scared thrilled scared thrill scared thrilled

I find most things in life both scary and thrilling. I suppose I should hope it's always this way, but sometimes it feels like an awful lot of work.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Swimming has always been one of my favourite things to do. When I was little, each muddy, knee-deep prarie puddle I came accross was a brand new ocean and I was an explorer. I was most often joined by my little sister, who was also bitten by the swimmy bug. Together we confounded our more timid brothers with our willingness to plunge into the iciest mountain streams, the cow-poopiest prairie dugouts. One summer our dad constructed a backyard pool out of 2x10s and a big orange tarp. It was 10 inches deep. Deep enough. We were little Steve Zizous.
In the Aquatic world everything changes, including your own body. You become fluid, unbound by gravity. One of our favourite games was "manatee", which basically involved floating around in slow and swooping circles, like grace and peace despite your unwieldy shape. Another great game is simply doing everything upside down, with the water's surface your floor and the pool/puddle/river/lake/slough bottom your ceiling. Underwater tea parties. Underwater laughing. Underwater talking. Underwater anything.
To grow up a swimmer in Canada means you've spent more than your share of time standing on the edge of some frigid body of water, arms held tight to chest and knees shaking, trying to convince yourself that jumping in isn't actually a ridiculous idea. The thing is, almost every time you get in the water it's going to feel cold. It's going to be uncomfortable, inconvenient, a shock. And it's going to be wet. It's hard to think of how good it will feel, despite the cold or the scariness of climbing out on those sharp and slippery rocks. It's hard to remember the last time you were weightless, the last time you flew and turned and floated upside down with that smile on your face. Something I realized just last year which has helped me to make the decision in favour of the plunge: in all my life of freezing, muddy, scary swims, I have never regretted jumping in. I have, however, regretted the times I chose the safer route, the warm spot by the fire. So think of that next time. It helps!
There are a few special swims, the ones that revisit me in dreams, the ones I think about when I'm hot and far from water. Mountain lakes at the tops of long and hot hikes. That waterfall in the Cascades. Breaking through the ice in the Rockies. The rushing crystal of that river in the Kootenays. The fraternal glory of being tossed in the frozen crashing of the Pacific with my brothers (I include Donny in that category). Naked and yelling into the night, eyes wide, our breath coming in icy gasps and the feel of arms around shoulders. Of course, the many nights spent on the dock on Lake Washington, swimming and sipping till we all collapsed in piles of wet hair, empty bottles and fuzzy blankets. To wake in the morning rain and go together to the 5 points for eggs and bacon and black toast.
And now, I have another to add. It's close to the top of the list. Like many of the best, it happened at night. Swimming naked seems to make things better too. I'm not normally a naturalist, but if it's nighttime and we're swimming the regular standards of modesty bend themselves to something more pure and natural, they bend themselves to the joy of water and bodies. It's always been a dream of mine to swim with dinoflagellates, bioluminescent phytoplantkon (I can't believe there's no lay term for these things), basically, the little plankton that glow in the water at night. Last week, in the Red Sea, alone at 3 am with my trunks left on a moored fishing boat and a cheap mask on my face, I realized this dream. Imagine the most star-filled sky you've ever seen, then picture each of those points of light exploding into 10, 100, 1000 other points, then move your arm through and watch them all swirling and turning in eddies and invisible streams and landscapes. You hover in the black water and every movement sparks a million floating points of light, like swirling galaxies. You are God and you're swimming through the universe at the speed of light. I wish I could really describe it.


At 2:21 AM, Blogger Kai said...

I love the poetry you speak, especially when it pertains to the fun nights we had on the docks. I'll write soon, I've been terribly deliquent. Loves


At 11:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey there buddy, yes I have shared such frolecking and carefree moments with you on the bald prairie. They were, however, most often in swirling, protein enriched waters above the temperatures of 105 degrees. That's another analogy I geusse (sometimes it can be scarier getting into hot water, when its that murky). Enjoyed being transported, three sheets to the wind my friend!


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