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Dog Days and Diving Swallows

We are in the dog days of summer. Hot, still, lethargic.

The grasses are golden and brown, swaying in a whisper of breeze. The afternoons are long and languorous, and we move lawn furniture looking for shade or a cool breath off the ocean. The air shimmers. The muffled sounds of people wading into the water down at Craddock Beach. The shriek of an osprey sitting in the Garry Oak at the edge of our cliff.

The heat certainly isn’t oppressive here on South Pender, but I am getting that delicious baked feeling after a few weeks of sun, warmth, and endless blue sky.

Even Mildrith, the wood-fired oven, has been enjoying a few days of summer furlough.

Into the water

I’m taking my daily swims at dusk these days. The beach-goers have cleared off Craddock Beach, gone home to hang up their towels, fire up the barbecues. It’s quieter in our little bay when it’s empty. The water is usually flat with a pale blue and pink sky reflecting off the surface. The sun has virtually disappeared behind Tilley Point, the air is cooling.

Barn swallows dive and swoop off the cliffs and make endless tracks over the water. They’re feasting on insects, almost invisible, catching them in their open mouths at top speed. It’s unfathomable to imagine how they do this!

They’re undeterred, the swallows, as I wade into the water. It’s their feeding grounds I intrude upon. But they’re in such a frenzy to catch as many tiny insects as they can before it’s too dark to see them. Some fly daringly close to my head but swerve away at the last minute. Sometimes they slow themselves slightly, dip their beaks into the water and pluck something off the surface. Magic!

Slow swim in startling water

As I make my slow swim out to the rocks, it’s easy to see what the swallows are after. The surface of the water is littered with the bodies of insects the size of fruit flies. They’ve dropped out of the air and become stuck in the surface tension of the water. Some of them still flutter their wings, unable to lift themselves up. Multitudes have given up, dead, or waiting to die or to be plucked up in the mouth of a soaring swallow.

It’s the dog days of summer, but the water temperature in Boundary Pass is still startling.

The cold is like a salve to the soul. My breathing slows when I immerse myself, the world slows. I notice the textures of the rugged cliffs rising out the water. The gnarled oak trees that cling to the rock. A lone seagull flies overhead to the Living Rock Island. A heron tries to find a stable place to stand on a floating mass of bull kelp. A sailboat heads silently around the point towards Bedwell Harbour.

Swimming over rocks

I stand on the rocks a few moments, facing east. My body is still gripped by the cold. My breath still slow and deep. Such a feeling of stillness, peace.

The water is so high in the evenings I can swim over the flat boulder that I sometimes walk on when the tide is low. As I swim, my legs brush over the bladderwrack that covers the rock. It undulates with the waves and currents. Sometimes the toes of my water shoes hit rock or scrape against the white barnacles.

I’m back into the deep water, forty feet from the shore. The sky is a little darker. The swallows have thinned out, but now it’s bats I see. There’s something quieter in their flight, a bit more fluttery, tentative. They’re after the same insects the swallows were chasing.

When my feet touch solid ground, I linger a few moments. I don’t want to leave the water, don’t want this deliciousness to end. One last look at the western sky, the fading light. I turn and scramble over the rocks and up the stairs.

I am in a state of calm, ready for bed, and ready to greet the remaining dog days of summer.


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2 thoughts on “Dog Days and Diving Swallows

  1. I love your recount of the swim and the birds and bats at Craddock. (By the way: is there a record of what the FN people’s call it?)

    1. Hi Linda! Thanks for the note … I don’t know if there is a First Nations name for Craddock Beach. Pender Island is known as St̕ey̕əs to the Tsawout people. Bedwell Harbour, just around the corner, is ʔiləčən.

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