Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Perfect Swim

A perfect beach day. An endless blue sky is decorated here and there with gentle puffs of white and a few silent hawks that are riding an undetectable air current high above the beach. The Atlantic spreads to the horizon and beyond in three distinct jewel shades of blue and green. I sit low to the ground in my beach chair, legs stretched out in front of me, my feet on the warm, fine-grained black-speckled sand of this Florida beach. The bottoms of my feet feel slightly toasted. I draw my feet back a bit and then slide them under the surface of the sand. After only a minute, the heat has sunk deep into my skin.

I lower my book and look out at my mother and my son, standing at the edge of the ocean. A wave crawls up onto the shore and licks their feet. They take a couple of steps further in. The next wave rolls up and douses their knees. I see Jeff cringe slightly and raise up on his toes to try to avoid the chill of the water on his already slightly sunburned skin. They brave two more steps. The next wave bounds toward them, playfully splashing even higher this time. Jeff's arms quickly and stiffly go up as he braces himself against the shock of the water on his bare chest. My mother has had enough. She does a shallow dive into the upcoming wave before it can get the best of her. Jeff turns side-to and continues to endure the torture. My mother surfaces just beyond where the waves break. She's telling Jeff something and I know what it is.

"You just have to dive in. It's only cold for a minute and then it's fine."

She's been telling all of us this for years, but most of us still go along with the torture.

The next wave is a big one and Jeff's choice is taken from him. He's completely in. I watch as they dive in and out of waves, float, and swim, just far enough out that they miss the breaking point and avoid getting turned head-over-heels and washed up on the shore.

The sun continues to beat down on me and I'm getting a little too hot. I stand up and make my way down to the edge of the water. Jeff and my mom see me and wave me in. I take my two steps, squat down and dip my fingers in, then raise them to my tongue. How I have missed the taste of the ocean. The water is cool and clean and crisp. No seaweed in sight today. Not that I mind a little seaweed. The bottom is smooth and soft, free of rocks. As a wave recedes, the sand under my feet is pulled out to sea and my feet are buried with living sand that moves in to replace it. I pull them out and take the requisite two more steps - giant steps because I'm determined to take my mother's advice and get this over with. I gasp as the cold water hits me mid-thigh. I can tell the next one is going to break just as it reaches me so I just do it. I dive through it (insert closed-mouthed gasp here) and join my mom and Jeff on the other side. Definitely brisk, but so refreshing. And of course she's right - in less than a minute I no longer feel the chill. I turn over and float on my back, parallel to the waves. They gently lift me and lower me back down as they head for the shore. I often dream that I'm doing just this - floating in the ocean, bobbing in the waves. It's never cold or too rough in my dreams. Just gentle swells and clean, green salt water. Nothing feels cleaner to me or more refreshing than the ocean. Our bodies are seventy percent salt water, right? Well, after living in an arid climate for the past few decades, mine has been feeling more like sixty percent. I'm soaking up the much needed difference. The water is so clear today. I long to dive down and swim around with my eyes open, viewing the ocean floor through the jade green of the water, but I have my contacts in and I'm afraid they'll float out. We stay in for an hour, swimming, floating, treading water. We drift with the current. Every so often one of us looks to shore, locates our beach chairs, and we push our way back through the current until we are in front of them again. Finally, we decide to get out. We let the waves carry us in until we're in shallow water. We stand and water sheets off of us as we head up to our spot on the beach. The hot sun feels like a heated blanket on my skin. I skip the towel and sit down on my chair again. I stretch my legs out in front of  me.

 What a swim.