july 19/RUNSWIM

run: 3.5 miles
austin, mn
62 degrees
humidity: 96% / dew point: 60

Cool but humid. Ran through Austin with Scott. We were in town, but parts of it felt like running through the country, especially the parts with narrow, windy roads and no sidewalks. Reminded me of rural North Carolina where I lived from ages 4-9, and where I would, on the rare occasion, “run” with my mom. A fuzzy memory: asking to run with her, becoming separated when I couldn’t keep up, getting trapped for a few minutes by a loose, barking dog (no leash laws in rural early 1980s North Carolina). How much did the Austin landscape really resemble Hickory, NC? Probably not that much, but enough to trigger this memory and make me look around for any loose dogs that might be about to attack.

swim: 2 miles / 5 cedar lake loops
cedar lake open swim
85 degrees

Back in Minneapolis in the late afternoon. Went to open swim at Cedar Lake. Wow, the water was warm near the shore. Almost too warm. Wore my new suit, my birthday suit–the one I bought with birthday money from Scott’s parents. The “birthday suit” joke never gets old for me. I remember turning 7 or 8 or 9 and getting a bathing suit for my birthday. I ran around the neighborhood, wrapped in a towel, looking like that was all I was wearing, and calling out to anyone nearby: “Want to see my birthday suit?” I’d open the towel, show them my suit, and laugh at their surprise–and relief, I’m sure, to see that I wasn’t naked. I was one of those irritating kids.

I think my central vision is getting a little worse. It’s harder to sight the orange buoys, even when the water is calm, the sun hidden. It doesn’t matter too much because I don’t really need the buoys to know where I’m going. I love my brain and whatever else in my body that’s allowing me to gradually adjust to this loss so that by the time it gets worse, I’ve already adapted enough that it doesn’t matter. Do most people have this experience when they’re losing something?

The swim was great. Earlier in the season, I was criticizing this lake, writing about how I wasn’t chill enough for it, but now I love it again. It feels more like a lake up north than one at the edge of Minneapolis. Gravel trails, no buildings, canoes and kayaks everywhere. What a great night for a swim! I felt buoyant and fast and confident. No planes flying overhead, circling like sharks. Only water and a clear landmark to sight: the split in the trees at the beach. Couldn’t see below me–at its deepest point, the lake is 51 feet down. I wonder if that’s anywhere near where I swim? Had a few encounters with vegetation. Scratchy.

Here’s a poem by Ellen Bass that I found on twitter. I’m posting it for the water image, but the idea of loving the world, in spite of its awfulness, resonates for me too.

The Thing Is/ Ellen Bass

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, Haw can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violent eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will you love you, again.

Thinking about the image of water as heavy, making the air harder to breathe. When I’m running, and it’s hot, the wet air feels heavy and thick on my skin. Oppressive. But when I’m in the lake, swimming, the water feels light, free. Breathing is much easier for me. Somehow, I don’t need to do it as much, even while I’m wearing a nose plug and can only breathe through my mouth. The more I swim, the less I need to breathe. Every five strokes, then every six or seven. To love life, I don’t want to hold it in my hands and look at it, I want to swim in it. What to do with this image/metaphor?