There is one thought that sustains the winter-weary soul through darkness and cold – that summer will come again. But like a small child waiting from Christmas Day or birthday gifts, the wait can feel very long. Some of those gray cold days are eternities.
But summer did come, and with it, my desire to get in the saltwater and paddle around doing my best imitation of a dog swimming.
Injuries and surgeries make swimming like a normal person impossible for me. Instead I’ve adapted a method for staying afloat with some forward propulsion. As advised by the surgeon, “You can do a modified version of the doggy paddle.”
My first attempt after back surgery in 2018 went surprisingly well. I felt comfortable, relatively pain-free and totally at peace being in the water. The second attempt was nearly a disaster, when I learned that my overall weakness – due to lack of muscle tone – made swimming at Ned’s Point “off limits”. The ebb and flow of the water there was much too strong. As I attempted to get up on the tiny beach from the water, I had to crawl on my hands and knees. Not pretty to say the least. Lesson learned; I’d have to stick with the calm waters of town beach.
Studying the tide chart, I plan my day so that I can take advantage of the high tides. Since I was a little kid learning how to swim at Onset Beach, high tide draws me to the water like the gravitational pull of the moon on the earth’s oceans. In those early years, it was primarily because at low tide you could see and feel the huge patches of eel grass and other seaweeds swaying under the surface. I thought they were “icky.” Sad to report that by the time I was a grown woman taking my son there to swim, most of those important plants were gone. Human impact, no doubt.
Nowadays I imagine I’m a bit of a sight. I’m that white-haired woman wearing a tattered lime green baseball cap and a wetsuit, supported by a walking stick. I hobble across the hot beach sand carefully placing one foot after the other until I reach a spot along the Barstow wharf stonewall where I can leave the stick and towel.
Little children are great. They laugh and splash and basically ignore me as they cavort along the shoreline challenging their beseeching mother’s pleas: “Please don’t splash me!” If it were possible – if I could enter a time machine – I’d turn the dial to 1975 and let my precious little boy splash water on me to his heart’s content. He was never allowed to do so back in the day. More’s the pity.
The ladies who take up their traditional sunbathing spots on the beach, some who have done so for decades, give me a small acknowledging smile as if to say, “Bless her heart – at least she’s trying.” But just about everyone else is caught up in the joy of the high tide at summertime as I am. There is joy in the air.
Gliding out towards the raft where teenage boys and girls laugh and remind each other not to swear, “There’s a lady right there – she’ll hear you,” I slice along. Continuing on my way across I leave their sound bite and their youthful banter that holds them, for a moment, in suspended animation. The future doesn’t matter right now. My future is right over there, about 25 yards away. It’s my favorite buoy, one that helps to support the ropes denoting the swim area. I hang out there suspended in seawater, allowing the zero-gravity sensation to heal my body and soul.
It takes me a good ten minutes to cut across the water, slowly scissoring my legs sufficiently to stay above the waterline and make modest forward movement, while using my arms and hands to pull and push the water away from my torso. I look quite silly no doubt. But I feel so good.
I drift for some minutes at my buoy, studying the relationship of cloud and sea, of how the moored boats seem to float above the waterline from this vantage point, of how voices carry across the water, across time.
I hear the voices of those who have left this mortal coil. Some were my contemporaries, some were family. They all take a turn at the beach with me. Fragments of conversations. I’m forgetting what some of their voices sounded like. Gone now, but they have left their lasting impressions. Yet the tone of their voices is becoming my voice. I’m not hearing them so much as remembering what they said. I wonder if they would be pleased to know what I remember and that it is, in fact, me who is holding their candle.
The boatyard shuttles daytrippers to and from the wharf. They are burdened with pounds of supplies, towels and sandwiches. Our forefathers would have deemed their clobber enough for a week-long journey into the unknown wilds of the west. These folks are only going to Martha’s Vineyard or Wareham. “Heave ho matey!”
I think of the shoreline along Water Street where once the sounds were all of people beavering away at shipbuilding, shop keeping, fishing. Now we relax by those once industrious spaces with leisure time to burn.
I side-slice my way towards the wharf as the high tide washes to the shoreline. The effort is my attempt to keep muscles and bones, ligaments and tendons expanding and contracting in a healthy manner forever. The reality of what my forever may really amount to isn’t part of my internal discussions, not now, not when I’m free and moving so effortlessly.
Too soon my internal alarm clock says I’ve dallied in the water long enough. Climbing ever so slowly up the sandy slope back to the here and now, it’s like being pulled from a spacecraft and feeling the intense gravity of the earth for the first time in many days. I explore inner space however, a cerebral journey where reality is briefly suspended and weightlessness is a gift from the hightide by way of the moon.
This Mattapoisett Life
By Marilou Newell