july 22/SWIM

2 miles/ 2 loops
lake nokomis open swim
80 degree

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

and

Where a runner sees the world in close-up, with time to view each passing tree’s leaves as they fall, each yellow raod 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.

Leap In/ Alexandra Heminsley