Today is my last swimming day for 2016. I knew it before we left. The low two nights ago was 65, last night, 55. The high today hit the mid-80’s, but the north breeze has made it feel cooler.
Northern people are sad when swimming weather ends. I know, because I used to be a northern people. I used to mourn the end of pleasant, sunny days, and dread the long, dark, freezing months of winter when the sun might come out twice a week – or so it seemed.
I used to dread being holed up in a house most of the day, even when I wasn’t in school.
But I am now a Southern people, having lived for more than half my life in the South. And like most Southern people, I embrace – yea, celebrate – the end of swimming season. Because here, the end of swimming season signals the end of being holed up in a house, hiding from blistering heat and – in this part of the country – oppressive and depressing humidity. It signals the beginning of most Southerners favorite part of the year: not summer.
A time when you actually want to stay outside for more than five minutes at a time. When the picnic table invites you to sit down to it with a good read. When you wonder why you hated gardening so the past couple of months, because now you are at absolute peace as you walk through it, weeding and checking for pests.
Sure, there are a few days in December, January, and February when it’s too cold or icy to enjoy the outdoors. And we foolishly wish for summer to hurry up and get here.
But most of fall, winter, and early spring, we are comfortable. That makes us happy.
Back to my last swimming day of the year.
Anticipating lake water much colder than it had been even a few days ago, I gamely walk into it anyway. And am pleasantly surprised. I forget that a lake is a giant thermal mass that takes a while to either cool down or heat up.
But I don’t last more than fifteen minutes, anyway. Whenever I expose my shoulders in the air, I start to shiver. That north breeze, however light, produces goosebumps on my wet skin.
So I get out, warm up a little and dry off a little, and sit in the folding chair. Looking straight ahead, I notice for the first time how blue the water is. It is serene, and the sky above is just as blue. In fact, I think it’s the first day all summer that the area right above the lake has not been peppered with cumulus clouds.
Closer to me, a few feet from shore, a petite, yellow butterfly flitters around the isolated patch of white wildflowers. A small black wasp – a kind I don’t recognize – buzzes by me on my right and finds its own flower in the patch to snack from.
I notice the tufts of tall grass growing just ahead of the flowers, their wiry green contrasting against both the flowery still life and the blue water that they stands between. A crow caws somewhere in the trees to my left. Another answers behind me and to my right. A car goes by on the highway. It could disturb my peace, but it doesn’t. It reminds me that others have to go somewhere; I don’t.
A boat in the distance catches my eye. It seems to be speeding along the opposite shore. I wonder about the fun-seekers. Are they financially independent, like we are? Or do they just happen to have a Tuesday off? Or maybe they work a later shift. Or maybe they are a semi-famous YouTuber who works an hour a day from home and makes five figures a month (could there be any such in our neck of the forest?).
The boat and the roar disappear after a few minutes, and I am left with the continual caws and chirps from nature. A blue jay cries behind me. Then, a lone cicada takes up its song. I haven’t heard a cicada in two weeks.
“Y’all are supposed to be done for the year,” I scold it.
Almost immediately, it stops buzzing.
Talk about a power rush! Even the wind and cicadas obey me.
Shouts behind me bring me back to reality. B is yelling at J not to move so as not to scare the fish. I get up to look at the watch where it is carefully positioned among the rocks in the shade. About ten more minutes until we go home.
If it weren’t for my bladder, I’d let the boys play longer. But nature calls, and so does my writing muse. I need to get home to record these impressions before they escape my all-too-sieve-like mind.
It’s a beautiful day. Sunny, clear, maybe a tad too warm.
My last swimming day of the year.