This is a headline and subhead from August 2020, the lockdown year: "King County drownings spike in August before hottest weekend of 2020. On average for the month of August, King County sees two or three drownings. This year, that number is almost double and it's only halfway through the month."
King County officials, according to KING 5, attributed this spike primarily to COVID-19 "cabin fever." But there's also climate change. It's increasing the temperatures of our summers, and, as a consequence, increasing the number of people who seek relief/recreation from our cool bodies of water.
And this is how it always begins on Lake Washington, a cemetery that can be expected to claim more bodies as global temperatures rise. It was supposed to be all fun on Sunday, June 19. Three men on an inner tube. A family reunion going on in the sun. The heat of the air, the coolness of the water. And then something went wrong and they were all tossed into the lake. Two returned. The lake kept one, a father of three.
There was hope on Sunday. The police units were in rescue mode. They could do it. The 32-year-old man was still in reach. He must still be out there with us, the living. But the lake said "no," and kept its one soul. On Monday, the rescue became a "recovery."
The lake happened to claim another life on June 17. It was a father trying to save his son. The son fell off "a motorboat [the father rented] with two adult friends." But the boy had a life jacket. The man trying to save him did not. The boy lived. His father did not. Lake Washington rarely misses the opportunity to remind us that it is not a bathtub or pool or puddle or whatever pretty little thing we think it is. This lake means it when it says it's a body of water.
Around this time in 2007, I wrote a feature, "Killer Bodies: Death in Seattle's Watery Parts," about the lives Lake Washington so easily and regularly claims. Its opening, which concerned the search for a body that would never be found (one minute, happy and here; the next, gone forever), will end this 2021 post. It has, as you will see, me written all over it:
The road comes to an end and Magnuson Park begins. There's a wilderness of blackberry bushes, all rich with ripe fruit. Beyond the bushes is the parking lot, beyond the parking lot is a bank of Honey Buckets, and passing the Honey Buckets is a big, black SUV pulling an even bigger black trailer. On its back are gold letters that read: Pierce County Police Dive Team.
The police SUV parks among four other black SUVs with equally huge black trailers. It is a somber sight on an August afternoon. A hefty Pierce County police officer steps out of the vehicle and walks across the parking lot with the dead weight of diving equipment on his shoulders. He walks onto and to the end of the dock. He stands and waits. As he waits, he scans Lake Washington. The waters are choppy and cold. Boat activity is light. A float plane rises from Bothell. Because low and thick clouds cover the sky, the surface of the lake is silver and black.
Finally, a Harbor Patrol boat arrives at the dock. The Pierce County police officer with the diving equipment on his shoulders steps onto the swaying boat. Onboard, he is greeted by the two Seattle police officers. The boat steadily backs into the water, smoothly turns, and swiftly heads south at a roaring speed. From along the bank of the lake, the boat can be seen by an old woman in a wheelchair who is staring at the water with her son, by women picking berries from bushes, by a young man entering the cold lake wearing yellow swim trunks. The boat stops not too far from the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge. There are other police boats in that area. Aggressive waves are making them rock above the abyss. Something important is happening out there, but it's hard to see exactly what it is from a distance. Occasionally a diver surfaces, says something to the men on the swinging boats, and resubmerges.