Communing Sola

I love having my new swim buddies, can’t say it enough. But I also know that I still need to do solo swims. When I swim with people, it’s jolly to share the experience. But alone, I don’t get distracted and can’t help but be mindful. Going sola, I go to a kind of nature/water-church.

Monday was the first super sunny morning in ages. The first morning that it truly felt like it could be called summer-ish. Nothing warms a prairie girl’s heart or indeed most people’s hearts like a full-blown, blue-sky, sunny morning. I checked the tides on the pooter like Mancub calls it and I could already imagine the glory of my first Dublin-swimspot love: Seapoint. It was 13 degrees Celsius according to my car and only 9:33am.

No one was there except one older guy drying himself off. He was in no hurry to put on clothes and seemed to be settling down in his towel skirt for some morning sunbathing and reading the newspaper.

In some ways it’s a lonelier experience swimming at Seapoint. The size of the bay is much bigger and lends to a bit less intimacy than the swimming hole of Forty Foot. And though the city is closer it feels a bit wilder being out in the open far away from people.

I got in and felt colder than usual. Normally I’m distracted and in such a rush to catch up to C and the others that I barely experience the freezingness.

I swam a hundred yards out. Turning back to check my bag and stuff I spotted another potential swimmer disrobing.

At first I wonder why am I in the water? It’s freeze-your-boobs-off cold. And then I wonder, has the magic gone? Where’s my thrill? And then I flap about some more and the cold wears off a bit and I concentrate on being in the moment. And in this moment there is sunshine, pure sunshine on my wet face. I close my eyes and all I see are my giant orange eyelids. I did a baptismal dunk and came up again and relished shaking the deliciously fresh water off of my face, feeling ecstatic. When I re-surfaced the first thing I noticed a hundred yards away at the changing area was the cross on the Martello tower. Hmm, I wonder is Jesus sending me a sign? Was he saying, stop flaky dabbling with Buddhism and nature worship and come back to me. Actually I think he probably is a fan of Buddha too.

I very much enjoyed Glennon Melton’s essay on the problem with trying to carpe diem all the time. And I agreed. But I think what also needed mentioning is that living in the moment is an art. Something you have to practise, daily. Like during meditation when monkey mind takes over, you have to keep coming back to your breath, let it wander and keep coming back. You have to keep coming back to the present during your day and feel all the textures and layers. And sometimes you suck at it and sometimes you are there in the now more. I totally agree with sage people who say that happiness lies in slowing down and being totally present.

In the present I look over to see what’s taking the changing swimmer at the Martello tower so long.

Just then, facing Howth and the great big sea in front of him, he opened the towel around his waist and did a big, long, naked stretch.

He’s definitely not wearing togs, unless they are nude coloured. I turn away, trying to peek without it being obvious. And I determine he is not wearing togs for sure. As with other encounters with nudists on beaches I’m the one who is embarrassed. Like I’m intruding on them. Maybe my unconscious reckons they are part of the natural habitat.

He put his towel back on.

And then opened it again, sneaking another nudie, arms-up-high stretch.

I don’t want him to think I mind (not that I enjoy it, but I’m not against it philosophically) but how to convey this? I try never to turn in his direction but that’s a little limiting, I like to frolic here and there and take in the whole panoramic view while I float and noodle on my back, and if I can see him in detail then he can see me and which way I’m looking.

I’ve read that some nudists are compulsive about it. They just yearn to feel the air on their soft places and can’t resist. He probably deludes himself into thinking I can’t see him. You can tell that he doesn’t want to freak people out, by his perpetual covering himself back up. I wonder if the sunbathing pensioner in his towel has similar urges and that’s why he is still in his towel skirt rather than back in his civvies.

Little Chief and Mancub love to parade around the garden nude in this weather. Why should we grow out of that urge or resist it? It obviously feels lovely to be free if you can be unself-conscious as toddlers can.

Maybe Mr. Naked is doing what I’m doing. Communing. Maybe this is his holy-ish thing.

I stayed in the longest I’ve done since last August, I’m sure. A few others came and went doing their espresso shot swims, while I lingered in my extra long cappuccino dip. One older lady spent ages getting into her suit. When she finally approached the water’s edge she said aloud to herself, rolling her r: Looks dirty. Ooh it’s cold. I’ll just do 3 strokes and I’m out. And that’s what she did. And then she declared her swimming season for the year had now officially started. Onlookers said to her you’re right to start slow. Aren’t you good, they encouraged her.

A couple of joggers came in to dip their toes. One of them walked in the water all the way up to her cycling-shorts-clad butt. First taste of summer and everyone gets playful.

After a good long set of alternating stretching nude and covering himself with his towel, like a matador playing bullfighter and bull, Mr. Naked put back on all his clothes. He slung his trendy messenger bag across his shoulder, got on his bicycle and rode away, set for the day ahead no doubt.

When I get back out to change I realize it wasn’t a cross I’d spotted in my religious moment after all, but just a set of changing hooks.

I had stayed in the water the longest since last August. And so I had the chills even in the heat. What is the opposite of a meltdown. A freeze-up? A lot of chocolate and tea and coffee and clutching 3 consecutive hot water bottles and I was grand… I loved the weird dry feeling of having sea salt stuck to the skin just below my eyebrows throughout the day.

P.S. Speaking of wind on your soft places, here’s some vintage Hawksley Workman: Paper Shoes. HW is appearing in my upcoming novel: Cadillac Couches, out in September!

Cinco de Mayo Supermoon Swim

After more than a month out of the water, I had a swim date for a Cinco de Mayo midnight full moon swim. I was excited and nervous all day in anticipation. I’d heard the water had gotten much colder in April. Plus, apparently there had been sightings of seasonal jelly fish already.

Here in Dublintown we had a freakish summer spell in March when Mancub was parading around the garden nude, picking dandelions and jumping on the mini-trampoline, or bounce-aline as Little Chief calls it. I even bought LC and him both some sandals so hot and sweaty were their pudgy little feet. Since those blissfully sunny two weeks, it has gone all wintry, interminable wet weather, no sun, icy winds, and temperatures stuck below 10 Celsius and not a single outing of those sandals. Summer in March. Winter in April, and May so far, more winter with never-ending rain showers. When the sun did come out one day, my eyes couldn’t cope with the novelty. All this to say it was cold.

We had been planning on going on the previous month’s full moon. But it was so wild out, our plans were thwarted by the gale force winds and small craft warnings on the news. We were, after all, small crafts ourselves.

Lots of anxious texts were exchanged the evening of Cinco de Mayo. My swim date with C was for 11:35pm. Everyone else had bailed and C seemed willing to bail if I said the word. I was feeling so excited though about this wacky endeavour that we agreed after much back and forth that we could at least go on a reconnaissance mission. We decided though to go earlier. Night time is night time and the moon would be out well before midnight.

She picked me up at 10:40. Everyone was in bed. Seadog said he’d keep his phone on beside him. In case I die? I asked. No in case you have hypothermia, he said patiently.

C and I were both wearing our swimsuits optimistically. The car temperature gauge read 4 degrees Celsius. But I was instantly relieved that I could actually see the moon. I hadn’t been able to catch sight of the supposed Perigee moon out of our windows at home without ridiculous neck contortions. Plus some full moons are never even visible because of dense cloud coverage, which is not an unusual state of affairs here in Ireland; it’s not big-sky Alberta.

I’m 40 years old and I don’t do dope or take mushrooms or ride motorcycles or party that hard: half a bottle of wine or three cocktails, one episode of the Savage Eye and two re-runs of The Wire and that’s as wild as I get these days, and that’s been the case since going down into the parenthood bunker. And I certainly don’t leave my house at 10:40PM!! That’s nuts.  And neither does C. I’m guessing our demographic may stay up late sometimes, but we don’t start our night out that late. Like Spaniards going out for dinner.

We were giddy from the sheer feralness of leaving our cozy homes at this hour. C was quite worried there’d be scary freaks out and about. Seadog had warned me there may be drunks. My instincts told me not to worry about that unlikelihood and instead had me focussing on the freezingness and darkness of our mission. Water strikes me as even more engulfing and otherworldly when it’s black.

We arrived and no one was there. Not a single person. We parked and went walking up to the 40 Foot. It  was empty, dark and foreboding—nothing like the cheerful aquatic institution of the daylight. The uneven cement path down to the water was slippery in the dark. Visibility was poor but I could see and hear the sea crashing up on to the changing area. The tide was pretty high. The moon looked good, but it didn’t look like a Supermoon particularly. I guess we were too early for that. The later in the night, the closer to the horizon it would get and closer to the sea, the bigger it would look. I have to admit I don’t know much about the specs on the moon. All I know is that sometimes, totally unplanned, I have seen the moon look absolutely massive and best of all, really yellow. I think that’s what’s called a Harvest Moon. Given the name Supermoon, I was expecting it to be like one of those if not better.

So I was a little underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, it was coot as ManCub likes to say, but not hooge as I was expecting. Still, being out at this time of night in the dark was thrilling. I tried to take some photos. Turns out I have a lot to learn about night-time photography. Namely that you’re supposed to hold the camera still for a long time. We shivered in the wind.

On our way back down to SandyCove we spotted a sweet looking, middle-aged woman who looked like she shopped at Marks and Spencers. We knew she was a swimmer from the telltale towel poking out of her bag. Big relief to see one of the tribe. Sure enough a whole gaggle of people then showed up, as if on cue.

It’s the kind of community you would see in a quirky art-house film. So sweet or charmingly eccentric you can’t quite believe they’re real. But this community is real. Old people. Young’uns in wetsuits. Dog named Dog. More females than males. They arrived with their crate of tea cups and post-swim treats. And a big jolly lantern. Some old guys were even designated torch holders, acting as human lighthouses.

Not a hooligan in sight. In fact if there were any, they’d be posh ones in this neighbourhood. There were even a handful of ten-year olds. And there were loads of over-sixties and just a few of us 40-ish year olds. It was the usual type of band of merry bathers. We chatted with an older woman who had walked up from her house up the road in her bathrobe, with her dog keeping guard.

And so we disrobed and got in the water in a big, polite queue with a volunteer shining a path for us. I still can’t say enough good things about my beloved swim boots! Thank you rubber trees.

I got in and howled away at the moon immediately from the cold and for the theatrics of it, presuming others would join in a chorus. Surely that’s what you’re supposed to do on one of these pagan gatherings. But it was probably better they didn’t or the residents may have gotten pissed off. My howls tailed off as I flapped about in the bouncy, dark water.

People say the water is warmer at night because it stores the heat of the day. It’s true it didn’t seem so freezing. C and I swam about, busily checking out the scene around us, all the swimmers looking at each other as if to say, what are we doing? Are we unconsciously following some maritime ancestral instincts, are we driven here by the ancient watery forces of sea-god Poseidon? I don’t think anybody really knew why we were doing what we were doing except that swimming during a full moon makes perfect sense in a totally oddball way. We probably all need more earthy, hippie, pagan nights out like this as a detoxifying ritual to bring us back to our true feral selves, to delight in the sweetest, simplest pleasures.

I was impressed to see one swimmer had a head torch. Like a caver. It was definitely hard to see even with the moon and the street lamps.

Everyone cheered the nervous young girl for finally getting in the black water, or the drink like another swimmer called it.

C and I dunked our heads underwater once before getting out.

Drying up, the moon tucked itself in under the clouds and all but vanished. We had unwittingly experienced perfect timing; again maybe it was those old watery forces pulling us there for that perfect moon window.

We dried ourselves up and stood on our hot water bottles in warm clothes. Hot water bottles, perfect simple technology. I ate a banana. Had some tea from the thermos and was delighted to be offered a delicious dark-chocolate-cluster desert.

That night I slept terribly. I was too excited and uncomfortable, sleeping in my fleece and toque because I didn’t want to get the chills or wake up the house by turning on the shower. It was such a bad night’s sleep that the next day I felt like I was actually hungover  from a major party. And just like all good parties, I relived the best bits and replayed them in my mind the next day in my sleepy dry land life.

 The Whole Of The Moon ( a great moon song)