Keeping up the Saturday tradition of running the marshall loop. Got a later start so it was sunnier, with less shade. Listened to a iTunes playlist that I created a few years back–The Black Keys, Fall Out Boy, Billy Joel, ACDC, Pat Benatar, Jamirquai, and perfect timing for John Williams’ Theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark: running up the last stretch of the marshall hill, almost at the top.
Running over the lake street bridge to St. Paul, I watched a big bird–I think it was a turkey vulture–soaring high above the river. Running back over the lake street bridge to Minneapolis, I looked down at several shells. Rowers! Right below me, just crossing under the bridge heading south, was a single scull. The rower was wearing a bright orange shirt. Since they were facing me, I thought about waving, but then decided I was too high up and moving too fast.
Reaching the top of marshall, running by Black Coffee and Waffles, I could smell the waffles and their sweet bakery smell. I used to love waffles, piled high with whipped cream and chocolate. Now that much sugar gives me a headache. What a drag it is getting old.
There is still a lot of smoke in the air. It didn’t bother my breathing too much. Crossing the bridge, the smoke made everything hazy and the sky was almost white.
4.5 miles minnehaha falls and back (on the winchell trail) 72 degrees
They canceled open swim today; the air quality is dangerous (176, which is unhealthy). The smoke from the fires up north is still here. I’m disappointed but also relieved. I can still feel the effects from the smoke of last night’s swim. I went out for a run instead, which made me feel better. I didn’t have any trouble breathing. Ran to the falls and back. The falls were low; no roaring, rushing water. I saw a large bird–a turkey vulture? hawk?–high up in the sky. I don’t remember hearing any black capped chickadees or cardinals or woodpeckers. Running at the start of the Winchell Trail, I (too?) quietly warned the walker ahead of me that I was coming. He had headphones on and didn’t hear me. Then he turned, saw me, and uttered, in surprise, “Oh God!” I wasn’t running fast, so it was no big deal. Just funny. Heard some water trickling out of the sewer pipe at 42nd. Don’t remember what I thought about, but I do remember trying to forget the increased anxiety I have over wildfires and Delta variants. Some days it’s a struggle hanging onto joy and delight in the midst of so much evidence that everything is falling apart.
Water: a smoky river, not glittering in the hazy sun; a subdued waterfall; a receding creek; dripping ponytail, forehead, back; trickling pipes; thirst and the desire for some sips from a water fountain; an empty, swimmer-less lake
Hot. Sweaty. Too many bikes biking in pairs beside each other, taking over the path. Still, a good run. Just before starting, I listened to a recording of myself reciting 2 poems I’m working on. Thoughts about them came and went as I ran above the river. On the Winchell Trail, right before running up the short, steep hill near Folwell, I thought about how I don’t always notice the river when I’m running next to it. Sometimes I’m distracted by other thoughts or an approaching person. Sometimes the river is hidden behind a veil of green. And sometimes I’m too lost in the dream world. Then David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech with the refrain, “This is water” popped into my head. I decided to stop at the top of the hill and record my thoughts:
Okay, I’m running and I had an idea. Thinking about how when I’m running on the Winchell Trail above the river, sometimes I don’t remember to look at the river, to acknowledge the river, behold it, recognize that it’s there. And I started thinking about David Foster Wallace and “this is water” and how sometimes it’s important to notice and behold and say, “this is water.” To say, “this is water,” is to stand outside of it, to have some sort of distance, to be beside it. Sometimes we want to be immersed in the water. We want to be immersed in a dream world or a now that is not outside, not as distant, not beside. That means we don’t notice that this is water because we’re in it, and that’s a good thing too.
I reread the transcript of Wallace’s speech. I like many of his ideas about the value of a liberal arts education for giving us the tools to think critically, to be aware, to notice a wider range of realities beyond our limited, selfish one, to move past our unconscious “default” settings. Much of it is based on choice and will and our ability, which we must cultivate through education/practice/habits, to be open to understanding situations in new, potentially more generous, ways.
I like these lines:
If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.
In his speech, Wallace’s primary default setting is that we are selfish–everything is centered on us–and that we passively and consistently frame the world in this way. His solution: actively and deliberately think about the world in other ways. Seriously consider others’ perspectives, their struggles. Be actively critical, not passively uncritical. But, as I’m learning through poetry and various other things I’m reading about attention, sometimes letting go, being vulnerable and not in control, not trying to see things more generously but just being out in the world, moving and breathing and attending to it, sharing space in it with others (and not claiming it as yours) enables us to transform our experiences of it. I feel like I’m not quite making sense here, but I’m trying to get to the point that there are different forms of caring and giving attention, and some of them don’t involve deliberate, controlled focus on something. I’m thinking of soft fascination and being beside/entangled and the periphery.
bike: 8.6 miles lake nokomis and back 80 degrees wildfire smoke from Canada
No problem biking to the lake even though it was very smoky. They finished the sewer work they were doing by the mustache bridge so the bike trail was finally open again. Hooray! So much easier and safer not having to bike on the road and cross back and forth so many times. Very happy to feel mostly comfortable on my bike, able to see most things and not feel scared all the time.
swim: 2 miles / 2 loops lake nokomis open swim
Dark tonight. Strange, unsettling. Eerie on the lake with the sun covered with smoke. My googles fogged up again, even though I treated them, making it harder to see. I think Johnson’s Baby Shampoo doesn’t work, only Johnson’s baby wash does. Heard lots of sloshing and splashing. Enjoyed the swim, but felt less buoyant. At one point, it almost seemed like my foot was about to cramp up so I briefly stopped to stretch it. I’m getting better at stopping, taking my time. Another military plane flew low above me, roaring in the sky. That, with the waves and the smoke, make it feel almost apocalyptic. Noticed a bird flying in the sky too, near the plane. From my perspective in the lake, looking up from the side as I breathed, they looked the same size and shape. Funny how being the lake makes everything seem the same. Because of the smoke, I tried to take it easier, so I only swam 2 loops.
A few days ago (july 26) I foolishly asked how much choppier it is in Lake Superior than it was at cedar lake while I was swimming. Here’s one answer by the poet laureate of the UP (poet laureate? very cool!):
4 miles trestle turn around + extra 73 degrees humidity: 85% / dew point: 68
Woke up to dark skies. An hour later: thunderstorms. Around 10 it stopped, so I went out for a run. It was warm and humid but not oppressive. How is that possible? Forgot (again) to greet the welcoming oaks, but checked for stacked stones by the sprawling oak tree. Zero. Everything was dripping. Including me, after about a mile. I don’t remember seeing the river. Too much green. Noticed one of the unofficial trails leading down into the gorge just before lake street. Also noticed a tent set up under the lake street bridge, right next to the portapotty. All zipped up. I wondered how hot they were last night, when the low was in the upper 70s. I also wondered if they were in the tent because they’d been evicted (looked it up and the 15 month eviction moratorium is ending but landlords can’t evict until Sept).
delight of the day
As I approached the trestle, I began hearing a loud rumble. At first I tuned it out, but then I realized: a train! It was hard to see with all of the green blocking my view of the bridge, but slowly I saw the cars. The train was still there, rumbling along, as I passed under the trestle a minute later. Very cool. In the hundreds of times I’ve run under this trestle, I have only encountered a train on the bridge 3 or 4 times. These tracks are hardly ever used. Why was the train crossing today? I kept waiting for the beep beep of the horn but it never came. Only booms as the car lumbered over the old tracks.
After the rain, it’s time to walk the field again, near where the river bends. Each year I come to look for what this place will yield – lost things still rising here.
The farmer’s plow turns over, without fail, a crop of arrowheads, but where or why they fall is hard to say. They seem, like hail, dropped from an empty sky,
Yet for an hour or two, after the rain has washed away the dusty afterbirth of their return, a few will show up plain on the reopened earth.
Still, even these are hard to see – at first they look like any other stone. The trick to finding them is not to be too sure about what’s known;
Conviction’s liable to say straight off this one’s a leaf, or that one’s merely clay, and miss the point: after the rain, soft furrows show one way
Across the field, but what is hidden here requires a different view – the glance of one not looking straight ahead, who in the clear light of the morning sun
Simply keeps wandering across the rows, letting his own perspective change. After the rain, perhaps, something will show, glittering and strange.
Wow, I love this poem. I’m very glad I searched “after the rain poetry” and found it. The different view he discusses in the later stanzas is what I’m exploring. It’s ED’s slant truth and my sideways/peripheral. It’s also the practice of soft fascination–what we don’t notice we’re seeing when we’re focused on other things. And it’s learning new ways to see without certainty.
Hot and humid this morning. Not too bad in the shade. Heard some birds, noticed the river. Can’t really remember what I thought about as I ran. The paved trail near the road was crowded with walkers, runners, and bikers. On the trail below, I was one of only a few humans. It was a good run.
the gnat swimming in the liquid in my eye
the darting chipmunk who crossed my path and made me stutter-step down in the savanna
the coxswain’s voice floating up from the river
the runner and 2 bikers side-by-side, approaching me on my left and right at the same time, too fast and too close
the calling cardinal
encroaching vines brushing my face, my shoulders, my ankles
the dog and their human walking near a big boulder, another pair on the gravel just past the ravine
the jingling collar of another dog, far below me, much closer to the water
the branch of a tree, waving from the weight of a critter–a squirrel? bird?
yellowed leaves littering the dirt trail
the stones studding the trail, a few making me slow to a walk so I didn’t trip over them
swim: 2 miles/ 2 loops lake nokomis open swim 91 degrees
Very warm at the lake tonight. The air was warm, the water too. When I started swimming, I went through a few cold spots. Nice. Mostly breathed every 5. The water was much smoother, less choppy. Still had trouble seeing the buoys, but no trouble staying on course. Another great swim. I love how much time I’m spending in the lake this summer.
I have seen this commercial several times in the last few days, while watching the Olympics, especially the swimming events:
Are our hearts really made up of 73% water? Checked it, and yes, according to H.H. Mitchell, Journal of Biological Chemistry 158:
the brain and heart are composed of 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even the bones are watery: 31%.
If you have ever seen the ocean throwing cold waves from her hand pulling shells from mighty depths tossing each upon wet sand, you can understand how sound waves move like water through dry air. One-by-one, vibrations follow pressing sounds from here-to-there. Sounds can pass through liquids. Through gases. Solids too. But sounds waves moving through the air are sound waves meant for you. Violin or thunderstorm — each will reach your waiting ear to play upon a tiny drum. This is how you hear.
…underwater sound waves pass directly into your head, bypassing your ears altogether. That’s because body tissues contain such a large amount of water. Try plugging your ears underwater and listening for another splash of someone jumping in. It will be just as loud as the last splash when your ears were not plugged.
2.25 miles cedar lake open swim 85 degrees / windy / choppy
A little chaotic the first loop. Because of the wind and the waves, the buoy closest to the starting beach (point beach) was too far out to swim around. Swimmers were swimming all across the course–the right, the left, the middle. By my second loop it had settled down and both buoys were in place. I loved swimming in the waves. No white caps, but it seemed pretty choppy to me. I wonder how it compares to Lake Superior or the ocean. I’m sure still calmer, but by how much?
Earlier in the day I watched a video with tips for swimming in choppy water: breathe more often; when you can’t see the buoy, use something higher to sight; leave a little air in your lungs in case a wave makes it hard to get in more air when you turn to breathe; focus on your pull and glide for strong, straight strokes; stay relaxed and positive; and take breaks by flipping on your back when needed. Thought about these tips as I swam through the roughest water, which was on the second half of the loop. Mostly, I focused on more breathes and stronger strokes. It was fun. I enjoy swimming in rough water and I had no problem swimming straight. I used the break in the trees as my guide. The only trouble I experienced: a sore neck and left shoulder. Lifting my head higher to see and breathe is tiring for my neck muscles. And punching or stabbing or slicing into the rough water, which is really fun to do, is hard on my shoulder.
Thought about waves, literally and metaphorically:
Literal: The sensation of swimming in rough water, with waves crashing into me or rocking me or pushing me along. Currents that move me off course. Tall waves that disorient. Swells that make it harder to stroke in the water and breathe. All the spray. Feeling powerful as I use my shoulders to lift higher out of the water and slice through it. The initial panic I feel as I adjust to breathing and stroking differently. The enjoyment I get out of wrestling with the water. The satisfaction, from staying on course. The way time disappears as I focus on breathing and not swallowing too much water–no before or after, only now.
Metaphorical: Waves of emotion–grief, joy, worry, anxiety–washing over me. Often unanticipated, invisible at first, like the lake from the shore looking deceptively calm. Learning to handle the intensity/overwhelmingness: fighting the waves, surrendering to them, learning to adapt and adjust, relenting to the water or moving with instead of against it. Water as cleansing, scouring, washing away memories. Flowing, erasing, saturating.
3 miles/ 3 loops lake nokomis open swim 84 degrees
Very sunny and difficult to see this morning. Even though I’m treating my goggles with baby shampoo before each swim, they seem to be foggin up. Do I need to tighten them, or have they just lost all of their anti-fog coating? The fogginess with the bright sun made it harder to see, but it didn’t matter. Stayed on course. As usual, the buoys were in a different place–especially the green ones. I don’t mind, and I don’t blame the lifeguards. I’m sure it’s difficult to set the course. I like the challenge of figuring out how to navigate a new course every time. My priority: avoiding other people + getting as much extra distance as I can. This strategy is the opposite of what you’d want to do in a race, but I’m not in a race, and I don’t want the loop to be as short as possible. For each of my three loops, I tried to adjust and correct for the mistakes I had made in the last loop. Mostly, I did. I fear I might have routed a few swimmers as I passed them.
I’m pretty sure my central vision is a bit worse. I am definitely finding it harder to see the buoys straight on, even when they’re not backlit or I’m not blinded by the sun. By seeing the buoys, I mean seeing anything, any flash of color, any evidence that there’s something out there other than boats and trees and water.
When I do see the buoys, they often look like something else, usually a boat. On my first loop, nearing the little beach, I wondered why there was a boat hovering off the shore, directly in line with where I wanted to swim. When I got closer, I realized it was the first green buoy. I partly mistook the buoy for a boat because it was much closer to the beach and shore than it ever has been before, but I also mistook it because my brain guessed wrong. It had to decide, with the limited visual data it was getting, boat, lifeguard, or buoy. Sara-brain went with boat.
Reading the book, Leap In, the author discusses how the biggest challenge for her in learning to swim freestyle was exhaling. She had no problem taking in air, but she struggled to let it out. For a few minutes, I thought about my exhales under the water. I also tried to work on being flatter and higher up in the water. Reaching, stretching, bending my elbows, sweeping them under my torso.
For a few moments–probably seconds–I wasn’t think about where I was going, or if I was too close to someone else. I was just swimming. Nice. I’d like to have more of these moments in the water. It’s hard to stop thinking when I feel like I need to be constantly sighting. What would happen if I tried sighting less? That sounds like an interesting experiment for this week.
water thoughts for today
On Friday at open swim, I noticed an older woman exiting the water with a limp. She looked very fit and strong but also like something was wrong with her leg. I could tell she was a great swimmer. I thought about Lord Byron and how I recently read that he was born with a clubfoot and walked awkwardly on land. In the water, this didn’t matter; no one could see his foot. Some of us are better in the water.
Last week, when the water was extremely rough, I overheard someone lament to a fellow swimmer, “I’m going to be drinking a lot of dirty water on the way back.” There is a myth, among some, that city lakes are dirty and polluted. This incorrect assumption angers me. Lake Nokomis, almost always, is a wonderful place to swim. Talking with STA about what I was posting here and he mentioned how the lake does have sediment that gets stirred up by the waves, which is true. The lake isn’t pristine.
he said breathe like you read your poems what the hell does that mean then suddenly I’m breathing it look at our hands baked into being by a fleeting magic bark with dogs to let the neighborhood know you can go to the address knock all you want no one is there now where the exit signs are burned out the preexisting condition is not cancer but the glass of polluted drinking water
Due to a worsening drought across the state, Minneapolis and St. Paul residents are being asked to water their lawns on an even-odd water schedule and to limit watering to mornings and evenings.
run: 2 miles tunnel of trees + river road trail + extra 90! degrees
Earlier in the day, STA mentioned that the even though it was hot today, the dew point was relatively low, so 90 might not feel so bad. Somehow I got this stuck in my head and decided to go out for a quick run around 3:30. STA did too, but not at the same time as me. I listened to my song of the spring–Leave the Door Open–and summer–Solar Power. Surprisingly, it wasn’t too bad, especially in the shade. I didn’t really start sweating until about one and half miles in. I think I saw at least one other runner and a few walkers. Lots of people sitting in the shade on benches. As I ran by them I wondered what they thought of me running in this heat.
This morning, water meant: cool, refreshing, gentle rocking in 81 degree lake water, abundance, enveloped. This afternoon, water meant: lack, absent, thirst, delayed arrival, dripping, damp, soaked.
No swimming today. First time since last Saturday. It’s already warm at 8 am. 90s in the afternoon. Ran the marshall loop. No stopping at the top of the hill–ran past Real Wicker and Black Coffee and Waffles. Is it called that because they only serve black coffee, no lattes? Never thought about that before. Chanted some triple berries: strawberry/blackberry/raspberry. Don’t remember noticing much. Looked down at the river as I crossed it–no rowers, a few logs near the shore. Don’t remember feeling any bugs or hearing any birds. No planes or trains. I might have heard a roller skier’s clicking poles. No music blasting from a radio or a bike speaker.
Water Thoughts: Fish
It’s still July, so I’m still finding water poems, which is getting harder, at least with my amateur approach to researching them. Anyway, here’s a few fragments about fishes. An entire poem, some parts of others, a poem of mine, a few fish sounds, and an excerpt from a commencement speech.
Look at them flit Lickety-split Wiggling Swiggling Swerving Curving Hurrying Scurrying Chasing Racing Whizzing Whisking Flying Frisking Tearing around With a leap and a bound But none of them making the tiniest tiniest tiniest tiniest tiniest sound
There is a fish in me . . . I know I came from salt-blue water-gates . . . I scurried with shoals of herring . . . I blew waterspouts with porpoises . . . before land was . . . before the water went down . . . before Noah . . . before the first chapter of Genesis.
from The Nude Swim/ Anne Sexton
All the fish in us had escaped for a minute. The real fish did not mind. We did not disturb their personal life. We calmly trailed over them and under them, shedding air bubbles
Imposter/ Sara Lynne Puotinen
Part of me wants to be a fish forever submerged in the middle of the lake but most of me wants to stay human and crawl back to shore.
With each loop I wonder if a transformation will occur before the beach is reached. Will I sprout scales gain gills lose lungs?
Yet as the loop ends and my feet touch sand I always remain the same— a human only pretending to be a fish.
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”
It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:
“This is water.”
“This is water.”
It’s fun to put together these fragments around a theme. I used to love doing it when constructing a syllabus–maybe one of my favorite parts of teaching and syllabus writing: creating a conversation between different voices that might lead to more conversations in a class. I might do more of these…
No big problems biking on the trail. Ran into a white bike cone checked to make sure that cars were stopping for me at the stop sign like they’re supposed to. No big deal–I was going slow, the cone was plastic. Was that my vision? Maybe, but that spot is tricky–a temporary stop sign for cars while they do sewer work at the creek. They’re almost done, after over a year. Looking forward to the trail going back to normal here again.
swim: 2.75 miles/ 3 loops (orange buoys only) lake nokomois open swim 83 degrees
Not quite as choppy as yesterday, but still a lot of rocking and fighting with the water. Today I wore my safety buoy. It’s leaking a little air, not sure why, which makes it harder to stay high on the water. My neck hurt from breathing on one side so much and having to lift my head higher to breathe and see. By the end of the 3rd loop, I was tired. Even so, I enjoyed the challenge of choppy water. They didn’t have enough lifeguards to do a full course, so we just swam around the orange buoys today.
moment I remember:
Swimming back, between the first and second buoys from the little beach, I saw the flash of waving arms and a bright cap. A swimmer, heading towards me. I’m not sure, but I think they were waving their arms to let me know they were there so I wouldn’t run into them? I was surprised because I had deliberately moved way over to avoid getting close to other swimmers. They were off course. Even as I knew this to be the case, I still stewed over it for a few minutes, wondering if the other swimmer thought I was off course. Were they angry with me? Why does this bother me and why do I spend any time thinking about it? Is it that I always want others to think/know I’m doing the right thing? I hope not. Luckily, after a few more waves, I had forgotten about it.
I had a few other encounters with swimmers. At least 2 swimmers drifting further out, routing me. When this happens, I stop and swim around them from behind. Do they notice, and do they wonder where I’ve gone?
I stopped a few times mid-lake to recover from a big wave or see where I was or enjoy the view from the middle. During one stop, I noticed a dragonfly hovering just above the water. Often when I see a dragonfly I think about my dead mom. She loved dragonflies. I like to imagine that this dragonfly is my mom coming to say hi. But lately I’ve been noticing how much dragonflies look like helicopters. So I googled it: “are helicopters modeled after dragonflies?” I discovered that at least one type is/was, designed by Sikorsky in the late 40s. Also found this interesting bit of info about dragonflies and flight:
The mechanics of dragonfly flight are unique: dragonflies can manoeuvre in all directions, glidwithout having to beat their wings and hover in the air. Their ability to move their two pairs of wings independently enables them to slow down and turn abruptly, to accelerate swiftly and even to fly backwards.
Also learned that dragonflies have very good vision. I found this bit of info particularly interesting:
The quality and nature of vision in animals is related to the diversity of opsin proteins that they have in their eyes. We humans like to think that our eyesight is pretty good, and thanks to our large brains it is, but we rely on just three opsin genes, which means that we have three photoreceptors (cones), sensitive to blue, green and red light. So we can see across a colour spectrum from red to violet, but not ultraviolet (UV). If I now mention that dragonflies have between fifteen and 33 opsin genes, that gives some idea of just how good their vision may be! Some of these opsins may be non-visual proteins, but they still have large numbers of visual opsins, including ones for for short-wavelength (SW), long wavelength (LW) and UV light.
Dragonflies were as common as sunlight hovering in their own days backward forward and sideways as though they were memory now there are grown-ups hurrying who never saw one and do not know what they are not seeing the veins in a dragonfly’s wings were made of light the veins in the leaves knew them and the flowing rivers the dragonflies came out of the color of water knowing their own way when we appeared in their eyes we were strangers they took their light with them when they went there will be no one to remember us
and here’s a poem about water and waves:
BY THE SEA/ EMILY DICKINSON
I started early, took my dog, And visited the sea; The mermaids in the basement Came out to look at me.
And frigates in the upper floor Extended hempen hands, Presuming me to be a mouse Aground, upon the sands.
But no man moved me till the tide Went past my simple shoe, And past my apron and my belt, And past my bodice too,
And made as he would eat me up As wholly as a dew Upon a dandelion’s sleeve – And then I started too.
And he – he followed close behind; I felt his silver heel Upon my ankle, – then my shoes Would overflow with pearl.
Until we met the solid town, No man he seemed to know; And bowing with a mighty look At me, the sea withdrew.
What a wild swim! I think these are the roughest waves I’ve ever swam in. I don’t remember seeing any whitecaps, just big swells. The first part of the loop, right after the big beach, was the toughest. I felt a little panic as I adjusted to all the waves and the difficulty breathing. Not sure it got easier, but I got better. By the time I rounded the orange buoy near the little beach, I was almost enjoying it. And when I neared the big beach again, I loved it. Very cool. My favorite part: slashing through the waves–not quite punching them–as I swam into a wall of water. Least favorite part: when a swell hit me from behind. It’s hard to explain, but it felt like the water was being sucked down. Hard to swim, hard to breathe. I don’t think I’d like to swim in such rough water every time, but it was fun today.
To Swim, To Believe/ Maxine Kumin
The beautiful excess of Jesus on the waters is with me now in the Boles Natatorium. This bud of me exults, giving witness: these flippers that rose up to be arms. These strings drawn to be fingers. Legs plumped to make my useful fork. Each time I tear this seam to enter, all that I carry is taken from me, shucked in the dive. Lovers, children, even words go under. Matters of dogma spin off in the freestyle earning that mid-pool spurt, like faith. Where have I come from? Where am I going? What do I translate, gliding back and forth erasing my own stitch marks in this lane? Christ on the lake was not thinking where the next heel-toe went. God did him a dangerous favor whereas Peter, the thinker, sank. The secret is in the relenting, the partnership. I let my body work accepting the dangerous favor from the king-size pool of waters. Together I am supplicant. I am bride.
There are some things I don’t like about this poem–the last line; the way it could too easily be read as overly religious, where religion = christianity. But there are more things I like–tearing the seam and erasing the stitch marks; he who thinks sinks; the value of belief and relenting to that which is greater than you; a shucking off of the need to know where you’re from and where you’re going; the connection of all of this to the act of swimming. I like the line about thinking and sinking–maybe not he who thinks sinks, but the thinker’s the sinker? Hmm…anyway, I’m not opposed to thinking–I love doing it all the time and it is very necessary and important–but lately I’ve been very interested in ideas/understandings/poems/new ways of being that come to be or occur to us through methods other than concentration and directing our minds on objects or problems, which is how thinking is often defined. What can come to us when we’re not studying it directly? When we don’t have a specific objective, or need to be in control? Is this a different way of thinking about thinking?
Oliver Sacks, whose expertise ranges across many scientific and humanistic disciplines, has described in a sweet autobiographical essay, “Water Babies,” the joy that comes from playing in and with the buoyant medium that supports the swimmer. More important, he describes how the mind-altering properties of swimming can get thinking going as nothing else can. “Ecstasy,” he calls it—a word whose origin in Greek refers to standing outside of oneself: “There was a total engagement in the act of swimming, in each stroke, and at the same time the mind could float free, become spellbound, in a state like a trance.” In such trances one dreams, one composes— poems, songs, lectures, it hardly matters what.
Buoyancy/ Williard Spiegelman
In other reading, here are 2 ideas from the book, Leap In, about wild swimming. The first, speaks to my above discussion about giving up control, the second about what we see when we’re in the water.
‘What’s worth remembering about open-water swimming is that there are no irrational fears,’ said Patrick. I frowned. This doesn’t sound like great news. ‘After all, you can never entirely know what’s beneath you at any given time when you’re in the ocean. You can have a pretty good idea, and you can be careful with where you swim, and what the tides are up to. But you can’t ever know for sure. There is just . . . too much ocean, and too little human.’
Leap In/ Alexandra Heminsley
Where a runner sees the world in close-up, with time to view each passing tree’s leaves as they fall, each yellow road marking as it fades through the seasons, each dog truffling treats from the roadside, I realised that a swimmer sees the long shot. A ball thrown across a beach, a seagull swooping for an unwatched doughnut half a mile away, a rumbling lorry meandering by as if being pushed by a four-year-old.