Sunday, May 25, 2008

Lake Ouachita is MY lake.

You can smell the lake before you can see it. I know just when to roll my windows down. First there's a mountain to climb which peaks and then the road goes down, turns, goes down again. That's when to roll the windows down, breathe deeply, let the bliss start to work its way under your skin. Then through the leaves you'll start to see the water's reflection. Come around a curve, ignore the first gravel patch but before you get to the second slow down and pull off the road. This is the sacred spot.

I feel the healing begin as soon as the key turns off. Gather up materials - towel, shoes, sunscreen? Oh guess not, bummer. No goggles today either, damnit. Alright, well, it's the first real swim of the year, it can't be perfect yet. Get out the car, bury the keys in a hidey-spot, and begin my trek through the woods. When I find myself at the edge of the water, if there are people around, I crouch down and shed my layers apologetically - if not, I'm brazen about it. I like to sit down and scoot into the water as the drop-off is quite steep. When I'm almost hip deep I'll take a huge breath and dive on in.

Oh my dear sweet lord. I'm home. I push and push and push myself under the water, trying to see how long I can make the breath last, how far out I can swim before I have to surface. I can feel the little things start to wash off - the fact that the grill man must have burnt seven orders today is gone. Hating the chemicals I have to clean with - gone. I push and push until I'm sure I'll die and only then allow myself to surface. I heave out the biggest sigh and immediately begin pumping legs, pumping arms - I have some distance to cover.

I was previously sure it was a quarter mile across the lake where I swim - Google maps tells me it's more like a tenth. It feels like a full mile. Hand over head, hand over hand, kick kick kick... and I like to switch it up. I'll swim forward, belly down, paddling, then start spinning like a top, swimming while I spin left left left, then right right right, then lay on my back and kick and throw my hands over my head and pull the water down my sides.

You'd never know I was an earth sign.

But apparently my Chinese astrology is full of water. And I love it. I love the feeling of being near weightlessness, the power, the strength I feel when I swim, the way my body moves in the water. Halfway across I forget the fact that I've just worked nearly seventy hours in five and a half days. Then I realize I'm not even halfway across yet and I get a little thrill. I won't let myself stop, won't take a break, have to swim the whole way without stopping. I get tired and I don't care. I keep swimming, keep spinning, swim front swim back swim sideways, just keep swimming and do not stop. Boats don't frighten me - I frighten boats. They can't figure out how I'm doing what they're doing without paying thousands to do it. I'm doing this myself. My own body does this by itself and it is a miracle.

When I finally get to the other side, it's interesting and hillarious watching myself try to pull my body back onto land, trying to remember how it works to be on land again. It takes a moment. This being the first swim of the year, I just collapsed until I remembered how to breathe again. Stood up and walked around to my favorite little spot where no one can see you sunning topless. Hung out until I got my breath back and then... back in, back across, without stopping once again. Gone is stress, gone is drama, gone are bills and unfulfilled obligations and chores, there is nothing but me, the sun, the water, and my breath...

Nothing but me, the sun, the water, and my breaths.

I'll get to the other side and touch rock, but usually cannot climb out just yet. Something about my body just isn't done with its water experience yet, doesn't want to do the land thing again just yet. I'll play games with my body in the water - try and float and see how long I can keep my toes above the water. Try to spin like a top without moving my arms. Try to swim with just my arms, or just my legs, try to turn somersaults without getting water in my ears.

I am wholly myself again, friends. Varsity Lake Crew tryouts begin now.

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