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 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.”

july 31/RUN

4 miles
marshall loop
69 degrees / smoky

Keeping up the Saturday tradition of running the marshall loop. Got a later start so it was sunnier, with less shade. Listened to a iTunes playlist that I created a few years back–The Black Keys, Fall Out Boy, Billy Joel, ACDC, Pat Benatar, Jamirquai, and perfect timing for John Williams’ Theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark: running up the last stretch of the marshall hill, almost at the top.

Running over the lake street bridge to St. Paul, I watched a big bird–I think it was a turkey vulture–soaring high above the river. Running back over the lake street bridge to Minneapolis, I looked down at several shells. Rowers! Right below me, just crossing under the bridge heading south, was a single scull. The rower was wearing a bright orange shirt. Since they were facing me, I thought about waving, but then decided I was too high up and moving too fast.

Reaching the top of marshall, running by Black Coffee and Waffles, I could smell the waffles and their sweet bakery smell. I used to love waffles, piled high with whipped cream and chocolate. Now that much sugar gives me a headache. What a drag it is getting old.

There is still a lot of smoke in the air. It didn’t bother my breathing too much. Crossing the bridge, the smoke made everything hazy and the sky was almost white.

Sea Poem/ Alice Oswald

what is water in the eyes of water
loose inquisitive fragile anxious
a wave, a winged form
splitting up into sharp glances

what is the sound of water
after the rain stops you can hear the sea
washing rid of the world’s increasing complexity,
making it perfect again out of perfect sand

oscillation endlessly shaken
into an entirely new structure
what is the depth of water
from which time has been rooted out

the depth is the strength of water
it can break glass or sink steel
treading drowners inwards down
what does it taste of

water deep in it sown world
steep shafts warm streams
coal salt cod weed
dispersed outflows and flytipping

and the sun and its reflexion
throwing two shadows
what is the beauty of water
sky is its beauty

july 30/RUN

4.5 miles
minnehaha falls and back (on the winchell trail)
72 degrees

They canceled open swim today; the air quality is dangerous (176, which is unhealthy). The smoke from the fires up north is still here. I’m disappointed but also relieved. I can still feel the effects from the smoke of last night’s swim. I went out for a run instead, which made me feel better. I didn’t have any trouble breathing. Ran to the falls and back. The falls were low; no roaring, rushing water. I saw a large bird–a turkey vulture? hawk?–high up in the sky. I don’t remember hearing any black capped chickadees or cardinals or woodpeckers. Running at the start of the Winchell Trail, I (too?) quietly warned the walker ahead of me that I was coming. He had headphones on and didn’t hear me. Then he turned, saw me, and uttered, in surprise, “Oh God!” I wasn’t running fast, so it was no big deal. Just funny. Heard some water trickling out of the sewer pipe at 42nd. Don’t remember what I thought about, but I do remember trying to forget the increased anxiety I have over wildfires and Delta variants. Some days it’s a struggle hanging onto joy and delight in the midst of so much evidence that everything is falling apart.

Water: a smoky river, not glittering in the hazy sun; a subdued waterfall; a receding creek; dripping ponytail, forehead, back; trickling pipes; thirst and the desire for some sips from a water fountain; an empty, swimmer-less lake

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 28/RUN

4 miles
trestle turn around + extra
73 degrees
humidity: 85% / dew point: 68

Woke up to dark skies. An hour later: thunderstorms. Around 10 it stopped, so I went out for a run. It was warm and humid but not oppressive. How is that possible? Forgot (again) to greet the welcoming oaks, but checked for stacked stones by the sprawling oak tree. Zero. Everything was dripping. Including me, after about a mile. I don’t remember seeing the river. Too much green. Noticed one of the unofficial trails leading down into the gorge just before lake street. Also noticed a tent set up under the lake street bridge, right next to the portapotty. All zipped up. I wondered how hot they were last night, when the low was in the upper 70s. I also wondered if they were in the tent because they’d been evicted (looked it up and the 15 month eviction moratorium is ending but landlords can’t evict until Sept).

delight of the day

As I approached the trestle, I began hearing a loud rumble. At first I tuned it out, but then I realized: a train! It was hard to see with all of the green blocking my view of the bridge, but slowly I saw the cars. The train was still there, rumbling along, as I passed under the trestle a minute later. Very cool. In the hundreds of times I’ve run under this trestle, I have only encountered a train on the bridge 3 or 4 times. These tracks are hardly ever used. Why was the train crossing today? I kept waiting for the beep beep of the horn but it never came. Only booms as the car lumbered over the old tracks.

After the Rain/ Jared Carter – 1939-

After the rain, it’s time to walk the field
again, near where the river bends. Each year
I come to look for what this place will yield –
lost things still rising here.

The farmer’s plow turns over, without fail,
a crop of arrowheads, but where or why
they fall is hard to say. They seem, like hail,
dropped from an empty sky,

Yet for an hour or two, after the rain
has washed away the dusty afterbirth
of their return, a few will show up plain
on the reopened earth.

Still, even these are hard to see –
at first they look like any other stone.
The trick to finding them is not to be
too sure about what’s known;

Conviction’s liable to say straight off
this one’s a leaf, or that one’s merely clay,
and miss the point: after the rain, soft
furrows show one way

Across the field, but what is hidden here
requires a different view – the glance of one
not looking straight ahead, who in the clear
light of the morning sun

Simply keeps wandering across the rows,
letting his own perspective change.
After the rain, perhaps, something will show,
glittering and strange.

Wow, I love this poem. I’m very glad I searched “after the rain poetry” and found it. The different view he discusses in the later stanzas is what I’m exploring. It’s ED’s slant truth and my sideways/peripheral. It’s also the practice of soft fascination–what we don’t notice we’re seeing when we’re focused on other things. And it’s learning new ways to see without certainty.

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 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 24/RUN

4 miles
marshall loop
73 degrees

No swimming today. First time since last Saturday. It’s already warm at 8 am. 90s in the afternoon. Ran the marshall loop. No stopping at the top of the hill–ran past Real Wicker and Black Coffee and Waffles. Is it called that because they only serve black coffee, no lattes? Never thought about that before. Chanted some triple berries: strawberry/blackberry/raspberry. Don’t remember noticing much. Looked down at the river as I crossed it–no rowers, a few logs near the shore. Don’t remember feeling any bugs or hearing any birds. No planes or trains. I might have heard a roller skier’s clicking poles. No music blasting from a radio or a bike speaker.

Water Thoughts: Fish

It’s still July, so I’m still finding water poems, which is getting harder, at least with my amateur approach to researching them. Anyway, here’s a few fragments about fishes. An entire poem, some parts of others, a poem of mine, a few fish sounds, and an excerpt from a commencement speech.

Fish/ MARY ANN HOBERMAN

Look at them flit
Lickety-split
Wiggling
Swiggling
Swerving
Curving
Hurrying
Scurrying
Chasing
Racing
Whizzing
Whisking
Flying
Frisking
Tearing around
With a leap and a bound
But none of them making the tiniest
                                              tiniest
                                                 tiniest
                                                    tiniest
                                                       tiniest
                                                          sound

from Wilderness/ Carl Sandburg

There is a fish in me . . . I know I came from salt-blue water-gates . . . I scurried with shoals of herring . . . I blew waterspouts with porpoises . . . before land was . . . before the water went down . . . before Noah . . . before the first chapter of Genesis.

from The Nude Swim/ Anne Sexton

All the fish in us
had escaped for a minute.
The real fish did not mind.
We did not disturb their personal life.
We calmly trailed over them
and under them, shedding
air bubbles

Imposter/ Sara Lynne Puotinen

Part of me wants to be a fish
forever submerged
in the middle of the lake
but most of me wants to stay human
and crawl back to shore. 

With each loop I wonder if
a transformation will occur
before the beach is reached.
Will I sprout scales gain gills lose lungs? 

Yet as the loop ends
and my feet touch sand
I always remain the same—
a human only pretending to be a fish.

Wait, fish make noise? Meet the “Fish Listeners”

from This is Water/ David Foster Wallace

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

***

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

“This is water.”

“This is water.”

It’s fun to put together these fragments around a theme. I used to love doing it when constructing a syllabus–maybe one of my favorite parts of teaching and syllabus writing: creating a conversation between different voices that might lead to more conversations in a class. I might do more of these…

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 21/RUNSWIM

run: 3.55 miles
2 trails
68 degrees
air quality warning, smoke from fires in canada

The air didn’t feel too smoky this morning, not hard to breathe. Overcast. A dark green. For a few minutes, heard a roller skier approaching from behind, their ski poles click click click clicking. Encountered more runners than walkers, a few bikers. Turned down at 44th to the start of the Winchell Trail. A wonderful dark, mysterious green. Heard the steady dripping of the sewer pipe. Also heard the rowers on the river. 2 coxswains, 1 male and 1 female, instructing the rowers: “Make sure you use your legs in the first half of your stroke. It should be mostly legs.”

Last week I mentioned to STA that there was some asphalt on the part of the dirt trail between 38th and the savanna. He didn’t think so. Today, running, I noticed that it was almost all dirt, but that there were a few chunks of asphalt–at least it looked like asphalt to me as I ran by it. Was it? I think so. How long ago was this trail abandoned to the dirt–the glacial till? The chain link fence beside it is in rough shape–this is the spot where there’s a tree trunk growing through the fence and a fence growing out of the tree limbs. Was it in the last century–the 1980s or 90s–that they repaired the fence or repaved the trail here?

Ran by the ravine up the steep gravel hill. Past the overlook and the ancient boulder–no stacked stones today. Down through the tunnel of trees, voices floating up from below. Rowers on the river, or hikers on the trail?

Speaking of trees growing through things, which I was just a minute ago, I found this wonderful twitter thread a few days ago about things to google when you feel bad (to make you feel better). Excellent.

And here’s a poem I discovered by W.S. Merwin that is wonderful:

Exercise/ W.S. Merwin (may 1972)

First forget what time it is
for an hour
do it regularly every day

then forget what day of the week it is
do this regularly for a week
then forget what country you are in
and practise doing it in company
for a week
then do them together
for a week
with as few breaks as possible

follow these by forgetting how to add
or to subtract
it makes no difference
you can change them around
after a week
both will help you later
to forget how to count

forget how to count
starting with your own age
starting with how to count backward
starting with even numbers
starting with Roman numerals
starting with the old calendar
going on to the old alphabet
going on to the alphabet
until everything is continuous again
go on to forgetting elements
starting with water
proceeding to earth
rising in fire

forget fire

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

Another wonderful swim! Windy. The water wasn’t choppy, but it was moving. Pushing everything off course, including the buoy. I didn’t notice it in my first loop until I realized I was way off course–far into the other side, almost swimming parallel to the shore instead of towards it. In other years, this would have bothered me. Not today. No panic or fear or frustration. Just getting back on course. This year, I am enjoying the challenge of figuring out how to adjust. Tonight the solution: swim hard at an angle into the current. At times, it felt like I was swimming in place. I wonder how many others swimmers enjoy this like I do?

The milfoil or whatever aquatic vegetation it is (I couldn’t find any more information), felt feathery today as it brushed past my arm and shoulder. The vegetation is thicker, growing up from below, at Hidden/East Beach, but in the middle of the lake, there were only a few stray plants being carried by the current.

Anything else I can remember? My left (OG) knee felt a little sore, so did my back. I don’t recall hear any strange sounds. No music or snippets of conversation. At one point, I thought I saw some big and dark hulk off to the side. Was something there? I never checked. In my first loop, I thought I saw the lifeguard on a kayak marking the edge of the course so I swam slightly away from them. Realized it was the buoy. Later, thought I was swimming towards the far buoy, realized it was a lifeguard. My skin felt itchy after I exited the water, on the drive home.

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!

july 19/RUNSWIM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Thing Is/ Ellen Bass

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

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

july 14/RUN

3.25 miles
trestle turn around
73 degrees
humidity: 80%/ dew point: 67

It is supposed to rain for most of the day, starting in the late morning. Decided to run before it started. Hot and thick. Sweaty. Listened to my playlist, starting with my song of the summer: Lorde’s Solar Power. Felt strong. I think all the swimming is strengthening my hips and legs and back. Greeted Dave the Daily Walker twice. Heard the rowers when I stopped briefly at the trestle. Avoided a group of runners near the spot above the Minneapolis Rowing Club. I can’t remember any of my thoughts. Got lost for 30 minutes.

Here’s a great poem that fits better with June’s theme of water and stone, but I’m posting it anyway. It’s from her new collection, out at the end of this month, Goldenrod!

Wife for Scale/ Maggie Smith

This is a tender age––and in geologic time,
hardly an age at all. But a golden band

of rock, pressed paper-thin, will stand
for these years, a kind of scientific

shorthand. Once I had a professor
whose wife was in every photo he took

of rock formations. He’d click through
slide after slide, saying: My wife for scale.

Isn’t there always a woman in the picture
and isn’t she always small in comparison?

Forgive me: that was my grief talking.
Tell me: how do I teach myself to be alone?

The strata for this age will not be the first
to reveal what salt does to stone, as if

a sea had been here and not sadness only.
Tell me: with God a question, where

is solace but in the earth? The soul
I’m standing on in this moment–––

even as it shifts beneath my feet, as it gives
and cannot hold me—will be rock.

Love this poem!

july 13/RUNBIKESWIMBIKE

run: 3.5 miles
2 trails
73 degrees/ sunny

Warm this morning, sunny too. Decided to try and run as slowly and steadily as I could using my heart rate. I soon realized that I couldn’t see the heart rate on my watch because it’s in red. My cone dystrophy and my struggle with colors and low contrast, makes red on a dark background especially hard to see. All this time, I’ve been looking at my cadence, which is in white. Why can’t the heart rate be in white too? I need more contrast. Looking through the accessibility options, there’s no way to change the color of the heart rate in a running workout.* Later, walking Delia, I noticed that the heart rate is white in the walk workout. Should I try running with the walk workout on? Yes. Another hack for how to make my eyes work in new ways.

*update: Was telling my 15 year old daughter RJP how I was planning to hack the watch. She told me that I can just twist the crown on the side of the watch to make the bpms white instead of red–when something is red that means it’s highlighted. I don’t think I ever would have figured this one out without her help. Such a apple genius. She should get a job at an apple store.

It was a good run. Everything felt fuzzy and dreamy, like I was swimming in air, not quite there. A great feeling. I don’t remember much. I was sweating a lot and I think I swallowed a bug. I remember hearing some birds, but not how their songs sounded. I saw the river–very blue. I put some effort into loving the world and everyone I encountered–not getting irritated by approaching runners, or trail hogging bikers. Mostly, it worked. I heard some trickling through the sewer pipes. I don’t remember smelling anything. No spazzy squirrels, but one darting chipmunk. Not too many bugs–just the one I might have swallowed. Oh–I saw a peleton on the road, not tightly packed but strung out in a long-ish line. Also heard the rowers just as I was leaving the river trail.

a few delightful verses by Lorine Niedecker

We are what the seas
have made us
longing immense
the very veery
on the fence

*

The eye
of the leaf
into leaf
and all parts
spine
into spine
neverending
head

to see

*

For best work
you ought to put forth
some effort
to stand
in north woods
among birch

*

We must pull
the curtains—
we haven’t any
leaves

bike: 8.6 miles
lake nokomis and back
88 degrees

Very happy that biking is not too bad this year. Not really scary at all. No feeling of panic, no moments where I can’t quite see what’s in front of me.

swim: 3 miles/3 loops
lake nokomis open swim
88 degrees/ windy
choppy, wavy water

Yes! Big swells today. At least, big for this lake. I don’t mind the choppy water. I like the challenge and the feeling of being pushed around by the water. The buoys (even more) often disappeared in the waves; swimmers did too. I had no problem staying on course. When I could hardly see anything, which was most of the time–due to the waves and the haze from fires in Ontario–I could always see the hovering, shimmering roof at the big beach.

july 11/BIKESWIMBIKE

bike: 8.6 miles
lake nokomis and back
75 degrees

Biked with STA over to open swim. Biking doesn’t seem overwhelming this year. I think it helps that I’m biking on very familiar trails and, that when STA and I are biking together, I go first. You would think it would be best to have the person with better sight first, but I’ve realized that when someone’s ahead of me, I can’t use my peripheral to spot upcoming obstacles/hazards–approaching bikers, potholes, etc. Biking first makes it much easier for me to use my remaining central vision.

swim: 3 miles/ 4 loops*
lake nokomis open swim
75 degrees/sunny

*the course was a little shorter today, so 1 loop did not equal a mile

I just realized that this is my first Sunday swim of the season. Wow. They didn’t have enough life guards so they left out the green buoys and shortened the course. Not a problem. It was a shorter course, but almost as wide. I loved being able to swim far from the orange buoys, and far from most other people.

things I noticed in the lake

  • the little bubbles my hands made as they entered the water in front of me
  • at least one dragonfly hovering above the water’s surface
  • the air felt heavy and harder to inhale during this first loop, the water felt thick
  • I listened to water lapping over my head and the word, “sloshing” came to mind, then the question: what’s another word for sloshing? splishing or splashing or flowing over or overflowing?
  • at least one plane above me, taking off or coming in for a landing
  • as is often the case, there is no standard route between a swimmer’s start at a beach and the first buoy. Often this leads to confusion and near misses. I almost ran into a few rogue swimmers. My rule: if the course is on the left, stay as far to the left as you can when heading to the first buoy. I am bothered that this doesn’t seem to make sense or matter to some other swimmers, and I am bothered that this bothers me
  • Crowded–is Sunday the biggest day for open swim?
  • As I neared the far right white buoy at the little beach–the one I like to swim around before I head back to the big beach, I could see the muck on it just below the surface. This muck didn’t look that different than what ends up on my skin, under my suit, after a long swim. Gross
  • I stopped to go to the bathroom between loops 3 and 4. Many swimmers just pee in the lake as they’re swimming, especially if they have a wetsuit on (at least I think they do), but even if I wanted to–and there have been a few desperate times when I’ve really wanted to–I can’t. My body won’t do it. Is it just because I find peeing in the lake gross? Not sure. Anyway, it’s a big hassle to go to the bathroom. You have to get out of the water, walk several hundred yards to the bathrooms, possibly wait in line at the bathroom, pee, wash your hands, then walk all the way back. When I got back in the water and started to swim, everything felt strange. I was sore, but also more buoyant. Floating
  • The water was smooth and there were no pockets of extra cold or extra warmth
  • I think my safety buoy is leaking air which would explain why it feels more like I’m being weighed down then lifted up by it
  • As is more often the case, my apple watch died mid swim. It’s old. I’m thinking of not getting a new one and trying to exercise without a watch. Not sure if this is a good or bad idea

Fog-thick morning/ Lorine Niedecker

Fog-thick morning—
I see only
where I now walk. I carry
my clarity
with me.

This poems doesn’t quite fit with the theme of water, but it’s how I feel when I’m swimming–in a fog or dream or daze, nothing clear or easy to see. I sight using my past knowledge of the course or my shoulders and the strong, straight, sure strokes they produce. My shoulders, I think, are my clarity.

july 9/SWIMRUN

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

Maybe because of the breeze and the cloud cover, 70 degrees felt cold this morning. Not too bad in the water, although my right thumb started feeling numb by the end. A great swim. The buoys were way off course. The first orange buoy is usually in a diagonal line from the white buoy at the main beach to the overturned rowboat at the little beach. Today it was in line with the four white buoys at the big beach and far off to the left. The second and third buoys were even farther out–so much closer to the far shore than usual. I have decided that this doesn’t bother me. It adds distance to the loop and it’s a good challenge for my vision. Since it was morning and somewhat sunny, the orange buoys were backlit and invisible. Reaching the little beach for the first time, I thought about a game I created for myself during my senior year of high school. It involved seeing how long I could procrastinate on writing a paper (usually 4-5 pages in high school AP Lit class) and still finish it/get a decent grade on it. I can’t remember, but I think I started a paper as late as the night before–or the early morning the day of? Anyway, it seems now I like playing, How little visual data do I need to still keep swimming, to not panic or swim way off course? The answer, so far: the very rare sighting of a buoy, the feeling of a hulking shape in the distance, the quick flash of something white that looks like it might be a buoy or the bottom of a rowboat, the quick flash of a splash from another swimmer’s arm. Playing this game, which is not really a game because I don’t really have a choice about how much I can or can’t see, takes up most of my attention. It’s hard to get lost in the water when I’m swimming non-stop and trying to stay on course. It’s hard for me to slow down, but I’d really like to try doing an easy loop–where I stop in the middle of the lake occasionally to look around, and where I devote more attention to how the water feels and sounds.

run: 3.5 miles
trestle turn around
72 degrees

After returning home from the lake, feeling cold,I decided to warm up by running. I was inspired by STA’s approach to keeping a lower heart rate by walking and running. Run until your bpms get too high, walk until they get too low. For STA too high = 150, too low = 130. My heart rate is much higher than that; if I used his numbers, I’d never run. I decided to try: high = 170, low = 150. For some reason, my pulse went above 170 after only 2 minutes of running. I stopped and walked and when it reached 150, started running again. I managed to keep my bpms at 164/165 for the rest of the run. Excellent. I felt very relaxed and even though my pace was slower, it wasn’t that slow. I felt great when I finished.

things, other than my heart rate, I noticed

  • no small stones stacked on the ancient boulder
  • the tunnel of trees felt extra green and airy
  • lots of biking groups
  • the rowers were on the river–heard both a male and a female coxswain
  • an abandoned shopping cart was hiding behind a rock below the lake street bridge
  • a quick glimpse of the blue river
  • lots of sweat, dripping down my forehead
  • almost stepped on a chipmunk–their fault, not mine. Stupid chippies!

I used a birthday gift card to buy the collected works of Lorine Niedecker. So good! I love her words:

Smile/ Lorine Niedecker

Smile
    to see the lake
      lay
   the still sky
And
   out for an easy
     make
   the dragonfly

july 7/RUNSWIM

5.5 miles
franklin loop
56 degrees
humdity: 88%/ dew point 55

Much cooler this morning. Overcast, excessively green, quiet. The sky was a light gray, almost white. The river, grayish blue–not quite livid, which I discovered is the name for a blueish-gray color. I could tell the dew point was close to the temperature because I was sweating a lot and felt hot. I ran north on the river road, past the railroad trestle and the steps leading to the Winchell Trail that were just redone earlier this year. Ran over the Franklin Bridge, looking for rowers on the river. None. Noticed the big ancient boulder, wedged between the walking and biking trails on the east side of the river. After running up the hill just past the Meeker Dam Dog Park, I tried to slow my heart rate down by chanting, “I/need to go/slower/so/that my pulse/will lower.” Not sure if it lowered my pulse, but it helped me to lock into a steady rhythm and recover from the hill. I should start doing chants again; I haven’t done them for awhile. Also haven’t done triple berry chants. What have I been doing instead? Not sure.

Open Water/ Ada Limón

It does no good to trick and weave and lose
the other ghosts, to shove the buried deeper
into the sandy loam, the riverine silt, still you come,
my faithful one, the sound of a body so persistent
in water I cannot tell if it is a wave or you
moving through waves. A month before you died
you wrote a letter to old friends saying you swam
with a pod of dolphins in open water, saying goodbye,
but what you told me most about was the eye.
That enormous reckoning eye of an unknown fish
that passed you during that last-ditch defiant swim.
On the shore, you described the fish as nothing
you’d seen before, a blue-gray behemoth moving slowly
and enduringly through its deep fathomless
North Pacific waters. That night, I heard more
about that fish and that eye than anything else.
I don’t know why it has come to me this morning.
Warm rain and landlocked, I don’t deserve the image.
But I keep thinking how something saw you, something
was bearing witness to you out there in the ocean
where you were no one’s mother, and no one’s wife,
but you in your original skin, right before you died,
you were beheld, and today in my kitchen with you
now ten years gone, I was so happy for you.

Oh, that fish’s eye! “something saw you, something/was bearing witness to you out there in the ocean”…”you were beheld”. Wow. Makes me think about all of the recent talk of beholding/beholden (my introduction: the wonderful work of Ross Gay). It also makes me think of Jaws 2, a movie I watched repeatedly on cable when I was kid. Chief Brody looking at a photograph of something dark and sinister in the water. It could be nothing, or it could be another great white shark. That eye haunted/haunts me. Someone mentioned on twitter–where I found this poem–that it reminded them of Elizabeth Bishop’s The Fish. Rereading The Fish, I see the connection, but the witnessing (in Limón’s poem, by the big fish of the mother/ in Bishop’s, by the narrator (I) of the fish) seems different in terms of who is the subject/who is the object, and how their subjectivity is represented. I really like both of these poems, but I think I like the subjectivity of the fish in Limón’s poem better.

swim: 1.7 miles/4 loops
cedar lake open swim
69 degrees

Much cooler today. Brr, on the shore. Wore my wetsuit for the first time. I prefer swimming without a wetsuit, but it was nice to keep warmer and more buoyant. I’m sure I went faster too. Yesterday I asked the Open Swim page on facebook for clarification on which way we should be swimming and they answered: keep the buoy on your right shoulder. It helps me to know. Everybody seemed to know now too; almost all of us were going the same way. Tonight I was attacked by the lake. At least, by the vegetation in the lake. Vines wrapping around my wrist and shoulder, scratching my face. I didn’t care. It was a great swim!

july 6/RUNSWIM

run: 1.5 miles
river road trail, north/south
76 degrees
humidity: 80%/ dew point: 70

Before it started raining again, STA and I went out for a quick run. Today is our 25th wedding anniversary. Amazing. Everything felt hot and wet and thick, but I enjoyed it, especially running through the tunnel of trees.

swim: 2 miles/ 2 loops
lake nokomis open swim
70 degrees
overcast, then light rain

I love open swims when it’s overcast and rainy. No one else at the beach. The buoys easy to sight. The rain drops fascinating to watch from underwater. Tonight’s swim was wonderful. I might have done more if my watch hadn’t died and I didn’t have STA and Delia the dog waiting for me in the parking lot. Just like last night at Cedar, I was able to look through the water a few feet in front of me. Tonight I watched my hand as I stretched it out, noticing the bubbles it generated. I felt strong, especially my shoulders, as I plunged my hands into the water. I mostly breathed every 5, but in the first loop I did some every 3, then every 4. And, in the last loop, I did some every 5, then 6. At one point in the middle of the lake I had a scary thought: what if my kneecap displaced mid-lake? How would I push it back in place? Quickly, I realized this was unlikely and returned to happier thoughts about powering through the water and being able to see the buoys and the Indian takeout STA and I were planning to eat after the lake.

Water in Love/ Ed Bok Lee

How to love like water loves
when it’s impossible to even taste
all the ghostly sediments
each time you take a sip

Impossible to savor
the salt in your blood
the light and island shorelines
in each living cell

When even the plainest mouthful
tastes more of you than you of it

Sweetest of absences
that frees in wave after wave
debris of thought like the dead,
the drowned, the vanished, and yet
sails your lips
on a voyage toward another’s, plying
all luck and regret

Worship, splash, guzzle, or forget
It clears any difference
Stone washer and mountain dissolver
that will
outlive us, even the memory of
all any eyes touched

Wasp and cactus in a desert
Comet through outer space
Sleep among all the cloud-shepherds’ children

A love so perpetually current
it doesn’t care that you love
without even knowing you love
what you couldn’t survive
three days without

How to love like that: wild
dream-sparkler and meticulous architect
of every snowflake
Wise, ebullient, and generous
as the rain

Deepest of miracles
for a time
borrowing and replenishing
a self
overflowing with fate

july 5/SWIM

1.7 miles/4 loops
cedar lake open swim
100 degrees

Two Saras, One Who Loves Cedar Lake, One Who Doesn’t

Calm water, blue sky. No problems sighting the buoys, or, when I couldn’t see them, knowing which direction the beach was. Used my trick for cedar lake: look for the break in the trees. Talked to a few people, who were very nice and happy to be there. When I turned my head to breathe–every 5 strokes, as usual–I noticed the streaks of fluffy clouds in the sky. A blanket of thin, shredded fluff. A tattered veil. Feathery streaks. These clouds (I looked it up) are high-level clouds called cirrocumulus. Underwater, I liked lifting my forehead to look at the water in front of me. I could see about 4 feet, then nothing. Noticed some silvery flashes below me–my fish friends!

Cedar Lake has loud music, people on inner tubes and rafts, smoking at the beach. I am not chill enough for it. I didn’t mind the music, but several times, rafts were blocking the buoy at the far beach. Someone’s smoke made it hard for me to breathe on shore. And half of the swimmers were swimming in one direction, and half, the other. I asked the lifeguard which way we were supposed to swim–with the buoy on our left side, or our right, but he didn’t know. I stewed as I swam, wondering why this bothered me so much. The lack of order? The greater chance of swimming into someone? The feeling of always being wrong? I long for order, and to not care when there isn’t any.

The Nude Swim/ Anne Sexton

On the southwest side of Capri
we found a little unknown grotto
where no people were and we
entered it completely
and let our bodies lose all
their loneliness.

All the fish in us
had escaped for a minute.
The real fish did not mind.
We did not disturb their personal life.
We calmly trailed over them
and under them, shedding
air bubbles, little white
balloons that drifted up
into the sun by the boat
where the Italian boatman slept
with his hat over his face.

Water so clear you could
read a book through it.
Water so buoyant you could
float on your elbow.
I lay on it as on a divan.
I lay on it just like
Matisse’s Red Odalisque.
Water was my strange flower,
one must picture a woman
without a toga or a scarf
on a couch as deep as a tomb.

The walls of that grotto
were everycolor blue and
you said, “Look! Your eyes
are seacolor.  Look!  Your eyes
are skycolor.”  And my eyes
shut down as if they were
suddenly ashamed.

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 not 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.”

Maxine Kumin from Selected Poems 1960-1

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.