This is the year that will go down in my record book as the year I learned to love to swim. It is odd to think that I never really embraced the water until this year. What is even harder to grasp is that I am past sixty. This feels more like my prime. Admittedly, I am a late bloomer when it comes to loving the water.
I learned to swim in the first place in the ocean, on a sandy USO beach with clear azure water, on Guam. I was thirteen. Before that I was fearful, too tense to float, lacking trust in my teachers, the water was chilling. But at thirteen I was hot and humid and miserable and the water was tropic and very accessible.
My instructor was a tall lean Filipino, kind, encouraging, insistent. He put us through our paces and laps with confidence. Float. Fin water. Tread water. Swim out to the raft. Dive back in and swim to shore. My brother was the youngest in our class. I certainly did not want him to score ahead of me.
What I called swimming, my parents called dog-paddling. The motion I loved most was lying on my back and finning water, legs straight and arms pumping, propelling me to shore.
Given the choice of beach versus swimming pool? No contest. On a beach you can dive off a raft into 15 feet of transparent aqua-hued water and swim with the tropical fish. You can float face down until you run aground when your chin and chest drag the sand. You can lie on your back and fin water until you beach yourself like a body canoe.
During all those ensuing decades between passing my Red Cross swim test in 1968 and the present 2017, I may have averaged going to a pool and swimming once a year.
This summer, I picked up a swimming habit. I have lost count of the number of days I meander off the highway after work. I slough off my office wear in favor of swimsuit and walk straight into Lake Powell. I keep going until water meets my chin. And then, I tip back and repose, buoyed by the water. I rest, looking at the blue, blue sky and the lovely clouds. And I fin water, bringing my arms from cross down to sides, up my sides and back to cross again, alternately propelling myself and pausing to gaze at the sky and the approaching sunset. Long, leisurely strokes. One. Two. Maybe as many as thirteen. Finally, I run aground in the sand and prop myself up on elbows to scan the rock formations on the horizon – arches and buttes in desert pastels.
‘Cause when it’s too hot to hike, you learn to love the lake.