“water fell/through all my doors” (Maxine Kumin)


I’ve begun my lake swims again and although the water is a little cool, I know it’s where I want to be. These are hot days, scarily so for mid-May on the Sechelt Peninsula. The thermometer on the west wall of the house, not in direct sun, not yet, reads 35 celsius. That’s 95 fahrenheit. I did the morning watering and a few other garden chores after my swim and then it was too hot to be outside. So the lake will warm up earlier than usual, I think. I was glad this morning to be cool, to hear a creek running down from Mount Hallowell just to the right of the cedars in this photograph (from last summer). Glad yesterday to see an eagle fly over me as I did the backstroke. Glad to hear kingfishers rattling, one on either side of the little beach area where I leave my towel and go into the water.

These cedars mark one end of my swim. I begin here and I swim about 60 meters to another group of cedars, turning, returning. Some days I do 10 laps, or 20 lengths. This morning I did 5, because, well, because the water was cool and I had chores to do once home. I’ve done this particular swim for 7 years. Before that, I was reluctant to join my husband and other family members when they went down for an afternoon swim because I didn’t like the crowds. It didn’t occur to me that I could go first thing in the morning and mostly I would have the water to myself. It didn’t occur to me until it did. Last summer, from mid-May until the first week of October, I only missed 3 mornings. Oh, wait. We drove to Alberta in late September and were away for 10 days. We swam along the way, though — in Nicola Lake, in a pool in Radium, somewhere else too. I’ve become that person who travels with a bathing suit under my clothes, just in case.

In a few days we’ll leave for Salmon Arm where I’ll be part of the Word on the Lake Festival and after that, we’ll amble down through the Okanagan for a two nights, visiting our favourite wineries and hoping to swim. We’re setting up the timer in the greenhouse so everything in there will be watered and hopefully cooler days are coming for everything else. We don’t have an elaborate irrigation system (confession: it’s me…) but if we had this all to do again, I think we would. The shift has happened. In the past 5 or 6 years I’ve watched the western red cedars die in places where I thought I’d see them forever. The ones that are my turning point at the lake will probably live because they are near water. But the ones by the parking area are dying. A huge old hemlock has also died and I expect the parks people will take it down before long.

I don’t know what we do about this. I mean, us. People who try to do their best, who grow some food, who try to keep a light footprint. (You can see mine in the damp sand in the photograph…) When I hear about the fires in Alberta, the floods at Cache Creek and Grand Forks, when I read the thermometer on our western wall, I want to weep. Sometimes I do. This morning I remembered Maxine Kumin’s beautiful “Morning Swim” and when I got home, I looked it up. This is how it concludes:

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.”

This morning my bones drank water as I swam from one group of cedars to the other. The cedars drank deep too. They still can. But for how much longer? In just a few days the woods have dried, the moss is beginning to shrivel, and I find myself hoping that birds know to seek shadier places to build their nests as I watch them carrying tufts of grass and little sticks. The insects are quiet. It’s too hot for bees. The tomato plants, so vigorous last week, look sad this week; they don’t have enough bulk to keep cool. Was it only a week ago I was making marmalade in a kitchen warmed by the woodstove, listening to rain on the blue metal roof? “Water fell/through all my doors. I was the well.” I wish that was true. Well to the world, to the living trees, to the chickadee I can see from my window as I type this, a strand of dry moss in its beak.

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