july 9/RUNSWIM

3.25 miles
top of summit hill and back
78 degrees

Warm, sunny. Started in the neighborhood. Ran past the house, a block away, with the guy who is always outside on his front step, usually smoking. No smoking today, thankfully. Have I never not seen him?

Two white mattresses propped up at the end of driveway. Something spray-painted on them that I could read fast enough as I ran by. Graffiti? A message to the garbage guys?

Rowers! At least one 8-person shell on the river below me as I crossed over to the east side.

Shadow falls falling! As I ran up the summit hill, I could hear the water in the small creek slowly making its way to the falls. I tried to see it, but couldn’t.

Other than the rowers, and some sandbars, the water was empty. Brown. Reflections, which looked like dark shadows to me, of trees lining the shore. A small stretch of sparkle. Farther down the river, below the U. the water is foamy, but here it’s just brown.

It was hard, and I walked a few times, but I also pushed myself to run more than I wanted to.

When I reached the bridge again, I put in my “Beaufort Scale” playlist.

look pal, this isn’t the sea

Yesterday, I wrote about looking for a balance between routine and disruption. This morning (7:30 am), I’m thinking about how open swim club offers one model. Swimming across the lake during open swim is a routine with a few set rules: a designated time, lifeguards lining the route, buoys you are supposed to always keep to your right. But, how you choose to follow those rules is up to you. Show up early (often they open the course before it’s officially supposed to start), or halfway through, or even at the last minute. Do just one loop or as many as you can fit into two hours. Swim straight from one buoy to the next in a tight, efficient line or loop wide, taking up as much lake as you can. Swim without stopping, or stop often to catch your breath or orient yourself or feel the openness and solitude of the lake. Round the far buoys or go past them to pause at the shore. Use a kick board or fins, a snorkel. Wear a wetsuit or a tri-suit or a swim suit but always some suit (another rule: no naked swimming).

An open water slogan I’ve seen before: no walls. No lane lines or lanes. But, this isn’t Homer’s sea, Alice Oswald’s unfenced purple. There are shores in sight (well, mostly in sight) and only vines, fish, and swan boats to encounter. No sharks or motorized boats or big waves. Does that mean the lake is all routine? Safe, steady, predictable?

from A Swim in Co. Wicklow/ Derek Mahon

Spirits of lake, river
and woodland pond preside
mildly in water never
troubled by wind or tide;
and the quiet suburban pool
is only for the fearful —

no wind-wave energies
where no sea briar grips
and no freak breaker with
the violence of the ages
comes foaming at the mouth
to drown you in its depths.

Lake Nokomis is affected by wind and watermilfoil reaches out to grip me near shore almost every swim. No, it’s not the sea, but it’s also not a suburban pool.

In the lake, you can’t see much, either above or below. Above: water, vague trees, sky, sand. Below: your hand, ghost vines, silver flashes. No bottom, just void, nothing, or something not-seen.

In an essay about open swimming in the sea, Lauren Groff (love her writing and her awesome Olympic triathlete sister!) writes:

There is danger, a great deal of it. There are sharks that circle her. They wait. Their teeth shine in the murk. Their bodies lazily trail her shadow as it darts over the coral reef.

Lake Nokomis doesn’t have sharks. It has uncertainty, mystery, a floor only 15-20 feet below scattered with things we can’t see because the water is stirred up, murky. I wonder, which is scarier? Swimming above sharks you can see, or above a nothing that could be anything that you can’t?

swim: 3 loops
lake nokomis open swim
75 degrees

A few hours before open swim started, the sky unzipped and it rained hard. I think that might be the reason the water was so full of vegetation: whole vines, chunks of vines, and some green slimy substance. Gross! Before I realized what was happening, I swam through the slime — bright green, soft but not in a pleasant way. I’m glad my mouth was closed and I had a nose plug in. Hopefully it’s not toxic. In the 10 years I’ve been doing open swim, this is the first time I’ve experienced anything like this slime. I almost stopped after one loop, but decided to swim 2 more.

added, 10 july 2024: Reading back through my description, I wanted to add that I didn’t just swim through one random patch of this green slime. It was everywhere, all around the lake. Starting the first loop, before I realized the slime was there, I recall feeling something on the side of my head and wondering if some of my hair had escaped from my cap. No — I think it was some of the slime. The first loop was the worst, but for every loop, I could see it, often below me, but sometimes near the surface.

Okay, against better judgment — mine and Scott’s — I looked it up and it might be blue-green algae, which could be bad and make me sick. Hopefully not. Probably not. If if were blue-green algae I think someone would have seen it and they would have cancelled open swim. Future Sara will let us know.