Water(fall) Music

I have to admit, when Tacoma, WA artist Lynn di Nino asked me to present photos and video of my cliff jumping at her monthly slideshow event Tripod – and suggested I play double bass to go with it – I was a little worried.

Music and cliff jumping have always seemed very different, disconnected things to me, both in my life and in general. And while I’ve performed on bass while speaking simultaneously (“B.B. Wolf,” “Failing”), adding looping improvisation while keeping pace with my own video seemed just a little scary. And completely new.

But I accepted the challenge, screwed up my courage and gave it a try – and discovered a new, better self. Kind of like cliff jumping, really.

Water(fall) Music


I didn’t start out by jumping waterfalls. I didn’t begin brave.

Growing up, I was lucky

in a place surrounded by blue, swimmable water.

Canoe trips, ocean pools

And the dancing delight of endless waves in a city with ten beaches.

We jumped waves, jumped off diving boards

but I stared, heart pounding, at the 10-meter tower

knowing I could never, would never, be that person

who could make that jump.

Swimming wild also meant family

and then came the time when my own little family

wanted to jump off the rock

into the deep, cobalt waters

of Crater Lake.

Icy. And such a long….way….down….(actually, only about 10 feet. But it seemed higher.)

My daughter – 13 – jumped in, toweled off, grabbed her phone to film us.

My son, 11, did a backflip.

Me? I thought about the danger. The cold water. The rocks.

But so many others had jumped it before us, were still out there

Lounging, laughing.

Clearly not dead. And clearly, able to save me.

“Come on!” called my son. “You can do it, Mum!”

“Hurry up,” called my daughter.

I took a deep breath – let it out –

And leapt.


Sing, o Music, of water

That swift plunge into a cold embrace;

Sing of air left behind like a faded memory

and the exultant rush of silky fingers

down, down through jade, aqua, emerald, turquoise, sapphire

inside a world of effervescent sparkles.

Sing of that strange light, alien and enticing

and of that eternal moment between the falling and the upward thrust

when your weighted body


into the silence


That’s when it started, this quest for falling.

I was 45 – ridiculously old to be jumping off cliffs with teenagers.

After I summed up all my courage and leapt ten feet

into the Green River Gorge

(after depth checks, of course)

a friend laughed –

“Oh wow, I haven’t done that since I was 15!”

My 15-year-old self shrank a little, then expanded

as she realized her second chance.

Cautious, excited, we explored our world

Found new places to swim, went a little higher.

At a Puget Sound dock

my son flipped off 15 feet, then 20

and coached by a counsellor, I launched off a flying trapeze

into the seductive summer depths of high tide. Me! A flying trapeze!

And me too, stepping off

a 15-foot cliff into the blissful caress of Paradise Pool, west of Sydney.

That was me, too, jumping off the Leavenworth bridge

and off a rope swing in British Columbia

and out of a tree on Orcas Island

and 18 feet into the crystal pool at Whatcom Falls

while my son climbed higher and higher – a 25-foot gainer, a 30-foot double back layout, a 50-foot waterfall, and – then – a 60 foot straight jump

into the eggshell-blue heaven of Canada’s Howe Sound.


Oh, the color!  To plunge into aqua, green, gold

a shimmering palette mirroring trees and rocks and sky and

the whole world, hidden deep.

To enter that color

Is to become the world, completely

without words, without time,

simply a part of this wild nature

and painted – for a second – by its brush.


Was I scared?


Every time.

I was vigilant – we dove every time to check the depth, we did our research –

but every time I feared

that it would go wrong, that we’d be swept away

by tide, current, injury, death.

You think all of this, poised on the edge

beside your 13-year-old son as he launches off a cliff.

And he feels fear, too. They all do

these young men and women, met online

who became our cliff jumping crew,

our safety, guidance, friendship.

They all feel fear. Not my fear,

a middle-aged woman facing down 25 feet,

but their own, stomach-clenching, real.

And yes, people die jumping. I don’t make light of it.

Mostly, they’re inexperienced. Drunk. Or careless.

How can you let your kid do this?

But that’s why I go too.

And if you bring safety checks and support

then when you meet Fear on a cliff-edge

you can stare her down

and make your own decision.

Besides, the hardest part is standing on the edge.

Once you’ve jumped, there’s no going back.


And so it went. We bought wetsuits

found hidden spots, unmarked on maps.

Towering walls of columnar basalt

Canyons of ferny mosses

Red cliffs cracked like giant faces,

and waterfalls, cascading endlessly in fierce power

and misty beauty.

My son was up to 60, 70 feet now, swing-casting off bridges

full-twists, triple backflips, double gainers.

We traveled to Vermont, land of secret quarries,

and I jumped 25 feet

to be the only swimmer in a pool half a mile wide

(until my daughter jumped in too.)

Then 30 feet at a lagoon south of Sydney, emerging

through breathless bubbles into gum-scented air

and the sharp Australian sun.

We jumped into Blue Pool, Oregon, its icy, sapphire depths

still as a fairytale

where water turns heroes into gold

and we ducked three feet

into a snowy stream on Snoqualmie Pass

to usher in the New Year.

Montana bridges in summer sunshine

Rain-drenched winter Washington pools

Sun-filled lakes with rocky climb-outs

Snowy glaciers and pounding salt surf.


Does an eagle feel like this?

To stride, soar, dive

Fluid between elements?

Without wings, I fly; without fins, I swim;

Passing into a world beyond

for the briefest second of eternity

a window, opened

for my soul to breathe the air

of another, wilder existence.


Where does it end? So far

It hasn’t, though I’m getting older.

I’m 50, and have jumped 42 feet into the mighty Columbia River.

I’ve found the courage to leap over the rushing edge

of the Lower Lewis river

some ten feet higher than that long-ago diving tower.

I never thought this would be possible

this version of myself.

While my son tumbles 80, 90, 100 feet with breathtaking grace

I have found my own better self.

In facing fear, I’ve leapt through it.

Surrounded danger with safety.

Discovered that braveness comes from being brave, again and again

whether you’re on a cliff or living a life.

And above all I’ve discovered

that in trying to be the person my kids think I am

I’ve become the person I dreamed of being.

Published by roseponnekanti

Writer, multimedia storyteller, musician.

2 thoughts on “Water(fall) Music

  1. Hi Rosemary, This sounds so cool, I wish I could come and see you! Wayne is out of town right now. I will try to jump on the facebook link. Good luck!! N


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