july 2/SWIMBIKE

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

A wonderful open swim morning. I couldn’t see the backlit orange buoys at all, but that didn’t matter. No swimming off course today, or stopping. Powerful strokes cutting through smooth, calm, fast water. Excellent. Thought about how it’s hard to daydream while swimming across the lake because I need to focus on making sure I’m still going the right way. Will this change the more I swim? I could hear the water sloshing over me as I breathed every 5 strokes. I worked on pushing down more with my left hand as it cut in under my body. Noticed lots of splashing from other people and felt smug about how little splash I create. I am not proud of my smugness, just wanted to make note of it. I might have seen some fish. Noticed at least 3 different paddle boarders crossing the path just before I got there. What an amazing way to spend a Friday morning!

bike: 8.6 miles
lake nokomis
85 degrees

STA came with me for open swim and we are so pleased to be by the lake on this summer morning that we drove home to get our work and then biked back for the afternoon. We sat at the same picnic table we had the night before, drank some beer, ate some fries, watched 3 cute french bulldogs at a nearby table, and did a little work (STA, emails to clients/ me, reviewing notes, writing in my plague notebook). What a day! Lots of paddle boarders, sail boats, swimmers, bikers, and runners.

Morning Swim/ Maxine Kumin

Into my empty head there come
a cotton beach, a dock wherefrom

I set out, oily and nude
through mist, in chilly solitude.

There was no line, no roof or floor
to tell the water from the air.

Night fog thick as terry cloth
closed me in its fuzzy growth.

I hung my bathrobe on two pegs.
I took the lake between my legs.

Invaded and invader, I
went overhand on that flat sky.

Fish twitched beneath me, quick and tame.
In their green zone they sang my name

and in the rhythm of the swim
I hummed a two-four-time slow hymn.

I hummed “Abide With Me.” The beat
rose in the fine thrash of my feet,

rose in the bubbles I put out
slantwise, trailing through my mouth.

My bones drank water; water fell
through all my doors. I was the well

that fed the lake that met my sea
in which I sang “Abide With Me.”

july 1/BIKESWIMBIKE

bike: 8.6 miles
lake nokomis and back
85 degrees

Biked with STA to the lake for open swim. Not too difficult. Again, it helped that I didn’t need to pass anyone and it wasn’t that crowded. After the swim, leaving the lake, it was a little crazier. Lots of walkers on the bike path, feral kids zig-zagging on the path, a stalled surrey stuck in the middle of the trail.

swim: 3 miles/ 3 loops
lake nokomis open swim
85 degrees
partly sunny/slightly choppy

Wow, this was the most difficult open swim yet. I didn’t mind the swells near the big beach, but the placement of the green buoys so far from the beach, the bright sun draining them of color and shape, and the sneaky sailboats impersonating them, it was very hard to sight anything. When I stopped a few times to get my bearings, I still couldn’t see anything. Luckily, I never got off course too much and I kept swimming for 3 loops. After the swim, I met up with STA for a beer at Sandcastle. Very nice. It really felt like covid had never happened, which was mostly good. Saw lots of cute dogs and sailing boats. A beautiful night to be out in the world instead of holed up in the house.

july’s theme

It’s the first day of July, which means a new theme. Last month was water and stone. Up until a few hours ago, I was convinced that this month’s theme would be water, especially as it relates to my swimming. But I started thinking about open swim and then wrote in my almost finished Plague Notebook, Vol 8:

not wild or natural…not a wild swim, but an open swim…not pure adventure in unchartered territory but not really urban or tightly planned either…just off the beaten path…how do I describe where and what this is—this = being = running or walking or swimming or breathing outside?

And then, after walking Delia the dog:

Thinking about the “wild” and my neighborhood. Not wild, but messy, unkempt, order still there (or the trace of order) but yards/flowers left alone to roam or wander. Not rigid, tight control or the sharpness of a trimmed, edged lawn, approximate, not tidy but not chaos, a bit disheveled, off-track but cared for, attended to, intentional

I started thinking about centers and edges, which led me back to Emily Dickinson and her circumference, but also to Mary Oliver, and her devotion to things having a place in the world, in the family of things. And now I am wondering what to do with all of these ideas, what to spend time with this month? I think all of this wandering and wondering has to do with making sense of the place I’m recognizing (and creating) for myself, swimming in a swamp that was made into a lake 100 years ago and is carefully managed by a park system. Swimming across a lake in designated areas, with hundreds of others, watched over by lifeguards. It’s not the ocean or a remote lake or a secret swimming hole, but it’s also not a safe, chlorinated, regimented pool. There are bacteria and big fish and weeds that want to drag you to the bottom.

I’m listening to the latest Between the Covers podcast with Arthur Sze. Wow, he’s amazing. He read this poem midway through the episode.

The Unnamed River/ Arthur Sze

1

Is it in the anthracite face of a coal miner,
crystallized in the veins and lungs of a steel
worker, pulverized in the grimy hands of a railroad engineer?
Is it in a child naming a star, coconuts washing
ashore, dormant in a volcano along the Rio Grande?

You can travel the four thousand miles of the Nile
to its source and never find it.
You can climb the five highest peaks of the Himalayas
and never recognize it.
You can gaze though the largest telescope
and never see it.

But it’s in the capillaries of your lungs.
It’s in the space as you slice open a lemon.
It’s in a corpse burning on the Ganges,
in rain splashing on banana leaves.

Perhaps you have to know you are about to die
to hunger for it. Perhaps you have to go
alone in the jungle armed with a spear
to truly see it. Perhaps you have to
have pneumonia to sense its crush.

But it’s also in the scissor hands of a clock.
It’s in the precessing motion of a top
when a torque makes the axis of rotation describe a cone:
and the cone spinning on a point gathers
past, present, future.

2

In a crude theory of perception, the apple you
see is supposed to be a copy of the actual apple,
but who can step out of his body to compare the two?
Who can step out of his life and feel
the Milky Way flow out of his hands?

An unpicked apple dies on a branch:
that is all we know of it.
It turns black and hard, a corpse on the Ganges.
Then go ahead and map out three thousand mile of the Yantze;
walk each inch, feel its surge and
flow as you feel the surge and flow in your own body.

And the spinning cone of a precessing top
is a form of existence that gathers and spins death and life into one.
It is in the duration of words, but beyond words—
river river river, river river.
The coal miner may not know he has it.
The steel worker may not know he has it.
The railroad engineer may not know he has it.
But it is there. It is in the smell
of an avocado blossom, and in the true passion of a kiss.

june 29/RUNSWIM

run: 3.3 miles
trestle turn around
70 degrees
humidity: 87% / dew point: 66

A birthday run after it rained. Not a downpour, just a light shower. Everything felt cool until the sun came out and my body warmed up. Saw Dave the Daily Walker and we talked about both feeling sick a year and a half ago and meeting on the trail (march 13, 2020). He wondered if we both might have had covid. I’ve wondered too. Probably not.

Tried to see the river, but couldn’t through the veil of green. Greeted the Welcoming Oaks and intended to count the stacked stones on the ancient boulder but somewhere between the last oak and the boulder, I forgot. What happened in those 5 or 10 seconds? I think I was distracted by the clanging of a dog’s collar down below. One of the reasons I decided to run this morning was to travel through the tunnel of trees right after it rained. Everything is dark green. But by the time I had reached this spot, it had lightened up too much. Still, it was peaceful and shaded and green. I quickly glanced down below me and thought about how not being able to see the forest floor (because of the leaves and vines) made me feel higher up–floating or flying in green air.

There’s another spot on the trail, not too far past the old stone steps but before Minnehaha Academy, where the trail splits: the bike path stays above next to the road, the running path drops slightly and hugs the side of the bluff. Any time of the year, the running path is narrow here, being so close to the edge and because of a big tree at one spot–what kind of tree? probably an oak–but it becomes even more narrow in the summer when the all the green comes. Today, it was a tight squeeze. Running through, I felt the dew from a few reaching leaves.

Found this poem on poetry foundation when I searched for “rock.” My family’s farm (sold in 2004) had lots of rock piles and they were part of the legend of our family as Puotinens who persist.

Rockpile/ Robert Morgan (1985)

Sprinkled with a luminous dust
of moss and algae, the rocks seem
alive in the sunken woods, bright
as Christmas balls or peeled and
rotting globes, their maps just rags
of lichens and their worlds oblong,
broken, dented eggs. And ferns feather
through the edges of the mound like
a circle of fire around the cairn
or fallen monument. But no
pagan elders worshipped here or
committed sacrifices on this altar.
Though five or six generations
of children carried the stones out
of a field, pried them up with picks
and poles, heaved and toted them
like curses to the edge of the woods
(what frost had worked to the surface
each year like tubers and bones)
until they had a chimney’s worth
and more, piled for snakes to thread
and poison oak to wind. Though fields
they cleared have been woods for a century
and the kids who struggled the weights
from clay are now grandfathers of
grandfathers, each with his own stone.

About 10 years, I created a digital story out of old footage STA took at the farm:

swim: 3 miles/ 3 loops
lake nokomis open swim
82 degrees/sunny/calm

I felt strong and didn’t stop between loops–I paused a few times to clear my goggles or adjust my nose plug or try and see where the green buoys were. I would like to try for a 5k on Thursday.

It feels like it’s getting harder to see the orange buoys. I am not having any problems staying on course, but I’m relying more on other landmarks. Is this a sign that my vision is declining more? Or, is it just where the light is and how it hits the buoys?

Things I Remember From My Swim

  • Someone was playing a drum somewhere and whenever I briefly paused at a white buoy near a beach, I could hear the thumping. I asked STA, and he said they were playing by the overlook way across the lake. Wow, that drum was loud!
  • At least 2 military planes roared overhead in my 3rd loop. They were so loud that several other swimmers stopped to look up
  • I never really saw the green buoys other than the idea of them being there–not a flash of green, but a quick knowing of where they were and a sudden surge in my stroke as I confidently swam towards them. Strange
  • The green buoys were so far over that the course was more like a square than a triangle
  • As I said to STA, it was a birthday miracle that I didn’t plow through a few swimmers. They were swimming backstroke which, for some reason, made it more difficult to see them. Why? Were their heads lower in the water that way?
  • One of the backstrokers bumped into me
  • I breathed every 5, with a few 5 then 6, and a couple every 3
  • No fish or dragonflies, but some milfoil got stuck on my head, near my goggles for a while
  • A few worries: will I be stuffed up after this? is my calf cramping up? why are my goggles leaking slightly?
  • Near the end of my 3rd loop, as I approached the big beach, my shoulders felt strong and big and wonderful

After typing that last bullet point, I noticed a line from Walt Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road” that I taped on my desk that seems fitting:

I am larger, better than I thought.
I did not know I held so much goodness.

What a great birthday!

june 25/SWIM

2 miles/ 2 loops
open swim lake nokomis
78 degrees/ sunny

Another open swim. Since I swam last night too, I only did 2 loops this morning. Over 7 miles of swimming this week so far. I can’t remember the last time I swam this many miles in one week. Excellent. It was sunny and warm and the orange buoys were invisible. No problem. I looked for the quick flash of the silver boat bottom at the little beach and knew I was on course. I didn’t see the buoys until they were right next to me. Decided to swim without my safety buoy today. Easier. I encountered–mostly passed, which is a lot of fun–other swimmers, but mostly felt alone. Me and blurs of green and blue. Below me, the water is completely opaque. I’ve never seen the bottom of this lake, except for right next to shore. A few times I felt some slimy vegetation wrapping around my shoulder, but not much else. No sloshing of water in my ears, no strange metallic sounds rising up from underneath. I saw a few paddle boarders crossing the lake–no motorized boats are allowed on this lake, which is wonderful.

Anything else? Oh–I felt happy and powerful and confident swimming without any problems across the lake. Some of this was because my shoulders are strong and I can swim fairly fast and steadily without getting too tired, but more of it is because I can swim across without being able to see much–just enough vision to keep me on track. In the water, I don’t doubt myself or second guess what I’m doing. I don’t want to be a fish but I wish I could take more of the water with me into the rest of my life. I wonder if I do better in the water because I can’t hear or see or feel anyone judging me or trying to encourage/force me to do things the way they think they should be done?

A Swim in Co. Wicklow/ DEREK MAHON

The only reality is the perpetual flow of vital energy.
                                                                           —Montale

Spindrift, crustacean patience
and a gust of ozone,
you come back once more
to this dazzling shore,
its warm uterine rinse,
heart-racing heave and groan.

A quick gasp as you slip
into the hissing wash,
star cluster, dulse and kelp,
slick algae, spittle, froth,
the intimate slash and dash,
hard-packed in the seething broth.

Soft water-lip, soft hand,
close tug of origin,
the sensual writhe and snore
of maidenhair and frond,
you swim here once more
smart as a rogue gene.

Spirits of lake, river
and woodland pond preside
mildly in water never
troubled by wind or tide;
and the quiet suburban pool
is only for the fearful —

no wind-wave energies
where no sea briar grips
and no freak breaker with
the violence of the ages
comes foaming at the mouth
to drown you in its depths.

Among pebbles a white conch
worn by the suck and crunch,
a sandy skull as old
as the centuries, in cold
and solitude reclines
where the moon-magnet shines;

but today you swirl and spin
in sea water as if,
creatures of salt and slime
and naked under the sun,
life were a waking dream
and this the only life.

There’s a lot I like about this poem and its vivid descriptions of swimming and the water. I don’t like the repeated use of and, joining two verbs: writhe and snore, slash and dash, suck and crunch, swirl and spin. I get why he’s doing it–reflecting the energy of the sea, but somehow it doesn’t fall right on my ears. Maybe I should read it a few more times.

Spirits of lake, river
and woodland pond preside
mildly in water never
troubled by wind or tide;
and the quiet suburban pool
is only for the fearful —

no wind-wave energies
where no sea briar grips
and no freak breaker with
the violence of the ages
comes foaming at the mouth
to drown you in its depths.

I have swam in the ocean (swum?) but never more than wading and playing in the waves, never far out for an open swim. I did snorkel at the great barrier reef, but that was different. The water was calm and I wasn’t swimming much freestyle or too far, just in circles, watching brightly colored fist. Even though it scares me–especially the idea of sharks (thanks, Steven Spielberg)– I’d like to try sometime. Probably with a few other people. The lake water I swim in is mostly calm, with some chop, and once in a while whitecaps. Swimming across Nokomis is not the same as swimming in the ocean, but it’s also not the same as a pool–which can have it’s share of foam and dangers if you’re swimming in a lane with lots of other people. Lake Nokomis is strange because it was originally a swampy area, only averaging 5 feet of depth. It was dredged out and turned into a lake in the 1910s. But, it’s lake water, and it’s packed with fish, and it’s not small.

june 24/SWIM

3 miles/ 3 loops
lake nokomis open swim
83 degrees

The third day in a row of open swim. It was overcast, which I thought would make it easier for me to see all the buoys, but the lack of light drained their color. Hardly any smudges of orange, and only when I twisted my neck so I could see the buoy through my peripheral. Strangely, I saw the green buoys more often, which was not a lot. Will it ever stop being amazing to me that I can swim across the lake without panicking when all I can see is endless water? Heading back from the little beach, where the path between buoys is wider and less direct, I had a moment of feeling like I was swimming off the edge of the earth. Alone, off course. Then I saw an elbow and knew I was fine, heading toward the big beach. As I swam, I remembered a poem I wrote for my chapbook on swimming about my feelings of love and annoyance for other swimmers as we swim in the lake. I tried to love the other swimmers more than be irritated by them as they unintentionally routed me. I really tried; sometimes it worked.

i feel 
a deep love
for these other half fish half humans
who seem to love deeply what i love
all of us sharing a lake a moment 
a joy for the generosity of water

and i feel
continued annoyance
at their cluelessness 
on how to swim straight 
and their inability to wrangle 
jutting elbows and flailing frog-like legs

i try to remember my love and forget my irritation
but when the lake water sloshes over my head gently
it washes away everything

I like the idea of this poem, and many of the lines, but I think I can make it much better. I’d like to work on it, and some others from the collection, and maybe try to get them published. What if I turned by various verses about the lake and swimming into one long poem? How would that work? How does a long poem work?

Other Things I Remember

  • Choppy water, none of it washing over my head, but tugging at the safety buoy I have tethered to my waist. Makes swimming more difficult–the buoy around my waist, acting like Coleridge’s albatross around the Ancient Mariner’s neck
  • Once I mistook a fish for a wave and when I stopped suddenly my buoy bumped into me, which felt like a fish, and for a flash, I freaked out
  • I noticed several swimmers stopping briefly to try and find the buoy. One guy stopped several times. He was slightly faster than me, but was working much harder, churning up water with his big kicks
  • I didn’t think a sailboat was the buoy tonight
  • I was swimming faster than 2 breaststrokers ahead of me, but as I approached they sped up–on purpose or without realizing it, I’m not sure–and wouldn’t let me pass
  • It is harder to see through my central vision, I think, and I feel even more cut off from the world when I swim than I used to. Mostly, this does not bother me; I like the dream world that lake swimming creates
  • Right before starting, a woman called out, “Wow, the number on your cap is over 1000!” And I said, “Is that how many swimmers there are in open swim club?” And, she said, “Well, my cap is 13!” If there are over 1000 swimmers signed up for open swim, they are not all in the water with me tonight. Maybe 100 are here

june 23/RUNSWIM

4.3 miles
minnehaha falls and back + winchell trail
64 degrees
dew point: 60

I feel better at the end of this run than I did during it. A beautiful morning, not too windy or hot, sun that gently dazzled but didn’t beat down. Even so, I sweat a lot and felt hot. Thought about the dew point, trying to remember exactly how it worked. I researched it and wrote about it a few years ago, but when someone asked me what it was a few days ago, I couldn’t remember. How do I forget these things so quickly? Here’s my explanation I wrote in 2017:

It’s not the heat or the humidity it’s the dew point, which is the temperature at which water condenses. The closer the dew point is to the temp in the air, the longer the sweat will stay in your hair because the air is too saturated and your sweat can’t evaporate, which is how your body cools you down.

Saw a flash of white, churning water as I ran past the falls. Noticed an opening in the thick trees with a dark winding trail just below the ford bridge–it seemed inviting until I imagined all the bugs that would be waiting for me in there. Heard some voices down in the gorge, on the river. Rowers. Also heard the clicking of a gear change as one bike passed, the clunking of a chain that needed to be greased as another approached.

As I ran on the Winchell Trail through the thick green, I thought that when I’m running by the gorge, I think of in broad, basic ways: tree, rock, bluff, bird, water. Then my mind wandered, and I wondered: (Why) do we need more specific, “technical” names in order to connect with the land? I thought about the importance of names and the violence of occupying and renaming, the value of knowing the history of a place, understanding how it works scientifically, and placing it in a larger context (space, time). Then, as I ran up the short, steep hill by Folwell, I thought about how important it is to learn to think on all of these levels at once, or at least be able to switch back and forth between them. I can experience the gorge as water, rock, tree, bird, wind, or as stolen land occupied and used, abused, restored, protected, ignored, exploited. As a geological wonder, slowly–but not really slowly in geological time, 4 feet per year–carved out by the river eroding the soft St. Peter sandstone. As both wild/natural and cultivated/managed–the site of erosion due to water, and erosion due to the introduction of invasive species, industry, too many hikers, bikers, houses nearby. There isn’t an easy way to reconcile these different understandings and their impacts.

After I finished my run and started walking home, I thought about how these levels/layers could be represented or expressed in a poem. What forms would work best and how to translate all of it into a form? I imagined a mostly blank page with the elemental word in the center (rock or water or tree), then additional pages with other related meanings–you could flip through and somehow add meanings or see all of the meanings at once. Does this make sense? Then I thought about a poem that somehow mimics the form of a fossil, what would that look like? Or the different layers of rock representing different eras of geological time. Not sure if this will go anywhere, but I’ll spend some more time thinking about it.

To chlorophyll, refineries, coal, furnaces beneath early skyscrapers, fossils/ Caroline Kenworthy

after Jane Hirshfield

Back then, what did I know?
The distance between moving cars I could turn into.
How far past EMPTY the engine would run.

I moved daily, rolling over poured rock,
traveling to learn. I was propelled by bodies

of organic matter. First, they were found.
Well, no. First, they were blue flowers carpeting a forest floor,
or the brown and hungry animal moving through them.

Then, they were found, pumped, sifted, melted, strained,
boiled, strained again, divided. Then burned.

Funny to think that we didn’t know what coal was,
and then we did. From there— efficient refinement attracts
our kind— we made these bodies pourable.
The dark rainbow and sharp whiff of petroleum.

I want to explain what I mean by bodies—
at first, I meant sentient movers. As if movement springs only from brains.
Then I thought, an organized, silent burning of sugars. I think,
a system to translate the world into the self.

Life’s long inhale of nutrients, and longer, hotter exhalation in decay. Packed, still, silent.

Hard to remember that matter hums constantly.
These cars and highways— how much of moving is death rearranged.

swim: 1.2 miles/ 4 loops
cedar lake open swim

Cedar Lake! Cedar Lake! Hooray for open swim at both lake nokomis and cedar lake. Very different experiences. Nokomis is 600 yards across, Cedar Lake is 300. Nokomis is about 15-20 feet deep, Cedar is 30-40 feet deep. Nokomis has a big beach with a boathouse and restaurant, Cedar has porta potties. I like both. Today, it was windy and bright. Choppy on the way back and hard to see the shore. My sighting trick: there’s a break in the towering trees where the small beach is.

june 22/SWIM

3 miles/ 3 loops
lake nokomis open swim
75 degrees

Another good swim. I didn’t get off course but I did find it much harder to sight the buoys. Was it all the bobbing bright orange swim caps that I mistook for the buoy, or that I didn’t rinse out all of the baby shampoo I use to anti-fog my goggles so my eyes stung, or the bright sun, or another decline in my vision? Swimming with the sun behind me, I usually could see a smudge of orange and swam straight to the little beach, but swimming into the sun, I couldn’t sight the green buoys at all. I mostly used the roof at the big beach as a guide and when I thought I was sighting the hulking shape of the green buoy, I usually was sighting a sailboat.

Breathed every 5 strokes almost the entire time. A few 5 then 6, or 3 then 5, or 3 then 4. Might have seen a few fish below me, or they could have just been sun streaks. Last week, I saw several dragonflies hovering above the water, looking like little helicopters. Didn’t notice any tonight. No airplanes either. I encountered a few swimmers out in the middle of the lake, but mostly I felt alone, which was fine with me. Every so often, it felt strange and unsettling, but I didn’t mind. I don’t remember hearing anything and all I remember feeling was the choppy waves as I neared the big beach. When I got out of the water, my right eye burned so much that I had to keep it closed. Bright sun + a trace of baby shampoo still in the google = bad news

Earlier today, I spent some time reading up about geological time. Eons and eras, periods, epochs, and ages. So much classification and names for divisions of time! Western science is really into naming things, often after people. It might be interesting to read an intellectual history of geology in the 19th century, but only if it’s written by an engaging writer, like Bill Bryson. I wonder if he writes about geology in his book, A Brief History of Nearly Everything?

Conversation with a Pebble/Alyson Hallett

Here’s what I’ve been wondering. If fire hides in wood
what hides in a stone?

I hold a pebble
in the palm of my hand. It looks like an egg that wants to hatch.

I do not know how long
it will take, how long its incubation or breaking through.

My time is slow, Pebble says. Slower Than you can imagine.

I know this is true.
I kiss the pebble,
Watch the moisture from my lips sink in.

That’s what I’m hiding,
It says. Water. The tiniest Rivers, lakes, seas.

Ideas of what water
Can be. Yes, pebble says,
I am hiding all the world’s memory.

june 18/BIKESWIMBIKE

bike: 8.5 miles
lake nokomis and back
75 degrees

First time since august of 2019 that I’ve biked to the lake. So grateful that my vision is good enough for me to do it. When I lose my central vision, will I still be able to bike? Biking is important because I can no longer drive (or, I no longer feel safe driving): it’s much faster than walking and much more fun than taking 2 buses over to the lake (I don’t think there’s a direct bus route to the lake, so even though nokomis is 4 miles away, you have to transfer). Biking is not too bad unless I have to pass another biker who is going too slow, then it’s scary. Very hard to see for sure if someone’s coming the other way. No passing needed on the way there, and only twice on the way back. What a gorgeous, sunny, summer day!

swim: 3 miles/3 loops
lake nokomis open swim
78 degrees
sunny/no chop

Last year, open swim added more days to their schedule–this bummed me out since I wasn’t doing open swim because of covid and in solidarity with my kids who couldn’t do the fun things they wanted to do in order for all of us to stay safe and healthy. I’m very glad they kept the expanded schedule for this year. Very cool to be able to swim on Friday mornings across the lake!

Morning swims are usually harder for me because the position of the sun makes it difficult to sight the buoys to the little beach, which only has the sparkle of an overturned rowboat as a landmark. Evenings are easier, because when the sun shines in my eyes or the buoys are backlit, I can always rely on the towering light poles or the roof of the boathouse to keep me on track. Today, the sun made it hard to see the little beach, and the buoys were only hulking, colorless shapes, but I was fine. The little rowboat was a bright beacon—at least, I think it was the rowboat; I saw something vaguely shining and decided it was the rowboat and I was swimming the right way. I could sense the final buoy from a long way off. I never saw anything that was orange, no flash or dot. Instead, I felt the buoy was there. I sensed the absence of the water or the beach and my brain told me that that void was buoy. So weird.

I breathed every 5 or every 3 then 4 then 5 or every 6. Before we started, I heard another swimmer on the beach telling a friend:

“I try to breathe every 3 strokes.”
“That’s good, that’s what you’re supposed to do.”
“Yeah, but then I feel like I’m going to pass out!”

Did this swimmer mean that they need more air and every 3 is too many strokes in-between breaths? I guess I’m pretty strange with my breathing every 5 or 6, every so often, 7. It doesn’t bother me to stay underwater that much longer. It helps me stay lost longer.

At one point, heading toward the little beach, I tried reciting “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” After a few lines, I realized that it was too distracting, that I needed to focus more on swimming straight and staying on course.

june 17/SWIM

2 miles/2 loops
lake nokomis open swim
82 degrees

Another great open swim. So far, I’m enjoying this new course. It’s longer and more forgiving, I think. Swimmers are spread out wider so you don’t have to worry about running into anyone going the opposite direction. It helps that more people are doing open swim too. More limbs to sight when I can’t see the buoys. I felt strong when I was swimming, and stronger when I was done. I love the feeling of my arm muscles after swimming. A warm glow, slightly sore, physical evidence of effort.

Not sure if or when I’ll get used to how strange and remarkable it is to be able to swim this course when I can hardly see the buoys–just a quick flash of orange green or the idea of it bobbing in front of me. Could it be that my brain “sees” the buoy even when I don’t consciously see it with my eyes? From the research I’ve done on vision, I think it’s possible. The body is remarkable. Swimming is remarkable. I love how confident I feel when I swim. Probably the most confident I ever feel doing anything. I never doubt or second-guess myself in the water. I just swim. I wish more things in life could feel this easy—well, not easy, but right or natural.

I did a lot of breathing every five strokes. Sometimes every six or every three or every three then four. Saw some ducks, was rocked by some waves, saw some flashes that might have been fish.

For much of the day, I was reading/reviewing the history of the Mississippi Gorge, starting with the occupation and renaming of Owámniyomni to St. Anthony Falls by Father Hennepin in 1680. Much of my focus today, without entirely intending it to be, was the tracing of commerce and capital, from furs to timber to flour to hydroelectric power. Learned about Franklin Steele and his tactics for grabbing land and making money. (Why Nobody Wants to Talk About Franklin Steele) What a terrible person, yet he did so much to make Minneapolis what it is today. Difficult to figure out how to reconcile the benefits of progress with the terrible damage it causes. Maybe they can’t be reconciled.

june 15/SWIM

2 miles/ 2 loops
lake nokomis open swim
82 degrees

The first open swim! The first open swim! A perfect evening for it. The course was slightly different this year. There were the usual 3 orange buoys in a straight diagonal line from the north end of the big beach to the little beach, but there were also 2 bright green buoys a little further south. Huh? I had to ask another swimmer who looked like she knew what she was doing–actually, I heard her tell someone else that she had swam this course last year. They’ve changed up the course a little to make it safer and longer. Instead of always having the buoys on your left like they’ve done in the past, they are always on your right. The path is a straight shot from the northern end of the big beach to the little beach using the orange buoys. But on the way back, you travel much wider, using the invisible (to me) green buoys, and aim for the southern end of the main beach.

When I started swimming, I thought this new route would be a problem for me and how I’ve learned to swim without seeing that much, but I quickly got used to it, and decided that I liked it better. I like how it’s longer and that it’s wider. I can’t see the color green at all in the water, so the return buoys, if I manage to “see” them are just big, smudged hulks (and sometimes I confuse them with the similar shaped smudge of a sail from a sailboat further south), but I can use the silvery white rooftop at the big beach to guide me back to shore. I’m grateful for such a big landmark.

I didn’t run into any other swimmers, and I didn’t get way off course. At one point, I stopped to try and sight where I was, and a person swimming to my left stopped too. I think they were following me, hoping I would guide them the right way. I did. So strange and amazing and delightful to be able to navigate with such minimal, fleeting signals. How difficult was it for other people to see? When they looked straight ahead, just barely lifting out of the water, could they see the orange buoys clearly, a beacon in the empty blue and green? Or, were they like me, who was only able to see the smear of orange when I turned my head so that I could view what was straight from the side? Most of the time, the orange dot disappeared when I looked at it directly. Only once or twice, when it hit just right, did it appear. I was reminded of how much my sighting and seeing is based on trusting my straight strokes and learning to effectively and efficiently use the scant clues I have from what I do see. Open water swimming is a great confidence boost for me, and a reminder of how much I can still function. When I lose my central vision completely (which will almost surely happen soon), will it get worse, or have I learned to see mostly through my periphery already? I don’t know. For now, I’m happy to be swimming and not panicking, feeling strong and confident and at home in the water.

Searching for poetry about buoys, I found this awesome post by a poet-in-residence at a boat yard–Underfall Yard. They’re exploring the area, reading about boats and buoys and swimming and water, leading poetry workshops for visitors, planning poetry readings. I would love to do something like this! Wow. Very cool and inspiring!

And, a poem about orange buoys!