This summer I went swimming

The last swim of August, just me, the sun fish and the loons.

The last swim of August, just me, the sun fish and the loons.

I think I’ve mentioned before here that I sometimes struggle with seasonal transitions, especially when they are accompanied by major life transitions, like the end of the school year. Being catapulted out of the rhythm and routine of the semester just when the natural world is exploding with life sounds perfect but in reality isn’t. This past summer it took me a good two and a half months to relax and release my grip on my life, to stop trying to manage everything around me. The critical moment came towards the end of July, when I realized I hadn’t been swimming yet. Not that I am a big swimmer, but immersing my self in one of Maine’s many ponds and lakes, surrounded by trees, topped by blue sky and sun-it is one of the deep pleasures of summer. And I hadn’t done it yet. It made me realize that I was missing summer and that I needed to calm down because, as they say on my favorite misogynistic and ultra violent television show (that I can only watch because I can use my brother in law’s HBO account online): “winter is coming”. Indeed.

My running list of swimming spots.

My running list of swimming spots.

I found myself at the south Blue Hill Falls bridge on July 31st, enjoying the scene while my husband and his friends surfed the standing wave that forms there as the tide came in. The more I watched the more I felt myself drawn into the water, for me an unusual sensation. I actually wanted to get in, and eventually I did, sinking fully dressed into the water in the eddy behind the bridge abutment. It was revelatory, and in that moment I was able to jump start my summer brain. I made a challenge with myself, I would swim (or at least dunk-immersing myself) in a natural body of water every day for the month of August. If nothing else it seemed like a good way to make up for lost time.

The daily dip became a priority, one that often required creativity, the ability to see opportunity and just old fashioned discipline. And more than that, it became a demonstration of direct experience with the natural world. How more intimate can in get than not just enjoying the view of a beautiful lake, or the ocean, but immersing your entire body in it? In an age when we as a culture crave direct experience, but structure our lives so that we are inevitably deprived of it, getting wet on a summer day is the antidote.

How can it not be perfect to swim here?

How can it not be perfect to swim here?

“There is something at work in my soul, which I do not understand.” (Mary Shelley, Frankenstein). Shelley wrote those words just over 200 years ago, yet they ring true even today. I didn’t understand what was happening to me over the month of daily swims, but I felt the power of it none the less. Just like eating wild food and walking barefoot in the woods, finding places to swim in nature ultimately made me feel more human.

Now the weather and water are cooling and I am adjusting to the shock of returning to the school routine. I’m no longer swimming every day, but maybe I should be. It would help fend off the all consuming monster that is a teacher’s life. Maybe that is the real revelation—whatever it takes, we need to remember, we’re humans first, cogs in the machine second. Whatever it takes. Find your way in. Mine, for a month, was swimming.

Post Script: School started, it got cooler, I stopped swimming every day. I had to remember to shower instead. But today, after 8+ hours of work, I went for a run, worked up a sweat,  ran to the ocean and walked in. The salt on my skin and in my hair feels just right.

Sarah O'Malley

About Sarah O'Malley

Sarah is a science educator, naturalist, writer, tide pool fanatic and burgeoning obsessive trail runner. From personal experience she believes strongly in the restorative power of contact with nature, especially experiences that make your heart beat a little faster or get your hands and feet dirty. She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula with her husband and two dogs.