“I challenge you,” I said, lifting a boulder over my head. With both arms, I hoisted the boulder and flung it away from the shore, watching it soar, sink, and strike the ice. Geese to the south and east of the Tuttle Creek Reservoir squawked and cheered, and I looked at the thin ice and damage. Each boulder shot straight through, and then small air bubbles floated to the top and clung to the ice. Then some, needing more air, traveled to the edge, where thinning ice met water, and reaching water, released themselves.
“Where’s our throwing-spot?” Jason asked.
“There, on the rock you threw from just now. I will throw first.” Grabbing another large boulder, I crouched into position, then took three steps and sent the boulder into the air.
“Well, shoot,” I said. The boulder barely made it past the shore.
“My turn,” Jason said. Taking a different approach, Jason spun around like an Olympian warrior, and the boulder flew well past my own and careened through ice.
“Okay. Best two-out-of-three.”
“They used to throw logs too,” Jason said, as I looked for a new boulder. I casted a glance at him throwing a log into the lake and watching it float.
I found a smaller boulder this time, and when I threw it, a distinct hole was made in the ice. “My spot,” I said, hoping Jason could not beat it.
Jason took a large boulder, and I thought I had him beat. I couldn’t see the hole my boulder created as easily now, and I told Jason he better not throw it near mine, or there would be a controversy. But the boulder flew further than any I had yet seen, beating my spot by a few good feet.
Every year Manhattan, Kansas unofficially observes Fake Patty’s Day. The day is a horrid “holiday,” created by the Aggieville bars for immature college students. It was observed, some years ago, that St. Patrick’s holiday fell during spring break. And since all the children go away during the week, the gluttons created a fake holiday for business, occurring the prior weekend. So adult children come in from insane distances to drink. These children pre-game on Friday, drinking cheap beer and howling at the moon. And on Saturday they pre-game in the morning, dressing in green and drinking cheap beer, and they continue to howl at something, probably believing it the moon. Come Saturday afternoon, the real game starts. And the children stumble around, drink cheap beer, and howl at the bright, yellow god of the skies.
By the evening, the children are repeating Friday night, only now more green children are involved, and the blackouts occur sooner, as the human body was not meant to consume cheap alcohol for thirty-six hours straight. Sunday is spent in agony, regretting the choices made under the influence. If they howl on Sunday, it is a groan. The giants who conquered Friday are feeble, weak pigmies on Sunday.
Green is the appropriate color for this day, for it is the color of the novice. It is a novice who must prove to himself that he is not a novice. There is a man who drinks a beer and must talk about the event, as if assuring himself he is a beer drinker. This man drinks beer and adds conversation. There is another man who drinks a beer but does not mention it. This man has a conversation and adds beer.
Fake Patty’s is nothing more than novice beer drinkers assuring themselves and declaring to the world that they drink beer. It is as bad as a man who is not funny telling a joke and pining for attention. That afternoon, on my way to Jason’s apartment, situated amongst fraternity and sorority houses, I dodged children in green stumbling across roads. I imagined all of them would be so pleased that I knew they were drinking beer. But like the fake comedian, I would only be pleased if they were quiet; nay, I would only be pleased if they did the sensible thing, putting on their straightjackets and locking themselves in their homes.
Fake Patty’s is a tradition for adult children in Manhattan, but it need not be a day of woe. The sensible men and women in town find ways to make their own tradition. So flying down Tuttle Creek Boulevard in Jason’s blue PT Cruiser, my friend and I embraced our own: escape. For three-hundred and sixty-four days of the year, Manhattan is lovely; no one despises it or tries to escape. But on this day of the dead, Manhattan becomes very ugly; it is a reminder that the world is not our home, and the outskirts of town are embraced as the devils have taken the center.
Tuttle Creek is our destination. The second largest lake in Kansas, Tuttle Creek spans over 19 square miles northwest of Manhattan. Wildlife is rampant to the south of the dam, and north lays the lake. Jason and I maneuvered our way up the western coast, drove down an abandoned rode, parked, and let out for the shore. If one discovers this spot, he will have a mere two-hundred yard trek to the peaceful shores. And as we neared the lake, we saw layers of green and blue where the ice met the water. From above (one may climb a ridge to see) the ice looked like tiny continents with rivers and oceans dividing. Cliffs of mud and clay, about fifteen to twenty feet, align the coast, and the shore, about forty feet wide, consists not of sand but of pebbles, stones, and boulders. Fire pits from past explorers dot those shores, some of which have been conquered by rising waters.
If one travels to this spot when the waters are low, he can explore the shores northwards for some distance; but on days where the lake is swollen, exploration is impossible unless one takes to the cliffs. But our intent this day was not exploration but escape. We found our spot where the lake was melted in such a way, creating a peninsula of water surrounded by ice. “An alley for rock-skipping,” Jason said.
We fired up a small grill and cooked Irish sausages and potatoes while drinking Defiance Beer, brewed in the nearby town of Hays, Kansas. We listened to the sounds of nature and a radio broadcasting the Wildcat basketball game in the background. Looking up from our dinner, we noticed the peninsula was gone, for the ice to the south was completely melted away.
When the basketball game was over and our food was gone, we lighted pipes and listened. Silence: No one howling at the moon, and then geese, far off near the dam, having just flown from the river pond area to the south. The sun was directly behind us, and on those shores of Tuttle Creek, one sees the rays bounce off the rolling hills on the eastern shores. Kansas does not have mountains or seas, but a different beauty resides in her. The beauty of Kansas is peace. Mountains suggest danger, the sea suggests vastness, but the plains suggest plainness. The plains suggest lack of adventure and wildness. One might say they suggest pleasantness and home.
Jason and I stood on the shores of Tuttle, glancing out at the ice and hills and smoking pipe-tobacco from Churchhill’s in Topeka. One might naturally say Fake Patty’s Day is wild, for it is full of noise and violence and depravity. They might say Tuttle Creek is tame, for it it is full of silence and peace and purity. But as Jason and I mused on the shores that day, we were wilder than any ten green children. The drunk is not wild, for the drunk is fettered to do the same thing every day and every night. We were wilder because we were free. We were purer because we could praise. We were louder because we were silent. For only silence allows one to hear the noise of nature; silence is often much louder than noise.
Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written in The Ole Midshipman,
March 8, 2015
Painting: "Geese in Flight"
By Philip Thurstars,
Oil on textured board, n.d.