple of hours,ok ?

my stepmother said.

Ok…See you later, I said.

I pulled out an old atlas

from the living room bookshelf

and went up to Pop’s room.

He was asleep so I began reading.

Are you to take the drop?

asked an unexpected voice.

It was my dad sleep talking.

What?! I asked.

Are you ready to take the drop?,

he repeated.

I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant,

but even though he was unconscious

somehow knew that the question

had been directed at me.

Um…yeah…I guess so…what about you?

Yes, he whispered with a slight smile

as he drifted into a deeper sleep…

…a sleep he was never woke from.

He died in a peaceful way

which I suppose is better

than getting run over by a UPS truck

or catching a stray bullet

in a neighborhood drive-by,

but when it’s your Pops,

shit like that is of little consolation.

It was about two a.m.

when the last of the neighbors,

the mortician with dad’s body

and the rest of the weepers and mourners

(most of whom I’d never even met)


I walked outside,

got into the family mini-van

and flew out onto the Beeline Highway.

My speed rarely dropping below ninety,

as I talked incessantly

to a silent, invisible father

riding in the passenger seat.

The towns sped by;

Fountain Hills, Apache Junction,

Hobokam, Superstition.

In and out of the Tonto Forest,

through Sunflower

and out past twenty or so

smaller settlements….

until there was nothing

but cactus and stars.

I stopped the van, got out,

laid on my back

across the yellow checkered dividing line

and looked directly up.

The biggest shooting star

I’d ever seen

radiated by overhead,

its trail glowing for a full ten-seconds.

It was one of those infrequent,

self-pitying moments

when I will question the purpose

of all existence;

The Earth, The Stars,

Love, Hate, Life, Death….

….it all seems like such

a cruel, heartless joke sometimes.

Exhausted and fatigued,

I arrived home midmorning.

Niles and Joe

had already arrived in Arizona

and were giving me shit

for staying out all night.

April’s been worried

out of her fucking mind !!!,

I apologized,

instantly morphing

the vibe more positively.

Although we all lived

within an hour’s drive of each other

in California,

we rarely hang out.

But that night we drank beers,

talked about Pops, the old days

back in the South Bay

and about all the trouble

we’d gotten ourselves into.

I was surprised to learn

for the first time that

(on different occasions)

Niles and Joe had both been arrested.

How I’d never found out

remains a mystery.

And my dad, not being one to rat,

had never mentioned anything about it

or the healthy sums of cash

he’d shelled out for their bail bonds.

However, I wasn’t being as open

with my older brothers

as they were being with me.

And hoped Pops had been

as equally discreet

about my own personal fuck ups

and had never told them

of my little run in

with a particular young vixen from Lomita.

An incident far more regrettable

and less heroic than getting your ass thrown

in the slammer for a few hours.


If it is at all possible for a funeral

to be a good thing, Pops’ was.

The youngish priest, Father Paul,

had been a good friend

of my dad and April

and spoke to us with his eulogy, not at us.

His message was very personal,

almost completely avoiding

any corny, generic post-death sermonology.

He even played

a from-the-heart Bob Dylanish song

on the acoustic

which he’d written

when his own father had died.

Part of which was;

He was more than just a father,

a teacher, my best friend.

he showed me things

not known to kings

like how to fish

and make a wish

beside the Magic Sea…

…I miss him the old man

Toward the end of the service,

Father Paul had said something that stuck

into my head like a nail.

He’d spoken directly to Niles, Joe and I.

Your father,

being the man that he was,

would want you to go on

with your lives

…living them to the fullest.

On the ride back to Dad and April’s crib,

that last part kept playing

and replaying in my head…

…living them to the fullest.

For me, in contrast to the urban hell

I’d inflicted upon myself four years before

(moving from the beach into Hollywood),

living life to the fullest

still meant getting in the ocean regularly,

something I’d been less

than successfully accomplishing lately.

Of my last several attempts;

On one, I’d borrowed

and broken-in-half

a friend’s favorite board.

On another,

I contracted a hideous


ear infection.

And on my last try………

at six a.m. speeding west

down the Santa Monica Freeway

(on my to surf what I later heard

was p e r f e c t five-foot Topanga),

I rear-ended a station-wagon

full of Guatemalan cleaning women

on the way to the Beverly Hills mansions

they were to immaculate.

Coincidence maybe,

regardless, I felt that

the almighty Poseidon

had put some kind

of restraining order

on my surfing rights.

I decided to lay low for a while

and had been surviving

strictly on a surf-mag fix.


When we got back to the house

after the funeral,

I began frantically searching….

the hall closet,

then the garage,

then the tool shed.

And finally found IT

behind the Jacuzzi pump

next to the pool.

I unfolded the yellow, moldy plastic.

A round, inflatable swimming pool raft

about four-feet in diameter

resembling a giant hole less donut

complete with a circle

of bright pink nylon rope

secured around the top of it

(to use as leverage

in case you encountered

any dangerous oceanic conditions

in your chlorinated utopia).

Joe (stoned as usual) came outside.

And after several minutes

of amusedly watching me

trying to inflate the damn thing

with my own breath, offered…

I think there’s a compressor

in the garage, bro.

And soon I was running,

(holding the inflated raft

clumsily on top of my head)……

across the cotton field,

through the lemon orchard,

into The Reservation,

along the bank of the canal.

AND up the the long hill

until I was in front

of the double security fences

at the upper backside

of monstrous cement structure.

I frisbeed the raft over the first fence,

climbed it,

then tossed it gently over the second,

(this time barely clearing

above the sharp barbs).

And seconds later,

I was standing above the rushing,

funneling channel of water

leading to the drop.

I prepared to make my jump,

then hesitated.

I set the raft down,

walked along the ridge of the canal

to the top of the falls

and took a long, last look

down to the the bubbling cauldron

of frothy water at the base….

only imagining what actually lay underneath.

In the far distance,

I saw Niles and Joe charging

up the river bank- yelling as they ran,

both armed with about

a mile of safety rope.

As they got closer,

I realized Niles was shouting something

about the rake-spikes

and the possibility of drowning

in the current.


He shouted, barely audible

above the rumble of water.

THAT’S OK.!!!, I yelled back ,


Frenzied, I ran back to the raft.

And grabbing it,

hurled myself the ten feet

off of the vertical embankment

and into the racing

thirty mile-an-hour current below.

Landing on the raft,

but losing hold of the rope

that circumferenced it,

I was violently swept downstream

spinning like a top.

Dizzy and panicked,

I had only one conscious thought,

going STRAIGHT down

as I went over the top…..

or I’d surely be discovering truth

about the rake-spikes headfirst.

At the last second,

I somehow managed to get it together.

Getting hold of the rope,

I was able to stop the spinning

and was able to lift up the nose

and went straight over…….


I shrieked, flying down

what would be comparable

to dropping in at

100-foot Waimea Bay

(on a giant vinyl apple-fritter).

While my stomach was making

an ambitious attempt of escaping

up through my throat……


my velocity was multiplying all the way down…..


Below me somewhere through the spray,

I caught a millisecond glimpse

of Niles and Joe near the base

looking like cowboys

preparing to rope cattle.

By the end of the drop,

I had accelerated to the point

that the raft was not

even really connecting

to the water’s surface.

With the point of impact

rapidly approaching,

I strained to make a last effort

to get the front of the raft up

as high as possible and…..


Like a ski jump

I blasted right up and over the top

of the bubbling aquatic chaos,

air born for at least fifteen feet

(safely above the submerged spikes)

and then sent skipping another 50 feet

like a thin stone on a still puddle

into the calms of the canal.

Several long seconds later,

my heat began beating again,

my emotion confusingly somewhere

between laughing and crying.

I ignored the rope

Niles and Joe

eventually tossed my direction

and the drone of falling water

began dissipating behind me.

I spent the next several hours

slowly drifting westward

underneath the cobalt Arizona sky;

alongside of citrus farms,

and waving Indian children .

And by cookie-cutter,

suburban track-home neighborhoods,

thinking about……

…what life would be like without Pops.


Several months later,

I went to visit April, Zeus and Athena.

When I drove over the tiny canal bridge,

signifying the neighborhood’s entrance,

I couldn’t see ANY water

flowing down the dirt trenches

into the citrus groves.

I immediately got the dogs

and headed up toward

the cotton field trail

leading to the river.

For the first time

since I’d been coming here

Oxygen Falls was under repair,

the spillways shut, the river bed dry.

There were no rake-spikes.


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