I Go Swimming Every Day
The summer of 2020 should have been one of the worst of my life. But it has turned out to be one of the best, because I go swimming every day in a beautiful reservoir.
T thinks “beautiful reservoir” is an oxymoron. “Ugh, it’s hideous,” he has said every time we happen to go together. He hates the fact it is unnatural, created by a dam, and is often full of motorboats and people, churning it all up, making it cloudy.
The edges of the lake are rough and irregular, like wholesome wheat bread cut with a dull knife, or old, hard lumpy brown sugar. When the lake gets low, and it is low right now, tree stumps and sandbars emerge. But I don’t really ever see the less attractive parts of the reservoir, which we who swim in it just call a lake. I just see the water, and the water is clean, and blue. From my vantage point, with my eyes just a few inches above its surface, I just see the cottonwoods winking on the shore, and above that, the pine-covered hills. I have learned a million times what all the different pines are called, I can’t keep them all straight.
Previous summers, I went to this lake just once or twice a week. But this summer something wonderful happened; a guy who lives in our neighborhood got completely wasted and sideswiped my car, so it was in the shop for a while. During this time, I ran into an acquaintance of mine who asked why I hadn’t been at the lake at all that week, and I explained my car was out of service. She said that she could drive me if I’d be willing to sit in the back seat with a mask on with the windows down. I said I would be. And then, even when my car was repaired we kept going together. She went every day, so I went every day.
An aside: It was luxurious to have an excuse to be in a car with another person, another person to talk regularly enough that both of us could just be nattering bores when we wanted. Those of you who are seeing just one person, or three if you have children, or zero people, I strongly suggest making sure you see another person, in person, every day. If you are overwhelmed with the smallness of your world and you can’t imagine how to make it bigger, this is a good place to start.
This was back in June. It is now October, and we are still driving and swimming together every day. It’s a risk, but a calculated one for increased sociability and sanity.
The air is still very warm here, in the high 80s some days. It frankly seems a little hot for mid-October in Northern California but maybe it’s not, I don’t have the heart to look up the data, and please don’t share it with me. But the nights have been as low as 50 degrees so the water is getting pretty cold. It happened suddenly. October 6 was fine but on October 7, we were like “Shit, no, can we actually do this?” And when we got out of the water, we felt virtuous and smug in a way that we had not felt before. The coldest day we went, the air was 59 degrees and the water was around 65. We’re in another heat wave right now (ugh) but the water remains at around that temperature. It’s cold.
When you step into cold water—feet, ankles, legs—you don’t start to feel sorry for yourself until you get to your waist. There’s a brief moment of tender sorrow for the position you’ve put yourself in. Then your mind starts to rapidly generate good reasons why you should abandon this present challenge of being submerged in cold water and turn your attention to doing taxes, or returning a bra, or finding a dog trainer; activities which will be annoying to you, a person, but painless for the physical body.
So we just stand there, hating ourselves and wanting to leave for about five minutes. Then we force ourselves to dive in. Then we just feel cold. It’s pretty awful. But after about five minutes, it’s kind of fine, only semi-awful, then, it’s amazing. But still too cold to think of anything else.
Swimming in cold water — and I realize people swim in much colder water than this, but swimming in 65 degree water for 30–40 minutes is not easy — reminds me of the worst heartbreak I ever experienced. When I was in the middle of it, I started doing volunteer algebra tutoring for three hours two days a week. When I walked out of the school after my tutoring sessions, which went by in a flash, I realized that I had not thought of how terrible I felt, not at all, for those whole three hours. I just didn’t have the space in my mind for anything but what was right in front of me.
Sometimes when people talk about “what keeps them sane” I feel like they’re really overstating the matter. I don’t think swimming keeps me sane. It’s more like for an hour or so, I forget that I am not. This is fine. My expectations are very low. Last year my friend swam until November 22. The water was 58 degrees. We will see how long we make it this year. We are both going to try to swim until we just can’t stand it anymore.