late swimmer

“The lake of my mind, unbroken by oars…” (Virginia Woolf, from The Waves)

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I learned to swim at the age of 6 and as a child, I lived for water. Summers in lakes, the ocean, the shallows of Englishman River where my family camped. Lived for the clarity of immersion, the moment when you release your attachment to ground and push off into water. Later, as a teenager, I used to ride my horse to Island View Beach on the Saanich Peninsula. I’d take off his saddle and ride him into the water. Sometimes I thought we could push right on to James Island. He loved the chuck as much as I did.

But for years I didn’t swim much. The lake near us where we took our children daily in summer is lovely but the little wild beach became tame and the local regional district trucked in sand, expanded the parking lot, and it was harder and harder for me to want to join my husband on his daily swim in late afternoon. I didn’t like the changes. I missed parting the hardhack and mint to enter the water, missed finding a clump of grass or a warm rock to sit on after a swim. When my children came home in summer, they headed down to the lake each day, sometimes twice, and while I didn’t join them very often (except when we took our little boat out to one of the islands for a picnic), I felt that the planets were all properly aligned when I saw the towels draped on railings and smelled the wild scent of the lake on their skin when they hugged me.

But then I had some health issues that prevented me from taking my regular walk and I missed the exercise. I’d already sent John to the local pool–this was November of 2016– because I knew he was worried and I wanted him to channel the stress into something relaxing. I didn’t want to swim in the pool for some of the same reasons I gave up the lake. I don’t like crowds. But then I did join him, in January of 2017, and discovered there are seldom crowds at the Pender Harbour pool in winter. I swam 3 times a week, a kilometer each time, and found myself more and more attached to the experience. A few people would ask me, How much do you do?, meaning, how far, how long, and when I told them 50 lengths, they were impressed. Imagine! I liked the sense of myself as a swimmer. My mum loved to swim and one of my favourite photographs of her was taken by my dad on Gonzales Beach in Victoria where they rented a little house and learned to be parents.

mum on gonzales beach

Once I’d become habituated to regular swimming, I wanted to go the lake again. But not in late afternoon when the beach area is filled with people and reckless young men who bring their jet skis to the shore and others who ignore the signs saying No Boats and tie theirs up to branches of cedar. Well, what about mornings, said John. What an idea. So we began to go down around 8:00 or 8:30 when no one was there except the friendly man hired by the regional district to collect garbage and clean the outhouse and rake the sand. I don’t have a device to tell me how far I swim but I think it’s about 3/4 of a km. And we go almost every day in summer.

This morning was so lovely. It’s not sunny, except in fits and starts. But the water was so green and clear, the air clean, the cedars laden with cones, and not a single boat on the lake. A cutthroat trout jumped 3 times right in front of us and swallows dipped over the surface of the water, probably feeding on the same hatch as the trout. Later in summer, we’ll see tracks in the sand when we come down — deer, even a bear last year, wanting what we want: solitude, the old sense of the lake before the crowds, its cool welcoming licks against the shore.

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