For much of our drive south from Burlington on Sunday, I was watching the clock, hoping that the lengthy days of summer would mean we’d make it home in time for me to slip into the bay for a quick swim. Spoiler alert: we made it. And it struck me, how remarkable it was that within the space 24 hours I was swimming in both Lake Champlain and the Chesapeake Bay. Lucky, lucky me.
As I swam that night, unkinking from the long drive and watching the sun slip below the horizon, I thought a lot about the differences in swimming in both strange and familiar waters.
Lucky, lucky me. From the Kenwood Ladies Pond to the English Channel to the Irish Sea. From lakes in Maine and Vermont and Virginia. From the slap of waves on the shores of the Atlantic and the Chesapeake Bay, I’ve submerged my body in all these waters. I’ve looked down to watch as my foot takes that tentative step to slip beneath the water, moving from the safety of the shore.
In the bay, I stride forward confidently. I know the soft sand that lies beneath the water as well as I know the steps that lead to my front door. Once in the water, I’m so relaxed, I can lose myself deep in other thoughts. Elsewhere, my steps are more careful, less trusting. I find myself cataloging every aspect of my swim. Is it warmer? Colder? Is the water clearer or murkier? Are there rocks under my feet or sand? How far out before it gets deep enough to really swim?
Lakes, obviously, are different from the bay or the ocean, in a way I have yet to decide which I prefer. I’d been waiting forever to swim in Lake Champlain, and I loved my swim there this weekend. A narrow beach bordered a long shallow walk-out before you get to a channel deep enough for swimming. It was cold, colder certainly than swimming here in Virginia, but not shockingly so. And the water was so still. I missed the buoyancy of salt water but not the slap of a wave in my face.
It’s an interesting study, comparing the new with the familiar, and I can’t decide which I prefer. No matter how the shorelines differ, or the water temperature or the bottom of the body of water I find myself in, it’s this sensation that gets me each time: sliding into the water, body suspended, the exquisite suspense as I finally submerge. That’s what brings me back, these long waves, that lift me and hold me up.
I’ve swum when the sun is blazing hot and the sand has burned my feet. I’ve swum when the waves are so rough that I could concentrate on little else. I’ve swum in glassy-flat lakes and fog shrouded bays. I’ve swum in pollen-coated waters, and as the setting sun sent sparkles dancing across the sky. I’ve swum with dolphins mere feet away from me and when I feared sharks were nearby. I’ve swum when the water temperature dropped below 40º and when it soared into the 80ºs. I’ve swum with friends surrounding me, and I’ve swum blissfully alone. Whatever my state of mind (let’s be honest, it’s better when it’s poor), whatever my day. No matter how lousy my sleep or fractured my thoughts, put me in the water and point my face toward the sun, and I am home.