Lake Superior is very cold. Today, the surface temperature of the lake in front of our house in Grand Marais, Michigan, was between 54 and 56 degrees according to the Great Lakes Coastal Forecasting System.

By the end of August, the water will be warmer. By Labor Day, it will be as warm as it will get. Then the temperature will go in the other direction until the ice forms into giant ridges on the shore and gathers in floes that ride the crests of waves. The lake that is beautiful and quiet today can kill people in a flash any time of the year. It is the lion tamer’s favorite, awesome and obedient, until it decides otherwise and kills the lion tamer just because it can and has been intending to for years.

Not many people swim in Lake Superior. Not because it is dangerous, because most people don’t understand how wicked the lake can be, they don’t swim because the lake is so cold. They don’t know what it is that makes a person forget about the cold, not care about the cold, consider it small price to pay, because they never get in the water in the first place.

What makes a person forget about the cold are these things that happen once in the water. This is fresh in my mind because I swam in Lake Superior just a few hours ago. And while I was swimming, I was trying to remember each of the things that might convince someone to overcome their fear of the cold.

These are the things I remembered:

– That the water is so clear that I can see every single rock on the bottom and what’s special about it, maybe its gentle stripes or pink cast.
– That when I am swimming, it occurs to me that I could swim for miles without running into anything and still be along the southern shore of Lake Superior.
– That the late afternoon sun makes the water look like a giant flock of fireflies stopped to rest.
– That I can look across the water a couple of hundred yards and see gulls sitting silently atop the water; if they turned around they would look me right in the eye.
– That in the distance, I can see a sailboat and I can imagine being transported so I would be swimming alongside it or maybe ahead, making a wake the boat would follow, tacking to match my moods.
– That when I am swimming in this lake on this day, I feel healthy and beautiful and strong, like the lake. And grateful that it exists and so do I.

The people who don’t swim in Lake Superior because it is cold don’t ever find out about these things. Their thought stops at the cold.

I’m glad I’m not them.

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