july 19/SWIM

5 loops
lake nokomis open swim
75 degrees

5 loops again! I swam 4 without stopping, then got out of the water to check in with Scott before returning and swimming one more loop. Felt strong and relaxed and happy. I remember thinking, this is it — it = the best, a moment I want to live in and return to when I need it. Steady strokes. Breathing every 5. Not seeing the buoys but swimming straight towards them. Not effortless or easy but satisfying.

The water was choppy, full of swells. From the big beach to the first orange buoy, it was difficult to stroke; I felt like I was flailing. Not being hit with big waves, but feeling like the water just under me didn’t want to cooperate. From the far orange buoy to the far green buoy, it was difficult to see anything, everything kept hiding behind a wave. Mostly I breathed on my right side. The last stretch of the loop, parallel to the big beach, was the best. Pushed from behind by the waves, I felt like I was on a people mover. My strokes were stronger and faster and easier.

The water was yellowish-green, with the occasional glob of algae, one or two prickly vines. My sparkle friends (the sediment/particles) were back! No fish sightings or near misses with other swimmers. No menacing swans. Probably because of the choppy water, the lifeguards kept drifting too close to the buoys, which made for tighter angles around the course.

During the last stretch of the fourth loop, as I looked through the water and saw nothing but bubbles and my hands, I thought about how this opaque water doesn’t represent the void or nothingness or the absence of something but a different way of being, one that is not only possible, but is already being lived. I don’t think this quite makes sense yet. Suddenly I thought about Judith Butler and her idea of making room for other ways of being. The aim is less to create an endless number of new ways of being, and more to acknowledging and support ways that already exist but have been ignored, silenced, reviled, feared. I’m getting somewhere with this, I think, but I’m not quite there yet. Something about how poetry, for me, is about this making room, giving a language to ways of being that already exist but only on the edge, the periphery — not only, but especially my way of being.

Two days ago, I was watching a video about the World Champion triathlete Beth Potter and her pre-Olympics training. Her swim coach was giving instructions to her training group at the lake: Before the buoy, you need to sight it and then do 20 strokes in with your eyes closed. See if you can hit the buoy. Potter’s response: Eyes closed? Coach: Yeah, yeah, a bit of blind swimming. I remember hearing someone during open swim a few years ago say that if your stroke is good/straight, you should be able to swim to the buoys with your eyes closed. I’m guessing that’s what Potter’s group is working on — making sure they have proper form.

One reason open swim club has been so meaningful for me for the last decade is how it has helped me to learn how to be — how to navigate, function — when I can’t see. To trust straight strokes, to get comfortable with other senses.

Random things to remember for future Sara: After possibly breaking a rib in his bat encounter, Scott is healing — he’s running and sleeping in the bed and not waking up each morning in agony. He and FWA are playing 4 instruments each in the pit for Spongebob Square Pants. I saw it last night: great. RJP moves into her dorm for her first year of college in a little over a month. Tadej Pogacar is achieving super-human watts as he bikes his way up the Alps and towards a resounding victory in the Tour de France. The lexapro seems to be working; I have so much less anxiety. The election continues to be shit show that I’m trying to ignore.

july 16/RUNSWIM

4 miles
river road, north/south
73 degrees
humidity: 86% / dew point: 60

A wonderful sunny morning. Not too hot yet, although the humidity took its toll. By the end of the run, I was dripping sweat. Another improved run. Went farther before I stopped for a quick break, then convinced myself to keep going on the way back. Believing again that I can do the marathon in October.

Decided to listen today. Thinking about how delightful it is to move through the neighborhood, passing from sound to sound.


  1. a chorus of BIRD — chattering, chirping, cheeping
  2. a little toddler voice trying to repeat binoculars after his mom said it in a neighbor’s backyard
  3. the shshshsh of my feet striking grit on the sidewalk
  4. overheard from one biker to another — and it was so quiet you could hear the water lapping against the shore
  5. a male coxswain below instructing rowers
  6. my house key softly jingling in my pack
  7. a walker’s keys jangling loudly in his pocket
  8. whoosh after whoosh after whoosh of car wheels passing on the road
  9. the buzz on a riding lawn mower — a park working mowing the grass beside the trail
  10. 2 sets of tap tap tap tapping from roofers — about a dozen taps each, at slightly different speeds, then a short break, then more taps
  11. the quiet hops of a bunny moving across a neighbor’s grass
  12. a lawn mower hitting a twig or a root — thwack!
  13. the clicking of a roller skier’s poles

I think my favorite sound was the soft footsteps of the bunny hurrying across the lawn. A silvery whisper only possible to hear on a calm summer morning like today. I love the sound of animal feet moving — running or hopping through the grass, thundering over hard dirt, scampering in the soft snow.

I posted this poem on here 2 years ago:

The Locust/ Leonara Speyer

Its hot voice sizzles from some cool tree
It seems to burn its way through the air
Like a small, pointed flame of sound
Sharpened on the ecstatic edge of sunbeams.

Speyer is describing a locust but as I wrote on the 16 july 2022, her description makes me think of a brood of cicadas. This sound is LOUD and interrupts you, demanding you notice it. The bunny’s soft footsteps were quiet and easily unnoticed. It feels like an accomplishment to have been quiet and aware enough to hear them.

So, I’m thinking about sound today. Another inspiration: Ears don’t lie.

Hearing is our fastest sense. (Who knew?!) Horowitz says that it takes our brain at least one-quarter of a second to process visual recognition. But sound? You can recognize a sound in 0.05 seconds. And our brain is so adept at hearing the differences between sounds, we can sense changes of sound that occur in “less than a millionth of a second,” according to Horowitz’s book [The Universal Sense: How Hearing Shapes the Mind].

Ears don’t lie

This source led me to a Radiolab story that includes Horowitz: Never Quite Now. This story is not just about sound, but our nerves and neurons and how long it takes for us to process the world. Here’s a helpful description of how our body sees and then wants a pen:

JAD: Okay, so the eye takes the light that’s reflected off the pen, turns it into a little electrical signal, and then sends that deep into the middle of the brain.

CARL ZIMMER: Takes a couple hundredths of a second.

JAD: Bounces around for a bit, and then within …

CARL ZIMMER: A few more hundredths of a second …

JAD: The signal has made it …

CARL ZIMMER: All the way back to the rear end of the brain, where you start processing vision.

JAD: But this is just the beginning.

CARL ZIMMER: Right. Now you’ve gotta like figure out what you’re seeing.

JAD: So our jolt is off again, this time toward the middle of the brain and then down toward the bottom.

CARL ZIMMER: To these other regions ..

JAD: That start to decode the signal.

CARL ZIMMER: The first visual region is called V1.

JAD: Next up …

CARL ZIMMER: V2, V4, and so on. And they’re gonna sharpen the image, make out contrasts, edges.

JAD: And then electricity goes back towards the front of the brain.

CARL ZIMMER: After, let’s see, another tenth of a second or so …

JAD: We finally get to a place where we think …

CARL ZIMMER: “Oh, that’s a pen.”

ROBERT: We haven’t gotten yet to “I want it”.


JAD: For that to happen, the electricity has to jump from one part of the front of the brain to another and another before you can finally say …

CARL ZIMMER: “That’s a nice pen. I could use a pen.”

JAD: [laughs]

ROBERT: [laughs]

CARL ZIMMER: And we are still not done, you know. Then—then—then …

JAD: Little jolt heads northCARL ZIMMER: To sort of the top of your brain. So we—we’ve gone from your eyes to the back of your brain, around up to the front of your brain again. And now we’re up to the top of your head where you set up motor commands, and then you can grab the pen.

ROBERT: Christ!

JAD: So I mean, you add all this up and what are we talking about here

CARL ZIMMER: About a quarter of a second.

Never Quite Now

Later in the story, Seth Horowitz describes how hearing is the fastest sense and mentions the startle circuit:

SETH HOROWITZ: A sudden loud noise activates a very specialized circuit from your ear to your spinal neurons.

JAD: You mean it bypasses the brain?

SETH HOROWITZ: Yeah, it’s the startle circuit. If you suddenly hear a loud noise, within 50 milliseconds, that’s 50 thousandths of a second, so you’re talking 20 times faster than cognition, your body jumps, will begin the release of adrenaline. No consciousness involved. It’s five neurons, and it takes 50 milliseconds.

Never Quite Now

I’ve written about the word startle before — I especially like Emily Dickinson’s startled grass. There’s a poem in here somewhere, involving bodily recognition (or reaction?) versus brain cognition.

swim: 5 loops
lake nokomis open swim
79 degrees

5 loops! What a great night for swimming in the lake! Calm, goo-free water, strong shoulders, a willing back, enough time to swim an extra loop. Amazing. Writing this a few hours later, I’m wiped out, but I felt good the whole time I was swimming. I swam for 80 minutes without stopping.

I wanted to give attention to sound as I swam, and I did. Mostly, I heard the sloshing of the water as I moved through it. Once I heard a plane roaring above me and another time I heard a lifeguard calling out. Not much else. In past years, I’ve heard squeaks or strange clanging noises, but not tonight. Just slosh slosh slosh.

The water was a pale green with the idea of pale yellow — I didn’t see yellow as much as feel that it was there. Visibility was limited, but I could see my hand in front of me, bubbles, and the underside of the water’s surface, which was very cool.

There were a few menacing swans and some kayaks.

From the shore I could see that the orange buoys were in a straight line. In the water, swimming past them, it didn’t seem as straight. At least once for each loop, I could see the orange dots of the three buoys. The green buoys were more difficult. I didn’t care; I knew where they should be and swam that way.

july 14/SWIM

4 loops
lake nokomis open swim
78 degrees

The big storms yesterday pushed out all of the algae scum. Hooray! The lake was clear and beautiful. My friends, the sparkling particles, were back. I think I’ll call them the water spirits. I swam 3 1/2 loops without stopping, then did a few breaststroke strokes in the middle of the lake before finishing up. I felt strong and relaxed during it, tired after. A great swim. Soon I’d like to add at least one more loop. Maybe this week?

The water was higher than usual. I noticed that the base of the light pole where swimmers sometimes put their stuff was underwater today. Scott told me that the little beach was gone — no sand, just water all the way to the grass.

10+ Things

  1. blue sky, some white clouds
  2. people on paddle boards, canoes in the middle of the lake
  3. no encounters with scum or vines
  4. the water was calm during the first loop, choppier during loops 2-4
  5. burped underwater which I thought would make a loud, echoing sound — nope
  6. the far green buoy looked white and blended in with the sailboats
  7. ending the loop, sighting the first orange buoy, it looked like a faint moon to me — almost like when you can see just barely see the moon during the day
  8. minnows near shore
  9. 2 lifeguards flirting through their walkie talkies with a third who was out on the course dropping a buoy — it’s not perfect, but we don’t need perfect / but I want perfect / giggle giggle
  10. the color of the water was a golden greenish-blue — shafts of light reached down from above and up from below — green, but a green that made you think blue, too, not clear but clean and fresh
  11. I don’t remember the water temperature so I think it was in that balanced state — not cold or hot

Unsettled by last night’s assassination attempt. Between that and the aftermath of the debate, what a shit-show this election is. As we drove to the lake, I recited Mary Oliver — It is time now, I said, for the deepening and quieting of the spirit amongst the flux of happenings. Yesterday something had pestered me so much I thought my heart would break. I mean, the mechanical part. The swim helped me to quiet my unsettled feelings.

july 12/RUNSWIM

run: 2 miles
lake nokomis
80 degrees

Ran with Scott around the lake before open swim. Hot! For most of it, I felt fine, but the last few minutes were hard. I can’t remember what we talked about — Scott mentioned something about selling a few subscriptions to his plugin during his band rehearsal last night — nice. I remember admiring the sparkling water and noticing some small waves, hearing many different birds singing, feeling the lack of shade in the stretch between the bridge and the little beach. Saw some geese and ducks — oh, here’s something I talked about: I mentioned to Scott how I wasn’t seeing many birds while I swam — no ducks crossing my path and no seagulls perched on the white buoys. I wonder why I’m not — are they not there, or am I just not noticing them?

swim: 4 loops
lake nokomis open swim
80 degrees

Warm, both the air and the water. Even so, it was refreshing after the run. The green slimy stuff was everywhere. Most of the swimming area at the big beach had globs of it on the surface. I told Scott it made me think of ectoplasm from Ghostbusters. Still gross, but I’m getting used to it, and now that I know it won’t get me sick, I don’t care that much. Some of it was dried out, a little more brittle, less slimy.

The water was rougher than I expected. No big waves, but enough chop that I had to breathe mostly on my right side and felt more tired at the end of each loop. Also, it was difficult to see much because of the swells.

My favorite part of the swim was the reflections on top of and below the surface. Above, the bright buoys made the water glow orange and green as I rounded them. Noticing this I wondered what reflections I might see on the underside of the surface. I swam a little deeper and looked up at the surface of the water from below: a reflection of my hands! Very cool looking.

My least favorite part of the swim was the algae and the thick branch that I swam into in the middle of the lake. First I was startled, then I had a flash of memory: Chief Brodie sees something in the surf and wades out; a charred dead body falls on him (from Jaws). Watching that movie when I was a kid still haunts me.

The color of the water was delightful. Mostly, I looked at it and thought green. Sometimes the green had hints of blue. Sometimes, when I was swimming near the ectoplasm-algae, it was bright green. And sometimes, when I noticed light streaming down from above, it had flecks of gold. Writing this last bit I realized that I haven’t seem much of the sediment this week — all the vibrating flecks looking like sparkles. I hope they come back (and the algae leaves!).

added several hours later: A few things I forgot: man walking in the shallow water with a metal detector, two women expressing concern about the algae floating near the start of the swim, and two women celebrating after checking their watches and seeing how far they swam. Finally, the “official” name for the green slime in the water is algae scum, according to the lake quality site. For the water quality at Lake Nokomis main beach, there’s a note in the special consideration section: “Stay out of algae scum if blown into beach area.” Well, I tried! Algae scum seems a fitting name for this gross stuff.

july 11/RUNSWIM

3.25 miles
2 trails
75 degrees

Yesterday afternoon, torrential rain, thunder, wind, and hail whipped through our neighborhood. It lasted only 20 minutes, but it was intense. Not scary — except to Delia-the-dog — but wild. It looked like it was snowing: Christmas in July! And the hail was so loud on the roof and the skylight. Today as I ran, I surveyed the damage by the river. Big branches on the dirt path, leaves scattered, a whole tree at the end of edmund:

big tree, felled

Of course I only took one picture, so I had to use it. Not sure if it effectively conveys the size of the tree?

Decided to take the winchell trail to check out the damage below. Some branches down, but nothing blocking the path. Dirt and mud and muck everywhere. I started chanting in my head,

silt / loam / glacial till
silt and / loam and / glacial till

Listened to water gushing out of the sewer pipe and down the slope at 42nd. Also listened to the birds — not one type in particular, but a chorus of BIRD. Noticed the shade on the path and the tiny spots of light. Looked at the river, a hazy heat hovering just above and thought, hot! No relief from that view.

Before I run, I read an excerpt from the novel Elixir. I wanted to think about this quote as I ran:

We were near water. There is a river. If you couldn’t hear it or see it, its ions vibrated in the air and you inhaled water, day and night.

In the Ladies Pool / KAPKA KASSABOVA

In the summer when the leaves block my view and I can’t see the river, I still know it’s there and it is always part of my run in some way.

the Seine, open water swimming, and water quality

I’ve been seeing lots of headlines about the problems with water quality in the Seine for open water swimming events at the Olympics. I mentioned it to RJP and she said she’d heard (on TikTok, natch) that people were pooping in the Seine in protest. Is that true? While looking it up, I found this helpful video: Can Paris fix it’s poop problem?

Okay, read some more, and the “Paris Poop Protest” is a thing. People were encourage to do it on June 23rd, when the President of France and the mayor of Paris were planning to swim in the Seine to prove it was safe. When Macron and Hidalgo postponed their swim, the poop protest was postponed too. So many interesting things to think/write about with this in terms of city infrastructures, rivers, threats to cities’ waterways, the negative and positive impacts of hosting the Olympics, and more. Swimming in public water, feeling the effects of how it’s managed in my body, has given me a deeper perspective on this issue of water quality and water management. I’m so grateful to have access to safe water here in Minneapolis.Everyone should have access to safe water.

time and water

Reading more of The Folded Clock, I was inspired to think about the relationship between time and water. Here are a few thoughts:

1 — anne carson

. . . the staining together of mind and time so that she is no longer miles and miles apart from her life, watching it differently unfold, but in it, as it, it.

1 = 1 / Anne Carson

2 — heidi julavits

As we stroked past I thought I saw George growing older and older. His grandchildren beside him grew older, too, taking his place before being replaced themselves by their children. It was like a trick of stop-time photography, everyone shading into everyone else. . . . Time passed. I started to doze. The cold water had slowed our pulses but everything else spun at great speed. I worried I would awake to find myself an old woman, my husband dead, my daughter grown and turned into me. But life, when I woke up, was as I’d left it.

The Folded Clock / Heidi Julavits

3 — samantha sanders

[on swimming in Lake Michigan in the winter] The exhilaration is remarkable. I feel like we’ve discovered the fountain of youth.

Swimming Through / Samantha Sanders

4 — alice oswald

it is not me but close to me a kind of cloud or smoke-ring
made of nothing and yet it will outlast everything
because it is deep it i sa dead field fenceless
a thickness with many folds in it promiscuous and mingling
which in its patience always wears away the hard thing

or is it only the hours on their rounds
thinking of the tides by turns
twelve white-collar workers
who manage the schedules of water

nobody / alice oswald

In their lunch hour
I saw the shop-workers get into water
They put their watches on the stones and slithered
Into the tight-fitting river
And shook out cuffs of splash
And swam wide strokes towards the trees
And after a while swam back
With rigid cormorant smiles
Shocked I suppose from taking on
Something impossible to think through
Something old and obsessive like the centre of a rose
And for that reason they quickly turned
And struggled out again and retrieved their watches
Stooped on the grass-line hurrying now
They began to laugh and from their meaty backs
A million crackling things
Burst into flight which was either water
Or the hour itself ascending.

from Evaporations/ Alice Oswald

5 — darby nelson

I posted this quote back on 16 august 2021, but I want to post it again here:

We talk of time as the river flowing. I never questioned the implications of that metaphor until I was struck by the words of Professor Dave Edmunds, Native American, on a display in the Indian-Western Art Museum in Indianapolis. Edmunds wrote, ‘Time as a river is a more Euro-American concept of time, with each event happening and passing on like a river flows downstream. Time as a pond is a more Native American concept of time, with everything happening on the same surface, in the same area—and each even is a ripple on the surface.’

If I think of time as a river, I predispose myself to think linearly, to see events as unconnected, where a tree branch falling into the river at noon is swept away by current to remain eternally separated in time and space from the butterfly that falls in an hour later and thrashes about seeking floating refuge. 

But if I think of time as a lake, I see ripples set in motions by one even touching an entire shore and then, when reflected back toward the middle, meeting ripples from other events, each changing the other in their passing. I think of connectedness, or relationships, and interacting events that matter greatly to lakes. 

For Love of Lakes/ Darby Nelson

When I think of time and water, I think of erosion and geologic time, and the wearing down of things by the water over years, decades, centuries. I think of generational time, and the family members, the hearty Finns on my dad’s side, who loved and excelled at swimming. I think of Sara-time and one of the key constants in my life and many selves: I love water and swimming in it. I think of losing track of time while swimming, and tracking it on my watch to look at later. I think of time measured by strokes and loops instead of minutes, measured by open swims instead of days.

swim: 4 loops
lake nokomis open swim
84 degrees

I swam 4 loops but the buoys were set up in such a way that the distance of 4 loops today was almost the same as 3 loops on other days. Oh well, I’m still counting it as 4. The water was very warm, too warm. Lots of stuff in it, but not as much as on Tuesday. More green slimy stuff, but now that I recognize and know it’s not toxic, it didn’t bother me as much.

I decided I wanted to listen as I swam. I didn’t hear much, just water sloshing over my head. The water was still, flat, sometimes feeling fast, sometimes slow. There was a haze in the air that made it as difficult to see as if my googles were fogged up. I felt strong and smooth and fast and happy.

Before the swim, I asked a few women if they had swum on Tuesday and if they had seen the green goo. Neither of them had. I realized later, as I swam, that I wasn’t asking because I wanted reassurance that whatever it was was not harmful. I just wanted to find someone else to acknowledge that it was strange and gross and something worth reacting to. On Tuesday, no one else seemed to care or be talking about it.

10 Things

  1. 2 women laughing and talking as they tread water between the last orange buoy and the shore
  2. impossible to see either of the green buoys with the sun and the haze
  3. at least 2 menacing swans
  4. the ghost vines are multiplying in numbers and size — creepy!
  5. cloudy sky
  6. a few pockets of cold water throughout the lake
  7. crowded swimming area, beach and park — everyone here on a hot day
  8. the surface of the water above was blue and calm and shiny and smooth
  9. the surface of the water below was greenish-brownish-yellowish
  10. I swam high on top of the surface, feeling extra buoyant

july 10/RUN

3.25 miles
trestle turn around
78 degrees / dew point: 66

For the first mile, in the shade it felt almost cool or, at least not HOT! Hardly any bugs, but tons of chirping birds, one black-capped chickadee calling out for a response which never came. A few other runners, walkers, a group of bikers. After turning around at the trestle I passed by 3 women instructing a fourth on how to use an unfamiliar bike. Somewhere I smelled tobacco — from a car? below on the winchell trail? a walker’s clothes? Admired the glowing purple flowers on the edge of the trail and the stretch of the path that was all shade, except for a few splotches of light. One splotch was big enough to see my shadow in before we both disappeared into the shade. The river was calm and pale blue. The green was thick excess. The stretches of trail in the direct sun were warm. At least twice I pushed myself to keep running when I wanted to stop. At the trestle I put in my old “Winter” playlist


This summer I’m devoting a lot of attention to water and swimming and my experiences during open swim. After reading Lauren Groff’s essay, Swimming, Anne Carson’s story 1=1, and watching Samantha Sanders’ mini doc, Swimming Through, I’m thinking about why I love open water swimming and how to describe the experience of moving in/with/through water. Here are 3 descriptions from Groff, Carson, and Sanders.

1 – Groff

there is a moment in swimming when, after a while, the body’s rhythm grows so comfortable that the swimmer loses awareness of herself. There is a marrow-deep letting go. She isn’t thinking. Her brain is off, her body is on autopilot. She is elevated; happy is not the word for it. To be and not to be, simultaneously: some people call this state ecstasy, others call it zen. They are, perhaps, different names for the same phenomenon. It is difficult to attain, and there are a thousand ways to attain it. Some meditate, others do peyote, others focus so hard on their art that the world itself falls away and they look up, days or hours later, to be staggered by what they have created in the full flare of their own white heat.

Swimming/ Lauren Groff

Groff’s last bit, “in the full flare of their own white heat” reminds me of Mary Oliver and one of her poems that I posted on 10 july 2022: “The Ponds”:

from The Ponds/ Mary Oliver

Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled —
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.

The white heat also makes me think of Emily Dickinson. But, the flare of white heat seems like the wrong sort of metaphor for what happens to you in the water. Also, even as we float in the water, we are still fully in it, not above it.

2 — Carson

. . . no interaction with another person ever brought her a bolt of pure aliveness like entering the water on a still morning with the world empty in every direction to the sky. That first entry. Crossing the border of consciousness into, into what?

And then the (she searches for the right word) instruction of balancing along in the water, the ten thousand adjustments of vivid action, the staining together of mind and time so that she is no longer miles and miles apart from her life, watching it differently unfold, but in it, as it, it.

1=1/ Anne Carson

To swim, especially freestyle, with your head mostly underwater, only surfacing to breathe (as opposed to breaststroke, where you always have a frog-eye view), is to be immersed in water, not floating above it. And not burning a white heat, but —? Something I can’t quite name yet. The it you are in, is not just water, but life.

3 — Sanders


There are many wonderful, beautiful moments in this doc about resilience and community and transformation, but I especially love this moment, starting 10 minutes in, in which they describe the shift from tracking the temperature to giving attention to — witnessing — the ice. To me, this might speak to Carson’s idea of crossing the border of consciousness into something/somewhere else.

 We became very obsessive about how cold the water was getting. You know, it’s 50, then it’s 40, then it’s 40.2, then it’s 39. I had two thermometers that both busted this year in the cold water, I didn’t get another one. We just figure that it’s cold. So then it’s about I can’t wait to swim in the snow. Then it was like, I can’t wait to swim when there’s ice.

And then we had no idea what did ice mean? You know, this winter it meant so many different kinds of ice because you know, there’s the first ice that was like a very thin, thin layer of ice. Almost like snowflakes on the water. Break them as I stroked and then turn around and they would have reformed behind me. Ice that was so sharp that you actually were getting cut and you needed to be careful.

And then, you know, we got real ice.

Swimming Through/ Samantha Sanders

The feeling of swimming is the feeling of noticing the world, not existing above it, but fully in it, immersed, aware, witnessing the slight changes in temperature, or where waves usually start, or how the weather affects the opacity of the water.

A few minutes before this ice part, one of the women says this about the experience of swimming in very cold water: I feel metallic! I love that — maybe that should be the title of a poem, “To feel metallic”?!

added a few hours later: I almost forgot to include some sources that I’d like to gather then read then archive:

  • “The Anthropology of Water” / Anne Carson in Plainwater — go to the U library for this one
  • In Summer, We’re Reborn/ Nina MacLaughlin
  • Excerpt from The Folded Clock* / Heidi Julavits

*several years ago — maybe 10? — I put The Folded Clock on my wishlist and got it for Christmas of that year. Apparently this was before I got into the habit of writing the date on the first page, so I can’t remember exactly what year that was. I also can’t specifically remember why — maybe because I was into memoirs? Anyway, I know I read some of it before but I didn’t realize that she wrote about swimming in lakes!

Julavits is swimming in a Berlin lake, filled with algae. This is the last paragraph:

The best thing about my first Berlin swim was this. When I took off my bathing suit, the crotch was bright green from the algae that had collected there. It was like getting my period for the first time and seeing the shock of color where normally there is only white.

The Folded Clock

When I took my suit off after my green algae filled swim, the muck that usually collects beneath my suit on my stomach and under my breasts included some bright green bits? chunks? traces? I’m glad that it collected there and not in my crotch!

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.

july 8/RUNSWIM

3.35 miles
ford bridge and back
68 degrees / dew point: 62

Ran an hour earlier today, but it was still hot and muggy. Quiet, calm, not too many walkers or bikers or runners on the trail. With the thick green, I don’t recall seeing the river once. Chanted triple berries. Heard the faint trickling down in the ravine, then from the sewer pipe. Some rustling in the brush. Construction sounds — big planks of wood being dropped? There were birds, I’m sure, but I don’t remember hearing them. No roller skiers or rowers or shadows. Lots of water in the form of humidity and sweat and post-rain run-off.

Repetition, Routine, and Quotes Taken Out of Context

After my run, scrolling around (reading old RUN! posts from today and poetry people tweets), I came across 2 ideas about repetition/routine. The first was a quote from Karlheinz Stockhausen about repetition and walking and breathing:

Repetition is based on body rhythms, so we identify with the heartbeat, or with walking, or with breathing. 

I always want to find the context for these context-less quotes spread online, so I looked it up. Sometimes it can be tedious, finding the source, but today, quick satisfaction! I didn’t know who Karlheinz Stockhausen was, but now I (kind of) do: a big deal — an experimental composer, very influential in 20th century music, including hip-hop and techno (is that the right umbrella term?), according to this cool documentary, Modulations. I also found the unpublished interview from which this quote comes. Here’s some context for the quote:

Q: One of your comments is that a lot of times it’s too repetitive?

A. Yes. I think it’s more interesting to create music which transforms, shapes figures, so that one can follow a process. Repetition is based on body rhythms, so we identify with the heartbeat, or with walking, or with breathing. This has been the tradition for thousands of years of basic musical songs, tunes. But since the middle of the century in particular, the music has become very irregular in rhythm. And the invention of transformations of certain figures has become the most important in musical composition. I think it’s simply more interesting than repetitive technique.

Karlheinz Stockhausen interview

When I read the out-of-context quote (which is shared a lot), I thought it was about the value of repetition and its connection to breathing, but in context, the quote is criticizing repetition as something to move beyond. Context matters (imho)!

This discussion of repetition and disruption of that repetition reminded me of a poem from Carl Phillips (posted on 8 july 2023), Western Edge, that I had just re-read

I need you  
the way astonishment,  
which is really just  

the disruption of routine, 
requires routine.  

I like need repetition and routine and establishing habits that my brain can visually interpret, but I also need love disruption, interruption, moments of astonishment. My ongoing question — how to balance the routine with the astonishing?

swim: 3 nokomis loops (6 cedar loops)
cedar lake open swim
78 degrees

A beautiful night for a swim! Calm water, warm air. Too many vines floating in the water. They kept passing over me, trailing, lingering. I said to Scott that it felt almost like a violation, the way they slowly moved from my shoulder, down my torso, then my leg. Yuck! He joked, it was a vine-olation. The vines were also a problem near shore, growing up from the bottom in a thick tangle. It’s not difficult to imagine someone getting stuck in them and drowning.

The buoy across the lake was fine for the first loop, then partly deflated for the second loop, then completely flat for the rest of the loops. Just an orange blob on the water. I’ve never seen that before! Of course it happened at Cedar lake.

Another Cedar lake moment:
A woman to the lifeguard: Excuse me, my son doesn’t have a cap, and he’s not 18 (the minimum required age for open swim), but could he swim across?
Lifeguard: As long as he’s a good swimmer, it should be okay.

Maybe I would have been critical of these things in the past, but I’m not now. Deflated buoys and underage swimmers are just part of the cedar lake vibe.

10 Things

  1. blue sky with a few puffy white clouds
  2. something flying through the air — a plane? a big bird? I turned on my back for a minute to check: plane — I could hear the roar of the engines
  3. the orange blob from a distance, not whispering orange, more like a random very quick blip — orng
  4. scratchy vines poking my arm
  5. murky water, difficult to see my hand, yellowish brown
  6. log rolling — a giant red fake log
  7. before the swim, standing by the lifeguard stand — creeaakk — the lifeguard opened a big trunk, looking for something. I wonder how often they open it? Judging my how much it creaked, not too often!
  8. the deflated buoy was far away from hidden beach — no chance to see or hear how many people were swimming there
  9. the water was warm, but near the shore where it was still deep, there were pockets of very cold water
  10. on the last loop, I could feel the muck under my suit, against my skin, scratching me. I almost stopped to pull it out, but when do I ever stop?

july 7/SWIM

4 loops
lake nokomis open swim
69 degrees / calm

Finally, the water was warm! Warm enough that I wasn’t freezing on the drive home, wrapped in blankets. And I didn’t have to take a long, hot shower to thaw out. Another wonderful swim. Strong, confident strokes. Steady, barely a break in the rhythm — 1 2 sight 3 4 5 breathe left 1 2 3 breathe right 1 2 sight 3 4 5 breathe left — once to adjust my nose plug, a few times to avoid drifting swimmers, and once to stand at the big beach between loops 3 and 4.

today, 4 loops = 3800 yards

10+ Lake Things

  1. getting ready to start, overheard: a tiny, older woman in wetsuit to another women in a tri-suit — are you ready to swim? the tri-suit replies: no, I don’t want to do this wetsuit: you don’t want to swim? tri-suit: no, but I have a race on the 14th
  2. a delightfully creaking swing, sounding almost like it was calling out or scolding me — creeaakkk creeaakk
  3. glittering sediment in the water
  4. pale, ghostly legs near the buoys
  5. lifeguards for the win: the course set up and open 5 minutes early! and the buoys were fairly in line with each other!
  6. no swans or geese or ducks or minnows (at least that I recall)
  7. loop 1: sun, a few clouds
  8. loop 2: less sun, more clouds, half the sky turning white
  9. loop 3: more sun again
  10. bubbles, bubbles everywhere from exhaling and piercing the water
  11. I added to the collection of sad, scattered hairbands at the lake floor by accidentally dropping mine at the end of the swim
  12. at the beginning: a metal detector dude, wading in the water!

A few random thoughts: I don’t miss the silver-boat bottom and even if it were still here, the course is set up in a way that would make it unhelpful for guiding me. I only breathe through my mouth when I swim because of my nose plug. Longterm, what kind of impact does that have on my swimming, breathing, fitness? It’s me, hi, I’m the problem it’s me: breaststrokers always seem to be trying to race me. They irritate me. Not that I’m complaining, but how come I never see any snakes in this water (or eels)?

During loop two, I recited Anne Sexton’s “The Nude Swim” as I swam. All this in us had escaped for a minute is still my favorite line, although I also like, we entered in completely and let our bodies lose all their loneliness. I also recited a bit from MO: It is time now, I said, for the deepening and quieting of the spirit among the flux of happenings.

scott’s big band concert

Last night, FWA and I went to Scott’s big band concert. It was outside beside a beautiful lake in a small town northwest of Minneapolis. It lasted for 2 hours. Sitting there, I witnessed the changing light — from bright to shadows to sun descending, sky suggesting pink. At one point, I turned to FWA and mentioned the pink then asked, is it pink? And he said, no and looked at me a little strangely. I responded, I love how my vision makes everything magical. It didn’t look PINK! but more like a whisper, a trace, the slightest hint of pink, as if someone was whispering to me, pink. Was I anticipating the sunset I expected? Or maybe just more attuned than FWA to the changing light, having given so much attention in the past few years to subtle shifts in color?

10 Things During the Concert

  1. at the end of a song, just as the singer was hitting a fabulous high note, a train passed nearby, its horn blaring, sounding like part of the music
  2. someone was smoking a pipe nearby — later Scott complained that he could smell it on stage; I smelled it, but it didn’t bother me
  3. a woman behind me cackling
  4. another woman in a flowing turquoise skirt walking by then stopping to listen to the Stevie Wonder medley then swaying to — now I can’t remember which Wonder song it was, Sir Duke?
  5. no bugs!
  6. birds! — high in the sky, one bird awkardly flapping its wings, frantic with speed
  7. birds! — shooting up in the sky like fireworks or static on a screen, one at a time
  8. the lake behind me — I could feel it but couldn’t see it because to turn and look would seem as if I was staring at the people behind me — oh, why didn’t they position the band shell in front of the lake!
  9. during the concert, people were playing basketball at the court next to the stage — I don’t remember hearing them, just seeing bodies moving back and forth
  10. in the distance, to my right, carnival rides — a spinn-y ride lit up in red and green and blue lights — as dusk neared, I watched the lights glow

It was a long night — we left the house at 3:45 pm, got to the concert venue at 5, waited around until the concert started at 6, then listened for 2 hours, and finally got home at almost 10. But I’m glad I went, and grateful that FWA came too. So many cool images to witness and remember.

july 5/SWIM

4+ loops
lake nokomis open swim
64 degrees (air) / 70-72 (water)
clouds then rain then sun then clouds

Hooray for Friday morning open swim! Overcast and calm water. For the first 100 yards, the water felt slow and cold, then faster and invigorating. At the last reading (tues, july 2) the water temp was 72, but it rained a lot, so I’m thinking the temp maybe went down a degree or two? I should start tracking the temp to see how much it fluctuates.

Because the buoys are positioned by lifeguards every swim — they paddle out on kayaks where they are advised by someone on shore where to drop their anchor — and because there’s no exact spot for each of buoys, the loop distance varies. Today it was long, which I like — the more distance, the better! Here’s a comparison on 3 different 4 loop swims by number of strokes I took / distance (which I’m pretty sure my watch doesn’t measures accurately):

25 june 2024: 2094 strokes / 3100 yards
30 june 2024: 2124 strokes / 3600 yards
5 july 2024: 2374 strokes / 4000 yards

I should note that my stroke count is very consistent. It’s kinda amazing to me how steady and even and similar my stroke count per 100 yards is across the summer.

For much of the swim, I felt strong and focused: 1 2 3 4 5 breathe left 1 2 3 breathe right 1 2 sight 3 4 5 breathe left. Not much thinking, some noticing:

10 Things

  1. the particles in the water — just ahead of me, reminding me of confetti or glitter, not so much moving through them as moving with them
  2. at first the water felt cold, invigorating
  3. for 3 loops: a white cloud-covered sky
  4. a car in the parking lot had its headlights on — glaring bright yellow
  5. visibility: very good for lake nokomis — if I had tried, I think I would have read my watch underwater!
  6. watching my hands underwater: stretching slicing, ghostly pale
  7. another swimmer’s legs coming into view, glowing white under the water
  8. loop 4 sun, 1: patches of soft blue sky
  9. loop 4 sun, 2: shafts of light underwater, illuminating the particles and making them sparkle
  10. as I neared the beach, surveying the way the bottom went from deep to shallow — a steep drop-off!

In the middle of the swim, I decided to recite Anne Sexton’s “The Nude Swim.” I had memorized part of it a few years ago, but this morning I memorized all of it. Such a great poem — I really like Anne Sexton’s voice. I should read more of her poems.

still my favorite lines from it:

All the fish in us
had escaped for a minute.
The real fish did not mind.
We did not disturb their personal life.

aquatic plant management

A few days ago, I looked up information about the vegetation/vines that I swim above in lake nokomis. I looked them up a few years ago, and recall learning that they were milfoil, but this summer I started doubting that I was remembering the name right. I was! There are two types of watermilfoil:

Eurasian watermilfoil : invasive, choking out native plants
Northern watermilfoil: native, food for the fish

On the Minneapolis Parks’ site, they describe aquatic plant management, which was fascinating. The most effective way to control Eurasian watermilfoil is to harvest it, either with a mechanical harvester or by scuba divers (!). The mechanical harvester, which from what my bad eyes can see is a boat with a big spinning blade

removes plants that are in the top four to six feet of water. The harvested plant material is removed from the water and stored until the end of summer when it is brought to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum to be used as organic fill for their operations. 

Aquatic Plant Management

The scuba divers, who only do this on Wirth Lake and Lake Nokomis, hand-pull the watermilfoil in areas that are inaccessible for the mechanical harvester. I wonder what areas are inaccessible and if I’ve ever witnessed the scuba pulling and not realized it. Very cool!

The water was at least 10 degrees colder than the Y pool (82 degrees), but not that cold. Still, by the end of loop 3 (almost an hour in), my hands were getting a little numb. When I got home, I took a long, hot shower. I’d love to be able to swim in very cold water someday — one fantasy: moving to the UK and swimming in the ocean all year round. The other day, I watched this video and thought, I want to be able to do this with other woman, laughing and freezing and loving it: