Wading through leaves, mulched between toes, in to the cold.
In the autumnal grey and Beech stained yellow, there is a sharpness to breath and water. This new dislocation is welcomed, defining the centre, an ice core of life, journeying bodily as blood retreats, focuses.
During this period of new measures, of levels and ‘lockdowns’, consciously or otherwise we are beginning to embrace the cold. Swimming in a lake, walking in the late evening and being with others was the promise delivered by summer. Now the energy in the water, the accumulated residue of heat, wanes under the assault of rain and wind, driven by the turn towards darkness.
Having been sheltered by Oak and Beech during rain distressed summer days, the loss of leaves laid bare the alternatives – wait away a winter looking for crisp mornings to walk out – or stay amidst the damp and grey, and wade through rapidly blackening leaves in to unforgiving water.
From now on the cold guides the way.
As ever I’m late to the party in this ‘discovery’, because lots of people have been doing this for a long time. I see them shivering, sometimes in small groups with familiar wet suits, others swim suited and tied to tow floats, topped with swim-caps or beanies… happy, exhilarated, be-calmed.
Although late, I have been getting here for awhile, pulled ever northwards by a desire to reconcile with the cold, to understand how to live in and relish colder climates, and to understand the threat of warming for those inhabiting the north. So I have come anew to the disciples of this discipline, both enthusiastic swimmers and cold water advocates, reading and listening to Roger Deakin, Kate Rew and Wim Hof, watching films curated by the Outdoor Swimming Society – the wonderfully anarchic non-governing body of international swimming. Leaning in to the online, but always drawn back to the material – the slippery places and non-places between water and land.
The choice then has been obvious, to stay in the water whatever the weather and to search out spaces to swim, float and drift. To explore the precision of water whose crystalline chill cuts across the arched neck necessitated for breast stroke, and travels warming to the core, pain receptors and adrenaline feeding each other in echoing waves of the water that enfolds cold and flesh.
We’re fortunate to live on the edge of lakes and dales, tarns, streams, rivers and forces, that cut and carve, eddy and meander, pool and fall, beneath and below the pull of land, percolating to the surface, shaping and overwhelming the gaps, pots and caverns.
Knowing these places as a walker, there’s an urgency now to know them as a ‘swimmer’, although it’s difficult to reconcile the simple act of entering water as swimming, and my ‘swimming’ is so much less than the type practiced by ‘swimmers’. It’s more a brief flapping about, a sometimes silent, occasionally shouty experience of exhilaration. Perhaps I’m missing a phrase here, something that relates to the pleasure in entering the flowing creases of a land shaped by and fed from the water, the dark of the lake and the tingle of anxiety ahead of immersion.
If such a phrase exists, I hope someone will tell me.