|Tim and Ralph swim through the still water
September 24, 2012
Throughout September, my husband, son and I have been taking long swims in the lake. The water this time of year is warm and silky. A 30- to 40-minute swim produces a feeling of exhilaration and accomplishment without any chill involved. It’s very refreshing.
We’ve enjoyed freshwater ever since we moved to the property in 1992 but until now, our watery excursions had been more like short dips than mini-marathon endeavors. Most of the time what I called a "swim" was really a brief immersion. When hot, I’d jump in to cool off, getting out soon after.
Occasionally, Ralph and I would swim out to the middle of the lake and back. Sometimes we’d even venture the entire way across. But even those swims of approximately 200 to 400 feet were nothing compared to what we’ve been doing of late. Stroking along half of the lake’s perimeter follows a course about 10 times longer than across the lake and back.
At first, I was reluctant and admittedly scared. What if one of us got tired, I worried? And what about alligators? Although I keep a close watch on wildlife and haven’t seen a gator in months, I’d be a fool to believe they aren’t there. Waterside living in Florida means accepting and respecting the presence of aquatic critters, alligators included. It also means becoming educated about alligator behavior and I knew enough to realize my fears were irrational. To minimize danger we never swim without a partner, make a concerted effort to stay close to the shore and choose a time to swim when gators are less active.
Once I overcame my concerns, I enjoyed the experience. Long distance swimming in open water is different from anything I’d done before. The buoyancy of the water takes much of the effort out of an exercise that strengthens every muscle group, improves cardio-vascular health and increases endurance.
When swimming, even though I’m working hard, I’m also relaxing. The silky smoothness of the water is soothing. My mind drifts along with the clouds as I float on my back. Ralph suggested I wear earplugs so I wouldn’t worry about getting water in my ears and I’m glad he did. Swimming with earplugs is great. Not only do they prevent me from getting water in my ears, they enable me to submerge my head, which amplifies the sound of my breathing. As I do various modifications of the backstroke, I listen to my breath while looking skyward. It feels very much like meditation.
When I’m not looking up at clouds, I’m watching the shore while doing the sidestroke or breaststroke. Things look different when in the water instead of on it. As I gently propel myself forward with steady strokes, I compare the view to what I would see if I were paddling along in my rowboat. I notice things when I’m swimming that I might miss if I were rowing. A dragonfly lands on a reed. A school of minnows leaps out of water in front of me. Up ahead two turtles appear then disappear just as quickly when they become aware of my presence. In the water, I’ve become that alligator, the large predator moving swiftly through a liquid medium.
One day when we were on the return leg of our lengthy swim, it began to rain - no lightning and thunder, just a steady warm downpour. How amazing it was to be in the water with giant bubbles erupting all around us! When we arrived at the shore, it was too special to get out so we stayed in a little longer simply savoring the moment.
I don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to continue our new exercise routine. Right now, it’s easy because the air and water are warm but as the weather changes, getting wet will become more difficult. I’ve never been a big fan of cold-water swimming. Then again, until recently, I’d never been one to swim in the lake for more than a few minutes either.
I’ve lived next to lakes for most of my life but it took me 60 years to realize the pleasure and freedom that comes from taking long swims in open water. Rather than dwell on what I missed, I’d rather focus on what I’ve gained – new perspectives, improved health and a relaxing way to augment the joy of lakeside living.