Photo by Gláuber Sampaio on Unsplash

Now I Know

A few years ago, we took our granddaughter camping. It rained all night, thundered with lightening strikes, and in the morning everything was soaked but the day was bright and clear.

We went hiking up a trail to a lookout where we could see all of Devil’s Lake. In my mind’s eye, I could imagine swimming across it. And I right away wanted to go down the hill to the lake to swim.

Of course, when we got there the shore was full of people. It was a vast, shallow lake and a favorite for families especially those with little kids. I took my granddaughter’s hand, she was about eight then, and we waded into the water.

“Look at all the little fish!” I said. A school of baby fish weaved through our legs, tiny slivers of silver grazing our legs, tickling us. It made me happy to see the fish. It was magical. “Put your hands in the water, maybe we can catch one.”

The fish swam away and my granddaughter yelled, “I want to get out!” “I want to get out now!”

So I pulled her out deeper, thinking that if we got out of the shallows where the little fish were skittering about, she would throw herself into swimming and we could have a good time. We had done that before. Swum and jumped, dodged and ducked. It was something we had always done together.

“I can’t stay here!” “I have to get out!” Now she was screaming as loud as she could. Other swimmers stood up in the water to look at her. People on shore stopped what they were doing. It was alarming, hearing her scream so loud. I tried to hug her, pull her up out of the water but it didn’t do any good. She just kept screaming.

It was unbelievable to me.

I smoothed the hair out of her eyes and tried to get her to stop screaming and look at me. “We’ve gone swimming in lakes before. They all have fish, honey.”

“But I didn’t know the fish were there. Now I know.”

Gifted

I had resolved to be spare, to be modest in my wants, to be basic in a place of indulgence. But one thing I wanted with all my heart on this odd cruise to Cozumel with an old friend was to swim in the Gulf of Mexico.

I wanted to swim a long breaststroke along the shore and watch people walking on the beach, stooping now and then to pick up a shell or a horseshoe crab.  In my mind’s eye, I saw myself swimming far, further than the beachcombers walked. I dreamt about being in the blue, a long wide ribbon of blue where only my strokes would break the stillness of the water’s seamlessness.

But when our tour bus rolled up to the beach in Cozumel, the surf was wild with big waves crashing on rocks. Oh, there were people on the beach but they weren’t swimming, they were sunning. It was dangerous swimming, I could see that. A surfer could maybe maneuver but not a swimmer so I went back to being modest in my wants until I saw the cove.

The cove caught the tail end of waves that crashed over a string of large rocks.  There would be no swimming but there could be riding the mellowed out waves, jumping over the waves too high, floating in the time in between, being pushed from side to side, falling into the surprised couple standing behind me, and raising my arms in pure delight to be in this place on this day.

It wasn’t what I wanted but it was what I had and it was beautiful.

Why I Swim in Lake Superior

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.

______________________________
#61/100:61st in a series of 100 in 100

Water Lily

The afternoon light is so bright through the windows that the bottom of the pool is awash in sunshine. In the lane next to me, a beautiful Chinese woman in a swim cap and black racing suit with orange flames does a long swanlike breast stroke that takes her fully under water for several seconds until she gently emerges for several beats and disappears again under the surface where the sun is shining.

She is wearing a pearl necklace and pearl drop earrings on small very gold hoops.

At one point she comes up next to me and we are both swimming the breaststroke but mine is pull and up and kick and hers is dive and stroke and emerge. I want to race her but it feels unseemly, the racing would cause a loss of decorum, upset the balance that we have, each in our own lanes. She doesn’t intend to be fast or slow, so to suggest competition would be contrary to her entire demeanor and certainly to her pearls although she is not slow and when I let up just a little bit she easily passes me.

I’ve seen her once before, this swimmer with the pearls.

Walking with Scout

Tonight after Master’s swimming practice at a local high school, my friend and I walked down the street to my car. It was dark with only the light from the streetlamps, leaves covered the sidewalk so there was that scuffing sound walking through them. In the sky, a three-quarters moon shone along with a single star in the Western sky which I knew to be Venus. It was a big, plump star shining above the tops of the trees.

“Don’t nights like this make you feel like Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, walking home in the dark in the ham costume?” I said to my friend. To myself I thought about how the distance between the scuffing of the leaves being lovely and being sinister is so thin. Anything can happen anytime. To any of us. Like Scout, we could be attacked by bad guys and then saved by Boo Radley. If we were attacked tonight, walking to our car, would there be a Boo Radley anywhere near?

It’s tempting to queer the sublime by thinking of possible catastrophes. I wonder about the couple walking laps in the dark around the high school track, both very overweight and using walking poles. They have waited until night to do their walking. Because the moon and Venus would make it lovelier? They aren’t afraid of catastrophe, maybe because they have the poles with which to defend themselves. They seem serene in their walking.

That is my goal. To be serene in my walking. To walk down the street with the small triumph of swimming a length further on each set than the younger women in the next lane. “Let’s do three instead of the two,” my friend and I agreed right away. We came to the wall after two lengths to see the other swimmers resting already, we turned and swam another length, the two oldest women in the pool keeping pace with each other as if we had been practicing for years. I watched my friend’s kick underwater and saw that she’s tightened it up like we talked about last week; when she’s swimming, she looks 30 if a day. Maybe that’s true for me, I don’t know.

I know this, though. It is good to swim hard and be out of breath, and maybe not catch your breath until you’re in your car having walked down the street in the dark, admiring the moon and thinking of Scout. I am lucky for all of these things. And don’t I know it.

Stay in Your Lane

Swim Club formation

The entire trajectory of my life would have been different had I been able to do a Catalina when I was in [Synchronized] Swim Club at Southfield High School. Not many people can put their finger on their personal critical juncture or in my case, my Waterloo, but I can.

It was try after try, sculling in the water, my toes on the pool trough, then trying to execute this sequence of moves: a ballet leg, then a twist, torso turned into the water, other leg brought up, graceful entry of both legs into the water, toes pointed perfectly, not a ripple of evidence left. I couldn’t do it no matter how many times I tried.

Here, it was supposed to look like this.

I could do the heavy lifting of synchronized swimming. I could manage the endless sculling to maneuver into pretty formations and stay afloat even when dressed in a Davy Crockett costume that included a full leotard and tights. I could keep a death grip with my feet on the neck of the girl in front of me while we executed a dolphin chain, basically a dozen girls linked together to do a backward long somersault underwater. This took grit but not finesse. Showing up, hanging on, and holding my breath. That was it.

Four years of synchronized swimming in high school and no Catalina. I tried for a long time and then I gave it up. I eschewed the Catalina, if you will, in favor of staying a scrub the entire time, decided almost that the girls who could do the Catalina were snobs. I was a working class synchronized swimmer. I didn’t need to show off, it was fine being one of dozens of legs waving in the air. Let the hotshots have the spotlight. So what?

So why was it that tonight when I ended up being the only swimmer at the local JCC, not a single other person in all of the other lanes, the water still and beautiful, and the lifeguard wandering around the pool picking up kickboards, why was it that I started thinking maybe I could go to the deep end and I could give it a try. A ballet leg, a twist….

But no, I thought, I’m just going to keep swimming. That’s what I do. I just swim.

Oh God.

What has happened to me? How has the gap between my self-perception and the funhouse reality of the fitting room become so unfathomably large?

It is now time like every other female blogger who has ever lived to write about bathing suit shopping. Let me sum it up like this. They need to put counselors in those little rooms.

I’m a swimmer. Not a Diana Nyad kind of swimmer but an older gal who takes a Masters Swimming class. I wear goggles and one fin and try to keep up with women who are half my age. If I was a cat, I could be all their mothers. Seriously. Reflect on that.

Like I told my husband tonight, it’s one thing in the pool where they’re flip turning and outpacing me to beat the band, where I am older than EVERYONE, even my friend, Karen, who is six months younger than me, but the shower is another thing altogether.

It is in the shower of my Master Swim Class that I figured out that the Brazilian wax has a shaving counterpart. This is news to me. WTF, I think. First of all, who shaves in the shower after swimming. How often does a person need to shave? Often, I guess, if you are shaving that.

I am so fundamentally a rube. Or is it Rube. I can’t remember. I’ve missed so many memos, I feel like I live in the steppes of Russia. Is it ever possible to catch up?

So the suit was black with a white band under the bodice (note the use of such a nice modest word). It was impossibly horrible but the only thing in my size which turned out to be two sizes larger than I thought. At the pool, I sought out women who were even larger and whose hideous suits sported flowers and bows. An essential element to self-esteem is finding others in worse situations.

I could be fatter, I think. Small solace.

After frolicking around in my hideous suit with my granddaughter and husband, I took off to swim laps. I put on my pink goggles and started. I had my Diana Nyad bracelet on, the one that says Cuba to Florida, and I swam what I think is my perfect stroke. And it was luscious. And for those moments, the preposterous appearance of my bathing suit mattered not. I was a dolphin in the water. Beautiful, sleek. Untroubled.

It didn’t last but I don’t care. Who gives a fuck?