If you know me — have read my work, are a friend, hang out on social media, etc. — you’ll know that for the last 14 years I’ve been swimming in Scotts Flat Lake, a reservoir near my town in Northern California. At first, when a friend brought me to the lake, I swam every couple of weeks or so in the summer, to cool off or have some social time with people. Then it evolved… well, maybe that’s the wrong way to say it. Then I was dragged kicking and screaming… no, that’s not really it, either. Then we had a really hot summer, and I started swimming every day. For heat relief, for the beauty of the lake water’s color, for a feeling of having a vacation even when it was the end of a weekday, for all kinds of reasons.
I can’t recall how I came to be swimming with Sandy, but she was a person who also swam every day, often when I was there, and I knew her because I always drank lattes in her coffee shop. Some alchemical phenomenon of me seeing her looking relaxed and happy at the café after a swim, or watching her elbows flash as she and her friends Pat and Lori whizzed by me in the water, moved me to keep driving the 18 minutes up to the lake every day, too. And back. One year she talked me into not stopping even though it was about to be October. I learned to keep swimming down to 58 degrees.
I mean look at this color! And I took the photo this morning from the boat ramp. It’s even more beautiful when your eyes are three inches above the surface.
This is looking across the lake, which is about a mile. Its length is more like three miles, but I haven’t boated around the perimeter to verify that. I like boats, especially the unmotorized kind, but given a choice I will always opt to swim. And I’m not even a good swimmer. This summer I have secret plans to get better, but I mostly breast stroke and side stroke along, hauling my untiny self through turquoise and teal and blue and sometimes a gray that’s nearly black, if we’re having a storm. We don’t swim when there’s lightning, but we’ve swum in rain and hail and snow.
We’ve had a terribly long, cold, wet winter around here, and some of us are not good at coping with life unless we can swim in this lake. Naming no names. I personally appreciate all the new water, because look how full it is! Water on the third step! In a month there will be a little beach below these stairs, and in three months (mid-August) there will be a big beach. The boat ramp will get longer and longer as they let water out of the dam and the lake level falls. In drought years, such as we’ve had recently, sometimes they let out so much water that the boat ramp ends, and then I have to drive the hour up to Donner Lake for a real swim. I was not built to clamber over large slippery boulders in order to get to the water. That’s what’s at the end of the boat ramp. But let’s not talk about that now.
Let’s talk about the fact that this morning Sandy and I swam for 40 minutes in 67 degree water, and went past that buoy you can barely see just left of the center of the shoreline in this photo. This was my fifth time in the lake: two dunks, one paddle, and two real swims. Yesterday, after Sandy got home from her first dip of the season, she wrote me and said, “I feel like a person again!”
EXACTLY!! Swimming saves what’s left of my sanity after a winter of bad news reels and random disorganized infrequent exercising. Once I’m into that water, my limbs know where to put themselves, my eyes know what they’re looking at. We saw an osprey yesterday. Today we saw a huge trout, right by the dock. The new green is still on these trees. I can feel my gills getting stronger, and the flukes of my tail.
It’s the middle of May. We’re two weeks ahead of our start date last year! I’ve already dunked with Sarah M. and paddled with Siddo and Josie, and I’m due to meet Sandy at 9:30 tomorrow morning. It’s started. There may be snow melt to deal with, and those weird days when the lake “rolls over,” a concept I don’t completely understand that makes everything much much colder. But those things, as you know, are quite trivial. We’re swimming.