sept 11/SWIM

1 mile
lake nokomis main beach
70 degrees

Another chance to swim in the lake this morning! Every swim now is a bonus. Much less choppy today but still not smooth. Overcast. I kept seeing silver streaks below me, most likely fish. I’ve been writing/revising some poetry lately about being in and one with the lake and the fish, but it takes me a few minutes to get over my fear of fish below. Most of them are small, probably all of them are harmless, but there are a few bigger fish that could bump into me. It’s a bit ridiculous, I suppose. It didn’t stop me from swimming, although it might have been the reason I only swam 1 mile and not 2. As I felt a little panic in the first loop I thought, how could I ever swim in the ocean or across a bigger lake, if these silver streaks are freaking me out? Then I remember an essay I read by Lauren Groff about swimming in the ocean and how the fear of the unknown below you and learning how to manage it or embrace it is part of the point. I was unsettled, but I still swam, so maybe I could swim in the ocean…

10 Things I Noticed

  1. A seagull perched on a white buoy, flying away only seconds before I reached it
  2. Small undulations in the water, sometimes looking like waves, sometimes something else (a fish?a stick? another swimmer?)
  3. A few small vines brushing my shoulder, a leaf touching my finger
  4. A family of 3 on a kayak or a canoe or a paddle board — I couldn’t tell with my eyes half in, half out of the water
  5. Drums beating across the lake from the Monarch Butterfly Festival
  6. A little girl repeatedly singing while in the water, “Swim with me in the sea!” as I waded out from the beach
  7. Fluffy, shredded clouds covering the mostly blue sky
  8. A plane flying fast overhead
  9. The bubbles from my hand as it entered the water and pushed down below my torso
  10. The dude standing on some motorized paddle board/hoverboard, speeding across the lake after my swim — a strange, unreal sight

Getting back to the fish below me, before I went swimming, I was working with one of my favorite lines from Anne Sexton’s wonderful poem, “The Nude Swim:”

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

As I was swimming, pretending to be a fish for 30 minutes, I wondered what the real fish below me thought. Were there any real fish there? If so, what did I look like to them, up above on the surface? Did my form cast a shadow below? In the turgid water, could they even sense me above?

In a document named “fragmentsforswimminglatefall,” I found the start of a poem based on the first bit from Sexton’s poem: All the fish in us/ had escaped for a minute.”

At the lake
I let loose the fish in me
all winter she has waited
barely alive
under the surface
of my icy skin
now in june
she is restless
together we enter
the cold water
before I take
my first stroke
she is gone
reborn in endless blue
remembering her fins
forgetting january

This poem needs some work, but I like the idea of letting loose the fish in me.

sept 10/RUNSWIM

run: 2.7 miles
2 trails
61 degrees

Felt a little warmer today even though it was only 61 degrees. Sunny, quiet. A strange time, not quite fall but not still summer. Running south on the river road trail, I noticed a few slashes of red on the low lying leaves. It’s coming. I love this time of year and the turning of the leaves.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. The sewer at 44th had barely a trickle, the one at 42nd was a steady stream
  2. More uneven, shifting sidewalk on the paved part of the Winchell Trail than I remember. Entire slabs settling and separating
  3. A spazzy squirrel darted but didn’t cross my path. Climbed a tree instead
  4. Kids’ voices drifting down from the upper path
  5. The first part of the Winchell Trail that has rubbling asphalt was littered with leaves–signs of fall!
  6. An unleashed white dog, then an unleashed black dog, then 2 or 3 humans, crowding the narrow, leaning path
  7. Someone walking in the middle of the closed road
  8. Voices, then a woman holding a child at the edge of the gravel path near the ravine
  9. The river?
  10. The sign warning of a slight ramp at the end of the path detour near Beckettwood

swim: 1 mile
lake nokomis main beach
78 degrees

The buoys are still up! Warm but windy. Swimming into big(gish) waves heading south, riding on big(gish) swells heading back north. Saw lots of flashes below me. Fish or slants of light? Another metal detector dude was out there. He was hard core, in a wetsuit, choppy water up to his shoulders, and had a buoy to anchor him. I wonder what he found? Encountered one other swimmer taking on the waves and talked to someone about to swim at the beach when I was done. A good swim.

Other things I remember: A row of seagulls was at the edge of the water; a few sunbathers were on the beach; lots of kayaks and canoes and paddle boards with people standing and on their knees; the waves too high to see much of the other side or the beach.

sept 6/SWIM

1.6 miles / 42 minutes
lake nokomis main beach
68 degrees

Choppier and cooler today, both the air and the water. Not that much cooler, but enough to tell the difference. Today is the last official day of the swim season. Tomorrow begins the game, “How long before they take the buoys down?” A few years ago, the buoys were up until October. Very nice. I’m not sure this year. I’m expecting they’ll take them down soon. It would be wonderful if I could get in another week or two.

Lots of kayaks on the water, one other swimmer, waves. Much choppier. I still felt strong and happy to be in the lake. My goggles fogged up a few times, which was annoying. Because of the waves, it was hard to see anything but water. Today, I did some breathing every five and some breathing every four or every six on the side where waves weren’t crashing into me (the right side).

Later, after the swim, when we were having a final beer at Sandcastle, I heard a seagull, but I didn’t see any perched on a white buoy when I was in the water. No ducks or geese either.

Sitting at Sandcastle, I noticed a guy pretty far out from the shore, with only his feet getting wet. This year, the drought has made the water very low. Pointing him out to STA, I said, “He looks like Jesus.” I think that image and line should be in a poem.

This month, even as I’m thinking about “approximate,” I’m struggling to keep up the theme. So today, instead of approximate, I searched for a poem under the topic “late summer” and found this beautiful one. So much amazing imagery!

Late Summer/ JENNIFER GROTZ

Before the moths have even appeared
to orbit around them, the streetlamps come on,
a long row of them glowing uselessly

along the ring of garden that circles the city center,
where your steps count down the dulling of daylight.
At your feet, a bee crawls in small circles like a toy unwinding.

Summer specializes in time, slows it down almost to dream.
And the noisy day goes so quiet you can hear
the bedraggled man who visits each trash receptacle

mutter in disbelief: Everything in the world is being thrown away!
Summer lingers, but it’s about ending. It’s about how things
redden and ripen and burst and come down. It’s when

city workers cut down trees, demolishing
one limb at a time, spilling the crumbs
of twigs and leaves all over the tablecloth of street.

Sunglasses! the man softly exclaims
while beside him blooms a large gray rose of pigeons
huddled around a dropped piece of bread.

Today, the last day of swim season, one day before FWA starts his college classes, and 2 days before RJP begins 10th grade, is the end of summer. A slight summery feeling, with hot, sunny afternoons and overripe gardens, will be here for another month, but summer is over. A very good summer. So much to love about it, even in the midst of fear and disappointment and frustration. So much swimming and devotion to water!

sept 5/SWIM!

2 miles / 10 loops
lake nokomis main beach
68 degrees / sunny / calm

Wow! A perfect morning for a swim. Sunny and calm. The water was fast and buoyant and smooth. I felt very strong — strong shoulders and legs and back muscles. What a wonderful feeling! I loved how the water was cool but not too cold. Maybe 70 degrees? I didn’t stop swimming my steady 1 2 3 4 5 breathe rhythm until I finished 9 loops then I checked my watch and did one more loop.

I don’t remember seeing any fish or birds, just a few other swimmers, paddle boarders, and a boat with a big net. One wonderful thing about the public lakes here in Minneapolis: no motorized boats. Only rowboats, sailboats, kayaks, canoes. I imagine I might be quite irritated swimming in a crowded lake with motorboats—and stressed out, always looking out for boats who might run me down.

For the first time in a few years, I saw 2 wet-suited dudes with metal detectors! Nice. In past years, I’ve encountered them (metal detector dudes, but not necessarily these exact metal detector dudes) early in the morning at the beach and overheard them discussing what they find. Today one of the guys was especially excited about a belt buckle and all the coins—“even some half dollars!”—he had discovered. I don’t remember hearing any beep beep of a detector, above or below the water. Why not? Wouldn’t that sound travel underwater? Did I hear it, but not notice it? Do metal detectors alert you in ways other than a beep? Discussed it with Scott and we both agreed: they must have been using headphones.

Very glad I made the effort to go over to the lake this morning and swim. Is this my last one of the year? I’d love to make it over here a few more times, but it gets harder in september and colder and they might close the beach and remove the buoys any time after labor day. I’m sad to stop, but excited to spend more time running.

Looked up idioms for approximate and found a few: by and large, as a rule, for all intents and purposes. Then looked up vaguely: ships that passed in the night. Also read about how vague indicates an unwillingness to commit, to give a definitive answer.

sept 1/BIKESWIMBIKE

bike: 8.5 miles
lake nokomis and back
71 degrees

A great day for a bike ride. I haven’t rode my bike since August 3rd (wow), and it took a few minutes for my brain to get used to it again. Much harder to see at the beginning. No panic. Pretty soon, it was a little easier. I’m hoping to bike more during September and October before it gets too cold and I have to bring the bike inside to the basement. I never know if this will be the last season I can see well enough to bike.

swim: 2 miles / 10 loops
main beach
73 degrees

Windier and choppier today. Still a wonderful swim. Sunny, sparkling water, some sailboats, blue sky, fuzzy green trees. The first loop was harder than the rest. Difficult to get into a rhythm. Once I did, I was able to stop thinking about sighting or stroking and let my mind wander.

An idea occurred to me: when I think about how much I love swimming in the lake, it’s rarely (if ever) about being fully and completely immersed, deep under the water. It’s about being just below the surface, or at the surface but under the water, with an occasional raising of my eyes to see the air or a boat or the world beyond the water. I was thinking about this partly because I’ve become increasingly interested in surfaces and depths (sinking and floating), but mostly because I’m editing a poem I wrote a few years ago titled, “submerged.” Here’s my latest version of it:

submerged

Every 5 strokes a breath
twist left lift up mouth opens
twist right lift up air enters
quick intake above then
5 full beats below this
exhale a chance to dream
a little longer a
way to forget one thing
remember something else
a thought: could above be
the dream below what’s real?
Are hard surfaces the
Illusion fluid edges
the truth? Is belief in
a separate self false? Yes.
My body is not mine
but ours together — fish
water swimmers — all lake
all longing to stay submerged
5 strokes at a time I
am not I but we joined
freed from gravity’s pull
hungry lungs’ demands. Home.

After I finished my swim and was sitting on the sand, I recorded a voice memo with some thoughts:


after swim sept 1

According to the dictionary, submerged means under water–not necessarily deep under water or at the bottom, just fully under water. I want to think more about this word and if it is the right title for my poem. Do I want to be submerged, or something else?

Today is the first day of September. Time for a new theme. Approximate. I wrote about it on August 20:

not quite knowing or roughly/approximately knowing. Not exactly but mostly, almost but never completely. Part of the picture, but never the whole thing. I’ve been writing a lot about bewilderment and unknowingness. This not quite knowing is not bewilderment but something else. Not wild, not lost, but not found either. 

Here’s today poem on the theme:

Approximate Poem/ Paul Hall (1977)

The things that I habitually say
are obvious. Why repeat them? Besides,
they are never what I meant to say.
The things that I want to say are like the book
next to the book that you took from the library
shelf. Now you’re disappointed, aren’t you. Now you’re
dozing with that book sunk into your chest
like a gravemarker, and from now on, that book
keeps your place in death, wherever it is.
But that has nothing to do with what I
want say in this poem. And even if
you had picked the right book, what I would like to say
would be beneath your thumb as you turn the page,
(In the margin, actually, and would
that make me a marginal type? marginally
human?) What I want to say is always
peripheral. What I really have to say
limps. What I want to say causes people
to dial our number by mistake. Your
abruptness with them gags me. The man
across the street is idly swinging
a golf club. What I would really like to say
is disintegrating from wind divots.
What I’d like to say loses traction
along my larynx and comes out “uh.”

However, clearing my throat accordions
what I intend to say into an
unintelligible grunt. An important
oration that I had in mind was
sky written in sparrow farts. I suppose
you missed it. I have a sore throat. It is
the pass over of intended statements.
My dentist says that I eat too much sugar.
I say that my cavities are the
terrorist bombings of a frustrated
authority. Consequently, important
clues to what I have always wanted to say
are buried under my fillings. Much of
what I’d still like to say gets in the way
of breathing. I had to quit smoking. What I
meant to say was escaping under
a smoke screen. What I would like to say is
every word that you have ever regretted
saying. So the next time you think you’re about
to make a fool of yourself, don’t stop.
Say it. You can always defend yourself
by saying that you didn’t mean to say
that. You can even blame it on me.
And I will know what I had in mind
and everybody will be satisfied.
That is to say. . .

august 30/SWIM

2 miles / 10 loops
main beach
75 degrees

Swam around the white buoys just off the main beach. The water was calm and not too cold. Heading out to the first buoy at the far end of the loop, nearest to where the sailboats dock, I felt like I would never get to it. I wondered why it always seemed so far away, like in Poltergeist when the mom is running down the hallway and the door never gets closer. After a few more strokes, it occurred to me that something was wrong; the buoy was pretty close, yet I wasn’t getting any closer to it. I stopped, looked up, and realized that the white thing I had been sighting and swimming towards was not the buoy but a sailboat in the wrong direction. Oops. I quickly corrected myself and began swimming on course. I’m very glad the lifeguard didn’t call out to me. This year, more than other years, buoys are barely there. Frequently, I can mistake a white sailboat for a white cylindrical buoy.

I breathed every 5 strokes. I tried to sight less because, on this short course with 4 buoys and only one other swimmer in the area, I didn’t need to. I realized that I like being able to quickly glance up and see more than opaque water. Blue sky, clouds, sun, the surface of the water, a white boat, fuzzy green trees. Looking down into the cloudy water all the time unsettled me. I felt disconnected from everyone else. At one point, after staring for too many strokes into the water, I thought I saw a big white flash. A fish below me? I wish I could write that this fish delighted me, giving me some company, but it didn’t. I started imagining it swimming to the surface and bumping into me or worse. Will I ever not be haunted by the movie Jaws?

I forgot to wear my watch, but Scott thought I swam for about an hour. Not difficult at all. My feet felt like rudders as I glided through the water. How many more of these swims will I be able to do before the beach closes? Not enough.

august 26/RUNSWIM

4.15 miles
minehaha falls and back
65 degrees

Cooler this morning. Fall running is coming soon! Running south, I noticed lots of cars on the river road. None of them were going too fast but I could tell they were in a hurry to get somewhere. Summer seems over. I’m less sad, more wistful or already nostalgic for the water.

When I reached the falls, they were roaring again. It rained this week. More coming this afternoon and tomorrow. Will it be enough to end the drought? Not sure.

It’s a grayish white morning, quiet, calm. I smelled smoke near the double bridge. A campfire down in the gorge? I glanced at the river a few times when I was on the Winchell Trail. Today it looks blue. Heard a roller skier at the beginning of my run. Greeted a few runners and walkers. Successfully avoided rolling on a walnut–encased in its green shell, looking like a small tennis ball. Don’t remember seeing any squirrels or hearing any rower. Too early for kids on the playground. No music blasting from a bike speaker. I remember making note of a fragment of conversation, but I can’t remember what was said.

A good run. The upper half of my right side felt sore at the beginning of the run, but when I warmed up it was fine. I started to recite Auto-lullaby, but never quite finished. I guess I got distracted. I’d like to get back into combining poetry and running in September.

love, connection, and strangers

Yesterday, I discovered a great article by Elisa Gabbert about missing strangers during the pandemic: A Complicated Energy. It made me think about connection and love and how I miss being around other people–like walking on a busy city street or sitting on a bench in a park–when we are all strangers to each other.

To people-watch, says Baudelaire, is “to see the world, to be at the center of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world”—to become interchangeable, one of the strangers. For Virginia Woolf, a wander through the city at dusk was an escape from the trap of being “tethered to a single mind,” from the oppression of self: “The evening hour, too, gives us the irresponsibility which darkness and lamplight bestow. We are no longer quite ourselves.” “Let us dally a little longer,” she writes, “be content still with surfaces only.” Strangers are all surface, and if we accessed their depths, they’d cease to be strangers. We’re all surface to them, too—all face. Strangers allow us to be mysterious in a way we can’t when we’re at home, or when alone. With strangers we’re unknown.

I like this idea of surfaces and the unknown, I’m less interested in the idea of people watching and seeing others, probably because I can’t see people very clearly. I do like hearing people’s stories and connecting with them on deeper levels sometimes, but it drains me. More often, I just like being in the midst of them–not too close, no need for talking or touching, being beside each other is enough. This is a meaningful form of connection to me, a form of love. Sometimes more than this is too much.

Woolf’s desire to not be “tethered to a single mind” resonates for me. This tethering and the idea of surfaces makes me think of sinking and floating, with sinking = tethered to the self-as-anchor and floating = being on the surface, unmoored, free to be unknown and unknowing. And then that connection makes me think of some great lines from a Maxine Kumin poem:

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. 

To Swim, To Believe/ Maxine Kumin

Love as relenting and letting go of self and ideas. To be tethered to the known (and to knowing) is to sink.

In the next part of the essay, Gabbert laments not being able to see more faces. She misses seeing faces, and she misses seeing faces see her. She is so bothered by this lack of face time that she experiences anxiety, insomnia, and symptoms similar to withdrawal from an anti-depressant. I was struck by discussion here for 2 reasons. First, it gave me more words (and someone else’s words, not just mine) for understanding what I’ve been feeling since 2016 when I stopped being able to see people’s faces clearly. The feelings of loneliness and disconnection, the need to see someone and to see them seeing me. Often I’ve convinced myself that I’m being overly dramatic, that it’s not that big of deal that I can’t see people’s faces, their features, their pupils when they’re talking to me or smiling at me or gesturing to me. But it is. In this essay, Gabbert argues that seeing and being seen are profoundly important–to be seen by others is to become real (and recognized as worthy/worthwhile).

This claim leads me to the second reason I was struck by Gabbert’s words: Why is connection, love, realness so often only (or primarily) understand as an act of sight? This question is not purely academic to me–I post it out of frustration about how the primacy of vision is taken-for-granted–in our everyday thinking and in essays lamenting the loss of connection during the pandemic. With my increasingly limited, unfocused vision, these expressions of recognition and connection are lost on me. Gabbert continues her essay with a discussion of the importance of touch–with a fascinating story about professional cuddlers–so she does offer alternatives to sight for connection. And she offers a broader discussion on the damaging effects of loneliness on our bodies and our mental health. Yet, it still feels like sight and seeing faces are the most important ways of connecting with others. I’d like to find more words about loss of connection that don’t center on faces or seeing. Maybe I’ll have to write them?

One more thing about love. I found this poem by Dorothy Wordsworth while searching for “loving eye” on the poetry foundation site. Her distinction between loving and liking made me curious:

Loving and Liking: Irregular Verses Addressed to a Child/ Dorothy Wordsworth

There’s more in words than I can teach: 
Yet listen, Child! — I would not preach; 
But only give some plain directions 
To guide your speech and your affections. 
Say not you love a roasted fowl 
But you may love a screaming owl, 
And, if you can, the unwieldy toad 
That crawls from his secure abode 
Within the mossy garden wall 
When evening dews begin to fall, 
Oh! mark the beauty of his eye: 
What wonders in that circle lie! 
So clear, so bright, our fathers said 
He wears a jewel in his head! 
And when, upon some showery day, 
Into a path or public way 
A frog leaps out from bordering grass, 
Startling the timid as they pass, 
Do you observe him, and endeavour 
To take the intruder into favour: 
Learning from him to find a reason 
For a light heart in a dull season. 
And you may love him in the pool, 
That is for him a happy school, 
In which he swims as taught by nature, 
Fit pattern for a human creature, 
Glancing amid the water bright, 
And sending upward sparkling light. 

   Nor blush if o’er your heart be stealing 
A love for things that have no feeling: 
The spring’s first rose by you espied, 
May fill your breast with joyful pride; 
And you may love the strawberry-flower, 
And love the strawberry in its bower; 
But when the fruit, so often praised 
For beauty, to your lip is raised, 
Say not you love the delicate treat, 
But like it, enjoy it, and thankfully eat. 

   Long may you love your pensioner mouse, 
Though one of a tribe that torment the house: 
Nor dislike for her cruel sport the cat 
Deadly foe both of mouse and rat; 
Remember she follows the law of her kind, 
And Instinct is neither wayward nor blind. 
Then think of her beautiful gliding form, 
Her tread that would scarcely crush a worm, 
And her soothing song by the winter fire, 
Soft as the dying throb of the lyre. 

   I would not circumscribe your love: 
It may soar with the Eagle and brood with the dove, 
May pierce the earth with the patient mole, 
Or track the hedgehog to his hole. 
Loving and liking are the solace of life, 
Rock the cradle of joy, smooth the death-bed of strife. 
You love your father and your mother, 
Your grown-up and your baby brother; 
You love your sister and your friends, 
And countless blessings which God sends; 
And while these right affections play, 
You live each moment of your day; 
They lead you on to full content, 
And likings fresh and innocent, 
That store the mind, the memory feed, 
And prompt to many a gentle deed: 
But likings come, and pass away; 
’Tis love that remains till our latest day: 
Our heavenward guide is holy love, 
And will be our bliss with saints above. 

swim: 1 mile / 1 loop
lake nokomis open swim
70 degrees

The thunderstorms held off so I could do a final loop in the lake! Now, as I write this at 7:15, it’s dark and raining and a loud clap of thunder just hit somewhere nearby. What joy to get one last loop! Such a strange swim. No one at the lake besides us swimmers–and not too many swimmers. Overcast, eerily quiet, and smoke from wildfires at the Boundary Waters. Another apocalyptic night. Only orange buoys, no green ones. I swam to the white buoy off of the little beach, treaded water for a minute or two, then swam back. What a great season! So happy to have taken full advantage of a great summer. So grateful for the amazing Minneapolis Parks department. STA and I met at Sandcastle for a beer after I finished.

august 25/SWIM

.35 miles / 1 loop
cedar lake open swim
80 degrees

Most likely the final open swim of the season. One more is scheduled for Lake Nokomis tomorrow (Thursday) night, but it is supposed to thunderstorm in the late afternoon, so it will probably be canceled. Forced myself to only swim one loop, even though the water was calm and uncrowded and I would have loved to swim many more. My right side, my upper back and all down my forearm, is very sore and I don’t want to injure it. Even as I wish the season wasn’t ending, my body needs a break, I guess. What a great season. I exceeded my goal of 100 Sara miles and only missed a few open swims at either lake.

The beaches won’t be closed until (at least) after labor day–one year they kept the buoys up until October!–so I’m hoping to swim another week or two. Not sure if I’ll be able to swim indoors at all this winter. In a more perfect world, I would be able to walk a few blocks to an indoor pool. Oh well. More time for fall and winter running!

Unlike Lake Nokomis, which has a huge open parking lot that is directly off of the main beach, Cedar Lake has a small parking lot (that is always filled) and a gravel path with woods on one side, the lake on the other, that leads to a small beach. This difference makes cedar feel more like a lake up north, which I like. As we reached the edge of the gravel on our way out, I noticed a dead tree leaning up against a living one in the woods. I mentioned to STA that I had just read a beautiful poem about two trees like this. This is the poem:

Cello/ Dorianne Laux

When a dead tree falls in a forest
it often falls into the arms
of a living tree. The dead,
thus embraced, rasp in wind,
slowly carving a niche
in the living branch, shearing away
the rough outer flesh, revealing
the pinkish, yellowish, feverish
inner bark. For years
the dead tree rubs its fallen body
against the living, building
its dead music, making its raw mark,
wearing the tough bough down
as it moans and bends, the deep
rosined bow sound of the living
shouldering the dead.

Grief, a burden but also a friend, a companion, is a form (expression?) of love.

august 24/SWIM

1.75 miles
lake nokomis open swim
82 degrees

Calm, sunny. The first loop was smooth, no chop. The water not quite glass, but almost. The second loop was rougher. Is it because of all of the swimmers in the water? Are they churning it up? Hard to believe with so few swimmers, so much water, but the wind was only 3 mph so I guess we–the 100 of us swimming loops tonight–were making waves. I felt strong and fast and in my element. Only one more open swim at each of the lakes for this season. Sad to have the season end, but happy to have made the most of it. I swam a lot this summer.

My favorite thing about the swim tonight: More than the calm water of the first loop, or the feeling of strength and speed, was the sky and the clouds. In one small patch of the sky were some shredded clouds making a pattern of diamonds or dots. It reminded me, but probably didn’t look anything like it, the painstakingly repeated dots or brush strokes on a painting I saw at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts this weekend. When I breathed on my left side, I kept turning my neck to catch a quick glimpse of them. Very cool.

A poetry person on twitter thoughtfully shared this essay from 2018: Searching for a Lost Odessa/ Ilya Kominsky. The entire essay is amazing, but I wanted to especially remember this part:

I wonder: In these streets I can still share with you, Father, streets where you watched your own deaf father in 1945, were you bewildered by his deafness? I come back so that I can see for you the Odessa streets your deaf father saw. Sounds are contagious even if no one notices. The sound of someone breathing heavily in line for groceries affects the breathing rate of others in the line. I am walking to the Hotel Krasnaya, to see a stranger’s wedding.

You once stole for me seven pieces of wedding cake. Look, now I tell you seven things a deaf man sees at weddings:

One. When husbands smile at their wives, the corners of their mouths move toward their eyes. But when they smile at the notary signing the wedding certificate, I see the corners of their mouths move toward their ears.

Two. When businesspeople speak, they stand toe to toe. But if one person’s foot begins to move away, this person wants to be someplace else.

Three. When couples eat cake and they are happy, their legs wiggle or bounce. But we don’t need to look under the tables to see happy feet. See their shirts or shoulders. See how the wiggling feet make shoulders, too, vibrate.

Four. A crowd waiting at the wedding buffet. Notice how people whistle to calm themselves.

Five. A woman talks to the relative who makes her slightly uncomfortable. She touches her face, licks lips.

Six. Sometimes it is a man who is uncomfortable. See his unease by how he’s stroking his beard.

Seven. If there is an orchestra at the wedding, there is silence in the conductor’s fingers before the baton lifts, making music visible inside the bodies of others.

Deafness is a theater. Here the deaf person is the audience. Everyone else is an actor. No need to worry about the silent world to which the hearing people think we are exiled. The deaf do not believe in silence. Silence is the invention of the hearing.

august 23/RUN

run: 7 miles
lake nokomis and back
70 degrees / dew point: 66

My longest run in a few years. I’m tired. Ran to the lake then stopped for a few minutes by the little beach. Walked for a few minutes, then ran next to the parkway until I reached minnehaha falls. On the way to the lake, I ran by the creek. It’s not completely dried up, but there’s hardly any water. I didn’t run through it, just by it, but I’ve seen pictures of minnehaha park–no falls. The entire state of Minnesota is in a drought, with a few parts in severe drought. The creek is almost dry because it gets its water from Lake Harriet and Lake Harriet is too low. I haven’t noticed Lake Nokomis being any lower–is it?

It is 4 miles to lake nokomis. Sometimes it seems longer than that because of all the different areas you run through:

  • river road
  • minnehaha falls
  • mustache bridge on the parkway over hiawatha avenue — which years ago had a handlebar mustache spray-painted on the side, but now (just noticed it yesterday) has a mushroom spray-painted near but not on it
  • near the duck bridge by my old neighborhood
  • the echo bridge
  • my favorite part of the path, right before nokomis avenue
  • the new part of the trail that travels under 28th avenue
  • near lake hiawatha
  • up the hill between hiawatha and nokomis lakes
  • beside lake nokomis rec center on the hill
  • down to the lake

I ran this route partly to check out how dry the creek is. I almost forgot to look, too distracted by the effort of running. Didn’t see any herons or cranes. Heard a few black-capped chickadees. No geese or ducks or turkeys. Encountered bikers, walkers, runners, 2 swimmers.

Yesterday I posted a poem by Rita Dove and wondered about the connection between love and mercy. Here’s a poem by another favorite poet, Carl Phillips, in which this connection is questioned:

Sky Coming Forward/ Carl Phillips

How the birches sway, for example. How they
tilt, on occasion, their made-to-tilt-by-the-wind
crowns. How by then he had turned his head
away, as if a little in fear; or shy, maybe . . . Also
the leaves having stopped their falling. Or there
were no leaves left — left to fall. Which to call
more true? Love
                        or mercy? Both of his hands
upraised, but the better of the two tipped more
groundward, the other a lone bird lifting, as if from
a wood gone steep with twilight. Sometimes, an
abrupt yet gentle breaking of the storm
                                                                       inside me:
for a moment, just the rings that form then disappear
around where some latest desire — lost, or abandoned —
dropped once, and disturbed the water. To forget —
then remember . . . What if, between this one and the one
we hoped for, there’s a third life, taking its own
slow, dreamlike hold, even now — blooming in spite of us?

mercy = compassion, forgiveness
love = deep affection, intense interest in something, attachment, devotion

I need to spend a lot more time with this poem in order to begin to understand it, but here are a few thoughts:

“Which to call/ more true? Love/ or mercy?” Just a few days, I was revisiting another Phillip’s poem I memorized last year, “And Swept All Visible Signs Away.” As I read this question about love and mercy, I was reminded of these lines from “And Swept…”: “And what is a willow doing in the darkness?/ I say it wants less for company than compassion,/ which can come from afar and faceless.” Compassion = mercy, connection = love? I’m fascinated by this distinction between mercy/compassion and love/connection, and Phillip’s almost, but maybe not quite, preference for compassion. What if, as we try to live with/are dependent on and vulnerable to a wide range of people, we thought more about compassion, less about love? Or, could compassion (a form of generosity?) be a different type of love?

“the rings that form then disappear/ around where some latest desire — lost, or abandoned — dropped once, and disturbed the water. To forget –/ then remember . . .” Rings and ripples disturbing the water. Not sure what to do with this yet, but I like the image and the idea (which I’ve explored before) of ripples–traces of something that moved, disrupted, transformed. How long do those ripples last? What does it mean to forget then remember? And then, the idea of rings as loops or orbiting and encircling? Very cool.

“there’s a third life” This reminds me of a quote from a D.H. Lawrence poem that was mentioned in a book I was reading about water:

Water is H2O, hydrogen two parts, oxygen one,
but there is also a third thing, that makes it water

Water as another way to be, another life, another possibility beyond what is and what we want/imagine and hope for? I love this idea and want to spend more time with it.

swim: 2 miles
cedar lake open swim
90 degrees

What a great night for a swim! Warm, sunny, calm. The water was mostly smooth and buoyant, easy to swim in. Felt strong and confident and happy. As I started, someone swimming about my pace was just ahead of me. I followed them for a few laps, occasionally wondering if they noticed me and if they cared I was there. Part of me was enjoying following them, and part of me considered pausing to let them go ahead. Usually I like to swim alone. After two laps, they were gone.

Other Swimmers

  • Someone swimming almost right down the center from buoy to buoy, at times looking like they were way over on the wrong side of the buoy. They probably weren’t that close; it was just my vision and my inability to judge how close or far away someone is — usually, everyone looks closer, too close, which is especially difficult for me because I like/need to have space, room. This swimmer splashed a lot and when they reached the buoy they started to do a tight turn, which I was following, but then abruptly stopped. Narrowly avoided running into them
  • Someone ahead of me, swimming breaststroke. I was swimming into the bright sun, unable to see much of anything but the break in the trees I use for sighting. I began to feel something in the water, some churning. I knew it was another swimmer but I couldn’t see them at all. Finally, a bright pink head appeared. A breaststroker. As I swerved around them I thought about the different ways other than sight that I use to become aware of other people
  • Someone swimming even farther away from the orange buoy than me. I could see their elbows and splash out of the corner of my eye. As we neared the beach, swimming at about the same pace, I wondered when they could cut in closer to round the buoy and whether or not I might have to watch out for them so we wouldn’t collide
  • Another swimmer swimming breaststroke. As usual, it seemed like it took too long to pass them. Once I had, I glanced back over my shoulder as I breathed to see their jerkily bobbing head

Because the water was calm, I was able to breath on both sides (it’s called bilateral breathing). Every five. Sometimes, every 3 then 4. No neck or hip or thigh pain, but a slight twinge under my right shoulder blade. Now, out of the water, writing this the morning after, my upper back on the right side is sore.

Anything else? I swam 4 loops without stopping. Stopped for a minute or two, then did one more loop. Oh–felt some extreme temperature changes in the water right near the shores. Much warmer then much colder. I like the extra cool pockets better than the warm ones. Why was it so warm?

Learned that one popular motto for open water swimming is: No lanes, no lines, no walls (sometimes with the addition: no limits — also found one instance of no mercy). Maybe this could be the title of a poem?

random thought: For several years now, I’ve been reading/listening to Agatha Christie books. Yesterday I finished, Destination Unknown, which is about spies and money as power and hidden labs, and not quaint village murders. The ending of it, which I won’t reveal, reminded me yet again of Christie’s anti-capitalist streak. She writes a lot about the decay of moneyed families, lost wealth (through mismanagement, especially being swindled into investing in worthless Argentinian mines), the nihilism of those trying to hang onto their wealth–their willingness to murder to retain just a bit of it, the decline of the servant class, and how terrible suburbs are. I came up with a title for something — a blog? a poem? a band?: Agatha Christie Hates Suburbs. When I searched “Agatha Christie anti-capitalism,” I found an intriguing article by the postmodern cultural critic (someone I read a lot in grad school) Slavoj Žižek: On Agatha Christie and the Dawn of a Postcapitalist Era. It’s a close reading of her 80th book, Passenger to Frankfurt, which I just started listening to. When I’m finished, I’ll read the article. Nice.

august 22/SWIM

3.75 miles / 3 full loops + 1 slightly shorter loop*
lake nokomis open swim
65 degrees

*About halfway through this swim, I hit 100 Sara miles, which was my goal for the summer. 100 Sara miles is probably a little short of 100 actual miles, but it’s still a big number and was an ambitious goal that encouraged me to swim longer and more frequently than I normally do, so I’m proud of myself for reaching this goal.

Final Sunday open swim of the season. A wonderful morning, a wonderful swim! Sunny, not too windy–at least not until the last loop. I swam 4 loops without stopping. For the final loop, I didn’t swim all the way to the white buoy near the little beach, but just rounded the third orange buoy so it was a little shorter. I felt strong and relaxed and very happy to be swimming. I will miss these swims when they end next week.

Many different thoughts/ideas came to me today:

  • Circling and looping and swimming in the lake from big beach to little beach, my route never forming a perfect circle but triangles and trapezoids and elongated ovals. Always swimming on the edge, not inside or near the center of the marked off swim area. Thought about my interest in edges and Emily Dickinson’s Circumference and Oliver’s and Emerson’s circles
  • As the wind picked up, I wondered about future summers of swimming and how the warming of the oceans/earth and increasingly erratic weather patterns will affect lake nokomis. Will it be windier more often? More thunderstorms? More vegetation? A lower quality of water? Will there be a time when the water is not safe to swim in? I hope not
  • A reminder: I feel so confident in the water. Sure of my self, sure of my abilities. I don’t doubt or question or worry–well, except for my fears of getting another calf cramp or a neck cramp or a knee subluxation–when I’m in the lake. I know it’s not possible to become a fish–and I don’t really want to anyway, but I wish I could bring my lake confidence into the rest of my life. The phrase, “fish out of water” popped into my head as I had these thoughts
  • In the lake, I am never really lost, and if I feel disorientation or bewilderment, I soon figure out a way to re-orient myself, to find some landmark or signal that reassures me that I’m swimming the right way. These indications are small and only come in flashes, but I’m learning how to get by with less information, less certainty. This is not living in bewilderment but living with it–and finding ways to mitigate the confusion and discomfort it provides. So, I’m not living in it all the time, but I’m also not ignoring or avoiding the moments when it happens. I think this makes sense to me…

Here’s a poem from one of my favorite poets, Rita Dove. It’s in her new collection, Playlist for the Apocalypse. I think it fits in with love, if we connect love with kindness and mercy:

Green Koan/ Rita Dove

That the mind can go
wherever it wishes
we’ve come to rely on;
that it returns
unbidden to the soul
it could not banish
and learns to thrive there
is life’s stubborn mercy–given
to soften or harden us,
as we choose.

august 20/SWIMRUN

swim: 2 miles / 2 loops
lake nokomis open swim
75 degrees

More wind, more chop, more rolling waves and swells. Today was a morning swim so the orange buoys were backlit. For me, and my lack of cone cells, this meant they weren’t orange but invisible and then, at fairly close range, dark hulking shapes. Do most people see their orange-ness? As always, I am amazed at how comfortable I’ve become swimming towards something that I can’t see but I trust to be there, based on past experience + deep knowledge of the lake’s layout + my strong, straight shoulders. But this year, there’s another layer to this swimming into nothingness that amazes me: I trust that I’m going the right way, but I also don’t worry if I’m not. So what if I get off course? Who cares if the lifeguards need to nudge me back a little closer to the buoys? I am much less bothered by not knowing, or–and this is a theme for the summer and will feature heavily in a writing project I can tell I’ll be starting in the fall–not quite knowing or roughly/approximately knowing. Not exactly but mostly, almost but never completely. Part of the picture, but never the whole thing. I’ve been writing a lot about bewilderment and unknowingness. This not quite knowing is not bewilderment but something else. Not wild, not lost, but not found either. Hmm….

For the past four times at lake nokomis (sunday, tuesday, thursday, friday), the water has been choppy/rolling in the same way: Smoothest (but not really smooth) from the big beach to the first orange buoy. Swells picking up between buoy 1 and 2, difficult to breath on right side with waves rolling quickly over my head from right to left. Not too bad between the 3rd orange buoy and the white buoy at the little beach. From the little beach back to the big beach, increasingly rough and choppy–waves crashing into me, water spraying up, sometimes difficult to breath on both sides. A wild ride rounding the final green buoy just off the big beach. Swells lifting me up and pushing me along swimming parallel to the shore and heading towards the orange buoy. I like the challenge of choppy water and the energy that it produces but I’m ready for some smoother water. With so many waves, I have to lift my head higher to sight (and breathe?) and my neck is getting sore.

run: 2.7 miles
2 trails
83 degrees

Decided when I got home from swimming that I’d go out for a run. Hot, but a cooler wind. Listened to a playlist for the first half, then the wind mixed with my breathing for the second half. I was able to run in shade most of the time. Very warm in the sun. Don’t remember much of anything. No irritating or memorable people–as I write this now I remember some bikers stopping and blocking the entire path on the way down to the Winchell Trail. Lots of acorns and walnuts on the ground. Don’t remember hearing any birds or seeing any spazzy squirrels. No roaming dogs. Oh–ran past a garbage truck and the smell was terrible. It (the smell) followed me for a few blocks. And I thought again about how I’d like to work with older students (55+) and teach classes that somehow combine critical thinking, creative writing and experiments, deep awareness of place, and physical activity. Still now sure what that would look like or how to start…

loving like the lake

Yesterday I went through poems I gathered about water and made a list, based on these poems and some of my own ideas, about what water does and how it loves. I’m thinking I might use these various things as titles or first lines for poem. Here’s a line I’d like to turn into a poem:

I think the sea is a useless teacher, pitching and falling
no matter the weather, when our lives are rather like lakes

unlocking in a constant and bewildering spring.

From Nowhere/ Marie Howe

august 19/SWIM

2.75 miles / 2 full loops + 1 shortened loop
lake nokomis open swim
85 degrees / windy

Yet another windy day at the lake. In past summers, I remember having an occasional windy, choppy swim, but not so many in a row. Tonight’s water seemed the choppiest, swell-iest it’s been. Was it? I think I’m losing perspective. I wonder how tonight’s waves compare to the second summer (2013 or 14) when there was a surprise wind storm and the lake was evacuated–except for the few swimmers, like me, that they didn’t notice. Am I getting used to the waves, or am I exaggerating them? Unsure. Mostly, I like swimming in this rough water.

The second half of the loop, from the little beach back to the big beach and then parallel to the shore until reaching the first orange buoy again was a wild ride. There was bright sun, making it difficult to sight anything, then rough water, crashing against my left side. No gentle rocking, just pushing and shoving, with the occasional slap. I breathed every 4 or 6, almost always on my right side. Once I rounded the final green buoy and reached the swimming area just off the big beach, the waves were behind me, pushing me forward. Sometimes this was pure fun, with the wave doing all the work. Sometimes, it was unsettling, with the water underneath not quite dropping out but feeling like it was sucking all of the energy out of my stroke, like I was hovering (and not floating) in a substance that wasn’t quite water, but wasn’t air either. I wonder if anyone else has a description for this experience? I’ll have to look it up.

Even with all of the rough water, I managed to notice a few planes. Swimming toward the little beach, I suddenly heard a sharp ringing in my ears, just for a minute. I wondered if it was my ear ringing or some sound traveling under water. I felt a lot of vegetation float past me. Usually sharp and scratchy, but once it caressed my foot and leg–a strange, gentle and unwelcome touch. Another time I accidentally grabbed a plant that wasn’t floating free, but was rooted to the lake bottom. How tall was it, I wonder. Anything else? As I was beginning my third loop, I heard the lifeguard calling out for the safety break. This lifeguard had a deep voice and a sense of humor. I laughed when he announced, over the loudspeaker, that the safety break was over. Was it what he said or how he said it? I can’t remember.

august 18/RUNSWIM

run: 3.15 miles
2 trails
78 degrees / dew point 67
sunny

Started and ended with Queen (Another One Bites the Dust) and a running playlist, in the middle, sounds from the gorge — laughing kids at a playground, scurrying animals in the dry brush, crunching gravel, trickling sewer pipes.

Now, sitting at my desk, I’m hearing the electric buzz of the cicadas. …and now, one or two minutes later, they’ve stopped. Now I hear birds–pretty sure it’s cardinals–and a kid repeatedly saying, “Uh oh uh oh uh oh!” An adult in a cooing voice: “Do you need help?” and “You’re not a baby, you’re a BIG girl!”

When I was running on the Winchell Trail, at the steepest part without a railing, I tried looking quickly at the river. Blue. Decided it was better to absorb it through my peripheral. Safer. I thought about how I like these bodily experiments (tracking my thoughts, what I notice) I’m doing as I run and swim. How they enable me to apply theories I’ve been playing around with for decades about epistemology and ontology and ethics.

I’ve been listening to an interview with Kaveh Akbar on Between the Covers, and I was struck by his definition of work in terms of revolutionary poetics:

One thing that I think about a lot is that a revolution comes in two parts; there’s the overthrow and the rebuild. Without either of those parts, it’s not a revolution. There has to be something being turned over and then there has to be something being set up in its place. It’s very easy to inhabit the carapace of revolutionary rhetoric without advancing something new. That, in and of itself by definition, isn’t revolutionary because there’s no rebuild. There’s no gesture towards a rebuild. I’ve talked to my students and my friends and the people with whom I’ve had this conversation in these discussions. I think a lot about the physics definition of work which is the force applied to an object in order to move it. If there’s force applied to an object and nothing moves, that’s not work. Similarly, if an object moves but you haven’t applied force to it, then you haven’t done work. If I say to a room full of people who agree with me, “F*ck Trump,” and I say that in a room full of poetry people, probably the majority of them will be like, “Yeah, f*ck Trump.” I haven’t really caused anything to move. I’ve inhabited the form of revolutionary rhetoric but I haven’t actually moved anything. By the physics definition of work, probably that’s not doing much or any work. 

Kaveh Akbar Interview

I think I’ll add this definition to my work page on undisciplined.

swim: 2 miles / 2 loops
cedar lake open swim
88 degrees / windy

Another windy day, another wave-filled lake. I’d like to be able to compare this to the sea or ocean. I know cedar lake waves are gentle swells, but how much more gentle, how much less choppy than a normal swim in the sea? Tonight, I did a better job of staying on my side of the lake as I swam towards the far beach. For the first few minutes of the swim, I felt weightless, light, but it didn’t take long for the water to drag my body down into the water. I didn’t want to, but I felt like I was having a fight with the water. Every stroke felt slightly off, not smooth, not easy.

Even struggling, it was a great swim. What a wonderful thing to be able to swim so much this summer! Already this week, 4 days in a row. I enjoyed glancing up at the sky sometimes when I breathed. It was mostly sunny, with some hulking clouds. One big cloud hovered behind me as I swam across. It loomed, almost menacingly, but I didn’t mind. I noticed the soft forms of the tree tops to my left and imagined fall coming (too?) soon. To my right, as I headed back, I could see something, not quite shining–I determined it was a small gap in the trees with the sun barely peeking through. Because of the bright sun and my vision, the orange buoy was completely invisible–was it to everyone else? Probably a little, but not as much as it was to me. I knew it was there, so I kept swimming, but I couldn’t see it until I was almost to it. This not-seeing is happening more this summer. It barely bothers me. It’s tiring, but I know I’m swimming the right way–using other landmarks and my established map of the route–so I don’t worry.

I do not like breaststroke. I recognize it’s value, especially in choppy water, and how it makes some swimmers feel more comfortable in the water, but I dislike being around breaststrokers. The irritating bobbing, which is hardly ever smooth, but jerky. The wide, strong kick. And the way that as I approach someone swimming breaststroke, it always seems very hard to pass them. They seem to be racing me for a bit, then they disappear. I know this is just how I see them–and perhaps it’s distorted by bad vision–and I know that it is ridiculous to dislike breaststroke for these reasons, but I do.

how could I forget this moment?

Had to revisit this log entry to add something that I almost forgot: after I finished swimming, as I was drying off, there was a young kid–less than 5, I think?–who kept repeating, “nanana boo boo.” At least 50 times. In the best (as in most effectively embodying) version of a bratty voice I’ve ever heard. Wow. STA walked by the kid and said he looked and sounded like a cartoon character of a bratty kid. He was not saying this to us, but to another kid, or to himself. Over and over and over again. It was both annoying and delightful. I’m glad I witnessed it and I’m glad it’s over.

The Swimmer/ Mary Oliver

All winter the water
has crashed over
the cold the cold sand. Now
it breaks over the thin

branch of your body.
You plunge down, you swim
two or three strokes, you dream
of lingering

in the luminous undertow
but can’t; you splash
through the bursting
white blossoms,

the silk sheets—gasping,
you rise and struggle
lightward, finding your way
through the blue ribs back

to the sun, and emerge
as though for the first time.
Poor fish,
poor flesh

you can never forget.
Once every wall was water,
the soft strings filled
with a perfect nourishment,

pumping your body full
of appetite, elaborating
your stubby bones, tucking in,
like stars,

the seeds of restlessness
that made you, finally,
swim toward the world,
kicking and shouting

but trailing a mossy darkness—
a dream that would never breathe air
and was hinged to your wildest joy
like a shadow.

Not sure how I feel about this water-as-womb idea. I like the idea of imaging a time before I/we were so separated from everything else, but not sure about the womb imagery. I like the line, “Poor fish,/ poor flesh./ You can never forget.”

august 17/SWIM

2 miles / 2 loops
lake nokomis open swim
88 degrees / windy

Another choppy night. No problems for me. I like the rocking of the waves and the chance to punch the water–not to release any anger, but energy. Heading back to the big beach on the first loop, I noticed a menacing sailboat. I wondered how close they would get–I find it hard to tell. Rounding the final green buoy right off the big beach was fun. It felt like a fast moving lazy river or a log ride. Wild. During the second loop my nose plug was too loose. I tried to stop mid-lake to fix it, but it didn’t help. As air leaked out, it made a strange, strangled noise. Sometimes my nose sounded like it was yelling underwater. I wonder if anyone else could hear it. How far do swimmers’ sounds travel? If I yelled underwater could anyone else hear it?

This month I’m trying to think about love in other forms, but I’m struggling. I think I’ve been distracted. And it’s been hard to find poems that speak to me. And maybe addressing love straight on is too difficult. Maybe I do better when I’m looking for other things, then love can appear on its own terms. Here is a series of 5 poems by Amorak Huey, all about a famous logjam. I love that they wrote not 1 or 2 but 5 poems about the logjam. I read about logging along the Mississippi River gorge in the mid to late 1800s, before the timber was depleted and the flour mills took over. At first, I wasn’t sure how this fit into the theme of love, but love (and water, another recent theme) is in several of the poems.

5 Poems/ Amorak Huey

LOGJAM

               The 1883 logjam on Michigan’s Grand River 
               was one of the biggest in the history of logging.

Listen: one hundred fifty million feet of logs: skew and splinter thirty feet high for seven river-miles. Sky of only lightning, mouth of only teeth, all bite and churn, thrust and spear, the kind of mess made by men who have men to clean up their messes. It rains. Thirty-seven million tons of white pine clears its throat. Water rises. The bridges will go soon. Listen closely: underneath the knock and clatter, the trees still sing. The song is a violence. 

LIKE GREAT HARPS ON WHICH THE WIND MAKES MUSIC

                                         —Henry David Thoreau, on the Eastern White Pine

Dark ghosts, tall as moonlight.
Shadows without shadows.
Listen. This wind will not last.
Such music will never play again.

The smallness of a man
who enters a forest to destroy a forest;
who believes that to name a tree
is to claim its strength as his own—

across the lake, a city burns. 

O-WASH-TA-NONG, MEANING FAR-AWAY-WATER

Across Happy Hollow Road, across Gillespie’s pasture, past barbwire and tree line, the river of my childhood still twists and eddies south toward the gulf, cold as memory’s fist, even on the sunniest day, even decades later as I cross a new river each day, the same river, the only river, the river I’ve invented, shaped and poured to quench my thirst to be loved, a filled trench, a scar left 11,000 years ago as the great glaciers crawled north, meltwater left to find its own way to the lake. The story of a river in America is always a story of destruction.  

“A HUNDRED DOLLARS TO AN OLD HAT SHE HOLDS”

                                      —Local paper, predicting an iron railroad bridge 
                                      would withstand the logjam; the bridge was swept 
                                      away while the ink was still wet.

What if I’ve learned the wrong lesson from every story?
What if a flood, after all, is only a flood, cleansing nothing? 

What if our sins cannot be washed away so easily,
if all our stumbling will leave us lost, still?

Somewhere I learned to love the kind of man I am not. 
Knuckle-scar. Thick forearms. Beer-bottle-dark eyes

and a sense of duty. The strength to hold a tugboat steady in rushing water
while other men sledgehammer pilings into place, an obstacle

to catch what comes our way, it’s a matter of time—
all that’s upstream breaks free.

THE ENGINEER WHO FIXED THE LOGJAM RECEIVES A GOLD WATCH FOR HIS TROUBLE

I know so much about how water moves 
it leaves me dizzy. I know time and rivers
are tools the rich use to make fools 
of the rest of us; no limit to the weight a man 
can heave onto the backs of other men.
What else to do but decide to survive?
Water has no memory, is only memory,
is the world’s purest form of desire,
the relentless drive to return home
whatever the cost. It’s all any of us want,
to have a smoke and finish the job,
carry our weary bodies to a hearth
somewhere, a resting place
and the warmth of someone who loves us.
If water cannot go through, it goes around.

I want to spend more time with these poems to think through some of the lines, like the last one: “If water cannot go through, it goes around.” How does this fit with water as the world’s purest form of desire that can quench our thirst to be loved but never saves or cleanses us, but keeps us lost.

And now I’m wondering about the differences between types of water–the water in a lake as compared to a river, the sea, an ocean, a glass, a pool, a stream, a ditch? How do they express (embody?) love in different ways?

august 16/RUNSWIM

run: 10k
franklin loop + extra
67 degrees

A 10k. I needed to check back through my logs to find out the last time I ran this far. November 4, 2019. Wow. I’ve still been running a lot, just more frequently and less distance. It felt pretty good until the very end. STA and I are signed up to run the 10 mile in October. Will it even happen? Not sure.

It was sunny, not too windy, and mostly not too hot. In the shade it was fine. Ran north on the river road trail until crossing at franklin. Heard the rowers down on the river. Two coxswains, one male, one female. Their voices echoing through the bullhorn. With the echoing, it sounded more serious than a practice. A race? Or was it only how the sound travels differently on the east side, as opposed to the west side of the river. Would more open space, less trees in the gorge, change how the voices traveled?

And, I saw someone riding a unicycle–first time ever while running, I think.

Thought about what a wonderful time I had with my college friends, how great it was to be challenged and stimulated and reminded of the importance of friends and community. Also thought about some of our discussions about how people come together in crises–neighbors helping neighbors when intense storms do severe damage to houses, buildings, towns. We need that sense of community AND we also need to do what we can to prevent these powerful storms/ erratic weather patterns from happening more frequently. Why do so many of us seem unwilling to work on the prevention, on radically transforming how we live, and how we continue to take without (enough) concern for its impact on the earth and all of its inhabitants?

The Clock! That 12-figured moon skull!

Before heading out for my run this morning, I learned about the debut poetry collection from Adam O. Davis: Index of Haunted Houses. Amazing! Found these epigraphs at the beginning and started thinking about other things I had read about clocks and time:

Think of this: When they present you with a watch they are gifting you with a tiny flowering hell, a wreath of roses, a dungeon of air…. They aren’t giving you a watch, you are the gift, they’re giving you yourself for the watch’s birthday.

Julio Cortázar

Years, like any other measure of time, offer mankind the promise of isolate events, of an origin and terminus to history, when in relatiy there is no isolating time as time has no origin or terminus. 1980 never existed, or, if it did, it has always been 1980.

Muriel Échecs

After all, the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing, and prospering in the world. I am strongly of the opinion that the great majority of people will always find these the moving impulses of life.

Calvin Coolidge*

*After writing this, I listened to an excellent podcast–The Scottish Poetry Library--with Adam O. Davis and the host mentioned what Dorothy Parker said about Coolidge after he died: “How can they tell?” Ha!

Here’s something I read just yesterday from Love of Lakes/ Darby Nelson

We talk of time as the river flowing. I never questioned the implications of that metaphor until I was struck by the words of Professor Dave Edmunds, Native American, on a display in the Indian-Western Art Museum in Indianapolis. Edmunds wrote, ‘Time as a river is a more Euro-American concept of time, with each event happening and passing on like a river flows downstream. Time as a pond is a more Native American concept of time, with everything happening on the same surface, in the same area—and each even is a ripple on the surface.’

If I think of time as a river, I predispose myself to think linearly, to see events as unconnected, where a tree branch falling into the river at noon is swept away by current to remain eternally separated in time and space from the butterfly that falls in an hour later and thrashes about seeking floating refuge.

But if I think of time as a lake, I see ripples set in motions by one even touching an entire shore and then, when reflected back toward the middle, meeting ripples from other events, each changing the other in their passing. I think of connectedness, or relationships, and interacting events that matter greatly to lakes.

For Love of Lakes/ Darby Nelson

I’m also thinking of Mary Oliver and her reoccurring clocks as representing the restrictions of ordinary time.

And there is the attentive, social self. This is the smiler and the doorkeeper. This is the portion that winds the clock, that steers through the dailiness of life, that keeps in mind appointments that must be made, and then met. It is fettered to a thousand notions of obligation. It moves across the hours of the day as though the movement itself were the whole task. Whether it gathers as it goes some branch of wisdom or delight, or nothing at all, is a matter with which it is hardly concerned. What this self hears night and day, what it loves beyond all other songs, is the endless springing forward of the clock, those measures strict and vivacious, and full of certainty.

The clock! That twelve-figured moon skull, that white spider belly! How serenely the hands move with their filigree pointers, and how steadily! Eat, speak, sleep, cross a street, wash a dish! The clock is still ticking. All its vistas are just so broad–are regular. (Notice that word.) Every day, twelve little bins in which to order disorderly life, and even more disorderly thought. The town’s clock cries out, and the face on every wrist hums or shines’ the world keeps pace with itself. Another day is passing, a regular and ordinary day. (Notice that world also.)

“Of Power and Time” in Upstream/ Mary Oliver

from a log entry on april 7, 2021

I’m thinking about words like: inefficient, clockwork, pace (as in, “keep up the” or running pace or the hectic pace of modern life), mechanization, industrialization, useless, instrumental, accessible, smooth, easy, fast, relevant, order, discipline, attention economy, rest, restlessness, sleep, internal clocks, spending time vs. passing it, paying or giving attention, eyeballs on the page, obscure, unnoticed, unnoticing.

And that the battery in my apple watch is dying and how, even though I depended on it so much before, I’m considering not replacing it and not wearing a watch. Not keeping track of my pace.

And, I’m thinking about these beautiful lines from Alice Oswald’s “Evaporations”:

In their lunch hour
I saw the shop-workers get into water
They put their watches on the stones and slithered
frightened
Into the tight-fitting river
And shook out cuffs of splash
And swam wide strokes towards the trees
And after a while swam back
With rigid cormorant smiles
Shocked I suppose from taking on
Something impossible to think through
Something old and obsessive like the centre of a rose
And for that reason they quickly turned
And struggled out again and retrieved their watches
Stooped on the grass-line hurrying now
They began to laugh and from their meaty backs
A million crackling things
Burst into flight which was either water
Or the hour itself ascending.

swim: 2.1 miles / 5 loops
cedar lake open swim
84 degrees / windy

Another great swim at cedar lake. The water was very choppy with lots of swells. It was windy. The waves didn’t bother me at all, but my legs were sore from my 10K earlier in the day. My left hip hurt. Swam on the edge of the course to avoid other people–so I wouldn’t have to worry about running into them. Almost ran into a lifeguard on a kayak a few times. I think they might have been trying to get me to swim closer to the buoys. I suppose I was fairly far from them, but I wanted to use the break in the trees as my guide. In years past, being nudged by the lifeguard might have bothered me, making me feel like I was doing something wrong or failing, but not this year. I’m happy to not be so hard on myself or to always need to be doing it the proper/right way.

For much of the loop I could only breathe on one side–when I breathed on the other side, I got a mouth full of water from a wave. I mostly breathed every six strokes. No difficulty breathing, no shortness of breath. I like holding my breath for longer.

I didn’t look at the sky much. It was hard to see in the midst of all the waves. Not sure if there were any planes or birds. Hard to notice anything else but the water and others’ elbows and bright caps and the orange buoys — which I could not really see.

My challenge for the last 3 swims (only 3 left at cedar): to crack the code for the stretch between the start of the loop to the far beach. For some reason, no matter how much I try–stopping briefly at the start to sight the distant orange buoy, swimming farther out and away from the other side–I always end up swimming too close to others swimming the other way. I can’t figure out if there’s a current pushing me that way or something else that makes me lose my wider trajectory. I can barely see the orange buoy, so I’m relying on other things. So far, I haven’t found a helpful landmark on the other shore. I want to figure this out before I’m done for the season.

Still in the month of exploring different notions of love in poetry. Here’s a poem by Paul Tran that I think fits:

Bioluminescence/ Paul Tran

There’s a dark so deep beneath the sea the creatures beget their own
light. This feat, this fact of adaptation, I could say, is beautiful

though the creatures are hideous. Lanternfish. Hatchetfish. Viperfish.
I, not unlike them, forfeited beauty to glimpse the world hidden

by eternal darkness. I subsisted on falling matter, unaware
from where or why matter fell, and on weaker creatures beguiled

by my luminosity. My hideous face opening, suddenly, to take them
into a darkness darker and more eternal than this underworld

underwater. I swam and swam toward nowhere and nothing.
I, after so much isolation, so much indifference, kept going

even if going meant only waiting, hovering in place. So far below, so far
away from the rest of life, the terrestrial made possible by and thereby

dependent upon light, I did what I had to do. I stalked. I killed.
I wanted to feel in my body my body at work, working to stay

alive. I swam. I kept going. I waited. I found myself without meaning
to, without contriving meaning at the time, in time, in the company

of creatures who, hideous like me, had to be their own illumination.
Their own god. Their own genesis. Often we feuded. Often we fused

like anglerfish. Blood to blood. Desire to desire. We were wild. Bewildered.
Beautiful in our wilderness and wildness. In the most extreme conditions

we proved that life can exist. I exist. I am my life, I thought, approaching
at last the bottom of the sea. It wasn’t the bottom. It wasn’t the sea.

Wow! You can listen to Tran read this poem on The New Yorker site. I love their dramatic reading–so powerful and delightful and wonderful. I understand the poem to be about finding/forging/fighting for a love of self. I love their lines about living without light, about finding life beyond the life that needs light to be possible. My relationship to light is changing as my eyesight deteriorates. Earlier on, sunlight could be too bright–it would hurt my eyes. Now that I’ve lost most of my cone cells, it doesn’t bother me as much. Nothing is that bright. I have a low vision lamp that helps me to read more easily. When light isn’t bright enough, the letters become too fuzzy. Some day, even the brightest bulb won’t matter. I must learn to live with less light. It will never be as dark as the deep sea in the poem (at least, most likely not), but it will be faded and not much help. No more shedding light on a situation for me.

august 15/SWIM

2 miles / 2 loops
lake nokomis open swim
70 degrees

Just got back from a trip up to the North Shore with 5 of my college friends. We’ve known each other for 29 years. Wow. We hiked and walked, ran (just a little), and kayaked. A wonderful time.

Today was my first swim since last Monday. A beautiful, sunny day. Lots of swells. Not rough or choppy, just wavy. Heading to the little beach, I felt high on the water, buoyant. In the middle of lake, I started to feel the swells. I noticed many others stopping their freestyle to do some breaststroke. Rounding the white buoy at the little beach, I felt even more waves. A gentle rocking. I wonder how many other swimmers enjoyed it like I did. After rounding the final green buoy and heading back to the start, the swells were behind me, lifting me up. A strange feeling. Something not quite right. I was moving and able to push and pull in the water, but it almost felt like the water was holding me up. I thought about Lynne Cox and her story of swimming above a young whale, how the water was sucked out from underneath her. What I was feeling was completely different, but I wondered if there was some similar sensation. I wonder if I will ever experience this again. I liked it.

august 9/RUNSWIM

run: 4.35 miles
minnehaha falls and back
70 degrees
humidity: 93% / dew point: 68

Ran south to the falls. More rain last night. The dirt, muddy. The tree branches, dripping. Stopped to check out the falls. More water falling. Also noticed how much I was sweating. Hard for my sweat to evaporate when the dew point is so high. Heading north, I turned down on the Winchell Trail. The mud was slippery and the path was crowded–more people on it than I’ve seen in weeks. No noise from the sewer pipe at 44th, but the one at 42nd was gushing. Los of cars and bikes rushing by on the path. A good run.

moment of curiosity

Just south of the double bridge at 44th, the walking trail splits from the bike trail and briefly descends down before climbing back up to meet with the bike trail beside the road again. This path is bumpy and narrow and steep–a perfect place to trip. And it adds an additional mini hill to climb. If you stay up above, the trail is all downhill. I never used to take it because it was easier (and safer) to stay up above, but lately I’ve been enjoying it. Today, as I was climbing out of it, I noticed a suitcase and a lampshade tucked away, under the low branches of a tree, hidden from the road. Who put it there, I wondered, and why? Had they left, and were they coming back for it later? Did they live down below, by the river? Had they hidden it a few days ago, or much longer? What did this suitcase contain? Clothes? Money?

swim: 2.25 miles / 6 loops
cedar lake open swim
84 degrees

A great Cedar Lake swim! Smooth and not too crowded. Near the shore, the water was very cold, but as I swam out deeper, it warmed up. I did a better job of sighting the orange buoy at the far beach and staying away from other swimmers. The thing I remember most: so much milfoil! Scratchy, persistent. It felt like some of it got in my suit–rough and irritating. It wrapped around my shoulder, my arm. Moved slowly down my back. No fish, some paddle boarders, a few planes.

At point beach, there’s a sandbar near the shore, but very soon, it drops away. How deep is the water here? I’m not sure. In other spots, where you can touch bottom, there’s lots of vegetation. The floor feels slimy and soft and gross. At east/hidden beach, the bottom is mostly small rocks.

Rounding the buoy, starting a new loop, a swimmer coming from shore cut me off and I had to stop for a second. I wasn’t upset because I’m never sure who has the right of way here. The swimmer seemed like they were going pretty fast. I followed behind, steadily. I think they almost ran into a few other swimmers. Just before we reached the far buoy, I passed them. Is it bad that this made me feel good? I’m not really competitive in the water, but I do enjoy passing people, not because I’m beating them (well, not too much because of this), but because swimming past someone slower than you makes you feel like you’re swimming fast. It’s fun to feel fast–powerfully gliding on top of the water.

I wanted to be surprised./ Jane Hirshfield

To such a request, the world is obliging.

In just the past week, a rotund porcupine,
who seemed equally startled by me.

The man who swallowed a tiny microphone
to record the sounds of his body,
not considering beforehand how he might remove it.

A cabbage and mustard sandwich on marbled bread.

How easily the large spiders were caught with a clear plastic cup
surprised even them.

I don’t know why I was surprised every time love started or ended.
Or why each time a new fossil, Earth-like planet, or war.
Or that no one kept being there when the doorknob had clearly.

What should not have been so surprising:
my error after error, recognized when appearing on the faces of others.

What did not surprise enough:
my daily expectation that anything would continue,
and then that so much did continue, when so much did not.

Small rivulets still flowing downhill when it wasn’t raining.
A sister’s birthday.

Also, the stubborn, courteous persistence.
That even today please means please,
good morning is still understood as good morning,

and that when I wake up,
the window’s distant mountain remains a mountain,
the borrowed city around me is still a city, and standing.

Its alleys and markets, offices of dentists,
drug store, liquor store, Chevron.
Its library that charges—a happy surprise—no fine for overdue books:
Borges, Baldwin, Szymborska, Morrison, Cavafy.

—2018

I like this poem and thinking about wanting to be surprised, and then about the differences between experiencing pleasure and joy and love and surprise. Is one of these more important than the others?

august 8/SWIM

2 miles / 2 loops
lake nokomis open swim
73 degrees

Very nice open swim! Super smooth water and overcast. Not too crowded and not too bright. Still couldn’t see the buoys that well, but it didn’t matter. What a joy to be swimming this morning. I encountered some swimmers–was seriously routed by one–but mostly felt alone. Just me and the water. Back to the swimmer who routed me: I was swimming on the inside, trying to get ahead of them. They kept drifting in the wrong direction. Finally they almost ran into me. I stopped for a second, they did too. Then I was able to go around them. A strange moment–not upsetting or irritating, just strange. I don’t remember seeing (or sensing) any fish. No loud noises or strange smells or choppy waves. No milfoil. No ducks. One seagull, perched on a white buoy near the little beach. At least one plane. No sailboats or paddle boarders. No conversations with other swimmers.

august 6/SWIM

3.25 miles / 3 full loops + 2 mini loops
lake nokomis open swim
72 degrees

A great morning swim. Sunny, bright. Almost impossible to see anything at the start of the loop. I didn’t try, just trusted my strokes and shoulders and some part of me to know where the far shore was. It worked. Swam straight to the little beach and the overturned rowboat. Again, I marvel at how I can swim without seeing, how I swim straight into a background of vague greens and blues–no landmarks or distinctive forms. Water, sky, trees. About halfway to the other shore, I did get a quick flash of the boat bottom, but only once or twice. Also, a few times, people or lifeguards on kayaks popped up in front of me. I had enough time to avoid running into them. My feet didn’t feel strange, my shoulders didn’t hurt. Next time, I’ll have to swim a little longer. Anything else I remember? My goggles are still fogging up sometimes. I think I saw a fish just below me. A few vines of milfoil brushed past me. Some loud planes roared overhead. A seagull was perched on a white buoy I was approaching near the little beach. A few kayaks crossed my path. I mostly breathed every five, but sometimes I breathed every three or three then five.

Another love poem:

The More Loving One/ W. H. Auden – 1907-1973

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

august 4/SWIM

2.25 miles/ 6 loops
cedar lake open swim
80 degrees

It’s hard to believe that I didn’t like cedar lake a month ago. What a great place to swim! Relaxed, easier to sight–and also easier to stay on course when you can’t sight, less crowded, shorter loops for faster, continuous swimming. It was windy tonight, and choppy in the water. My feet felt a little weird the first few loops, but they didn’t cramp up.

2 memorable things about the swim:

  1. The sky: noticed several planes above me, moving in and out of clouds. At Nokomis, the planes look like sharks circling in the sky, here they look like birds. Stopped mid-swim to determine if what I was seeing above me was a plane or a bird then watched it (a bird) soaring high.
  2. The vegetation: So many vines being stirred up by the wind and the choppy water. Sharp and scratchy, hitting my face, wrapping around my arm. At least one or two traveled down my back, which was very unpleasant. Several years ago, I remember getting part of a vine in my mouth. Gross.

Because the loops are shorter and I have a clear landmark to sight heading back from east (hidden) to point beach, I don’t have to be thinking constantly about where I was going. I could let my mind wander. I know it did, but I can’t remember what I thought about. Possibly about the optometrist appointment I had earlier in the day. Confirmation, yet again, that my vision is deteriorating. Difficult news every time I hear it, yet reassuring too. I’m not making this up, I really can’t see well. The doctor said almost all of my cone cells were gone. Just two tiny islands, one in each eye, protected by the rod cells I have in the very center. He said he was surprised that I could see as well as I could. So strange how vision works. I hardly have any cone cells left, but the few that remain are working so hard that the vision in my right eye is still 20/20 and 20/40 in my left. What? A new worry: possible deterioration of some of my periphery. It’s called paving stone deterioration. It is not that big of a deal, just something to monitor. Still, it’s unsettling to imagine losing some or all of my peripheral too.

I don’t have a poem about love to add here, but I’m thinking about care and my hard working cone cells and protecting rods and what they’re doing for me and the amount of love they show me everyday. This love is not the primary goal, but is still a part of what our bodies do for us everyday until, one day, they don’t: in spite of the odds and the difficulties, they find a way to keep working, even if that “working” barely works, or works in different ways. Does that make sense?

august 3/RUN

run: 3 miles
2 trails
69 degrees

A nice morning for a run, even if the smoke from the Canadian wildfires is still lingering. We are in a drought and everything is dry. Only a trickle out of the sewer at 42nd. My steps on the dirt and gravel sound sharper, crisper and the rustling in the bushes, more ominous. All around the leaves and vines droop, gasping for moisture. Running on the lower trail, I could smell the sewer more than usual. Overripe. Unpleasant. Near the start of my run, I could hear the coxswain calling out on the river.

Mostly I enjoyed my run, but I struggled to find the love for others and not just annoyance. Bikers cutting too close, walkers not giving me enough room. Running south on the upper trail in the morning is a challenge. Too many walkers and bikers, all seeming closer with my vision. I uttered, under my breath, “what the fuck?” several times. After the second or third time I thought, “what is wrong with people?,” I decided that it was not them, or me (which is often my next conclusion in these situations), but the trail. From the spot above the oak savanna to 44th, this stretch is a problem. The running and biking paths only separate a few times, and the bike trail is almost always right next to the road and to speeding cars, traveling too fast on a windy, narrow road intended for pleasure drives not commuting. So, to find the love, I will try to avoid running on this part of the trail. Because of how narrow it is and my constant need to look out for others when I’m on it, it isn’t usually much fun. I’m fine with finding other ways to run south. I might try running on Edmund or in the grassy boulevard again.

Here’s one of Maggie Smith’s most well-known poems. It feels fitting for a month about love and finding the love in spite of the world:

Good Bones/ Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

swim: 2.25 miles / 2.3 loops
lake nokomis open swim
85 degrees

Choppy tonight. So choppy that they removed the green buoys; they were drifting too much. On my first loop, heading towards the little beach, my eyes began to burn. I hadn’t washed enough of the baby wash out that I used to anti-fog my googles. It got so bad, I swam much of it with my eyes closed. Didn’t matter; I still swam straight. I stopped at the white buoy off of the little beach and rinsed my eyes out. Ouch. On the second loop, my feet started feeling weird. Almost like they might cramp up. Unsettling. I paused a few times mid-lake to try to relax them. Stopped after loop 2 thinking I was probably done. Not tired, just scared of foot cramps in the middle of the lake, too far from a shore. Decided to try one more loop. Still felt weird, so I turned around at the second buoy and headed back. Not as much as I would have liked to swim, but still over 2 miles. Met STA for a beer at Sandcastle. Even with the problems in the water, it was a nice night.

july 29/RUNBIKESWIMBIKE

run: 3.25 miles
2 trails
77 degrees

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:

thoughts will running/ 29 july

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!):

WAVE AFTER WAVE/ M. Bartley Seigel

Dawn, a lit fuse. The radioman says
“bombogenesis,” like agates tumbling
from a jar—system as meteorite
off Whitefish Point. In other words, water

lynx, Mishipeshu, lathered up in red.
In a heartbeat, rollers mass two stories
trough to insatiate tempest, unquelled
by prayer nor cigarette, careless, mean,

a cold-blooded indifference so pure,
a strong swimmer won’t last ten wet minutes.
At the Keweenaw, surf pummels the stamp
sands with ochre fists, ore boats stack up lee

of the stone, and entire beaches stand up
to walk away. At Marquette, two lovers
walk onto Black Rocks, sacrificial lambs—
their bodies will never be recovered.

july 27/RUNSWIM

run: 3.5 miles
2 trails
78 degrees
humidity: 79% / dew point: 68

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.

Entanglements

  • 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.

water thoughts

1

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%.

The Water in You

2

A science poem for 3rd graders:

Sound Waves/ Amy Ludwig VanDerwate

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.

3

…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.

How Sound Waves Work Underwater

july 26/SWIM

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.

july 25/SWIMRUN

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

1

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.

2

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.

3

7 Shard/ CAConrad


                            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

4

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.

MPR News/ July 21, 2021

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.

july 23/BIKESWIMBIKE

bike: 8.6 miles
lake nokomis and back
83 degrees

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.

Source

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.

Dragonfly eyes/ Ray Cannon’s nature notes

Also see this article from a 2015 New Scientist: Dragonfly eyes see the world in ultra-multicolour

Here’s a poem about dragonflies:

After the Dragonflies/ W.S. Merwin

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.

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

july 20/SWIM

2 loops/2 miles
lake nokomis open swim
88 degrees
air quality warning: smoke from canada

A strange night. Very hazy from the wildfires in Canada. Choppy water. Right as we were about to start, the lifeguards cleared the beach. I couldn’t see it, but I think someone had to be rescued. I’m assuming they’re okay because there was no ambulance and we were able to get in the water just a few minutes late. So crowded! Lots of people at the beach because of the heat, tons of open water swimmers. They’re must be a triathlon soon that people are training for.

The far green buoy, the one closest to the little beach, was not close at all. As far out to the left as I’ve seen it. Every week it’s different. I am so happy to know that this doesn’t bother me at all. I’m not worried about getting off course or needing to stop and check where the buoy is. I’m confident I’ll eventually find it and I won’t get lost in the middle–how could I? I know this lake very well by now. Instead of scaring me, when I can’t find the buoy, I enjoy the challenge. I look for the splash of an arm, or keep swimming in the direction I think it is, knowing that it will show up…eventually. Building up this confidence in the water, makes me believe that I can be okay on land too, even when I can’t see.

The moment of the night

I’ve just rounded the ridiculously far out green buoy for the first time. It’s so far that it’s right by all of the sailboats. Later I joked with STA that I was swimming in the shipping lane. The air is very hazy from smoke. The water is choppy. No whitecaps, just rough water that throws you around a bit. Suddenly, a line of military planes flies over the lake, low and loud. What the hell is going on? I felt like I was in a scene from Apocalypse Now. Surreal.

I only swam 2 loops which I was think was the right call. Too smoky. Too hard to breathe. Hopefully this smoke will have cleared by Thursday.

Looked up “smoke water poem” and found this great one by the wonderful poet, Jane Kenyon:

The Pond at Dusk/ JANE KENYON

A fly wounds the water but the wound   
soon heals. Swallows tilt and twitter   
overhead, dropping now and then toward   
the outward-radiating evidence of food.

The green haze on the trees changes   
into leaves, and what looks like smoke   
floating over the neighbor’s barn   
is only apple blossoms.

But sometimes what looks like disaster   
is disaster: the day comes at last,
and the men struggle with the casket   
just clearing the pews.

Wow. Earlier today, I was thinking and writing about how we don’t leave a trace/evidence in the water. No footprints or trampled down grass. The first bit of this poem reminded me of that–the fly that wounds the water but that wound soon heals. I love the idea of a tree’s green haze turning into leaves. Often when I look at trees, they’re just a blur of soft green–fuzzy, hazy. And both the smoke that wasn’t smoke and the disaster that was a disaster. What an ending!