The sky on Monday evening was hazy, smudged, colourless. There were no clouds and no promise of a “sailor’s delight.” You could barely see Stuart and Waldron Islands through the murk.
I stood knee-deep in the water on our little beach at the foot of the cliff. The tide was unusually high. Despite several days of scorching temperatures, the water was as icy as ever. I was well over-heated, but this water! Why was it so cold? “It’s going to hurt when I start swimming,” I thought. What a whiner! It would be worth it in the end.
And yes, it was worth it, though the first few minutes were painful. My hands and forearms ached as I swam out to the first set of rocks. I wanted to stand so I could lift my arms out of the water, but I was already over my head.
That water was agitated, almost choppy. There was no wind, yet waves were roiling noisily over the rocks, splashing against the cliffs. It’s usually calm, the surface like glass on summer evenings. A few ripples or a thrusting up-current are the only disturbances you’d see. Or a pair of cormorants or harlequin ducks scudding fast over the water, their wings occasionally touching the surface and leaving tiny dots behind them.
When I passed the first set of rocks, I felt better. I sank into a luxurious chill, the sting of cold dissipating. And my mind relaxed into a familiar state of calm: where the weight of the day falls away, and I tune in to the water, the wildlife, my own breathing and heartbeat.
Something was up with the water, though. I felt jostled by the waves and current, the way I sometimes do in the winter. Not as much muscle, perhaps, but you wouldn’t call it benevolent, either. The ocean had something on its mind.
The current was sluggish and I could feel it far inside the little bay where our beach is. I had to swim hard towards the shore. The water was so deep I couldn’t touch the bottom until just a few feet from shore. There were no insects on the waters’ surface.
I was out of breath. I walked chest deep a few steps, turned and looked at the subtle play of forces around me.
It was darker now. Swallows swooped and dove over the water, chasing insects, or at least looking for them. A few bats were out, too, staying further away from the water, their wings fluttering silently. Not like the skittish movements of the swallows.
And if I looked closely at the sky, I could see faint pink and blue hues in the grey. But colours were increasingly harder to discern. The day was succumbing to the night; the ocean wasn’t about to sleep.
I scrambled over the rocks, threw a towel around myself and climbed the stairs to our property. The hot tub awaited.
You could never experience this, watching from the rocks, I thought. You might sense it from a boat bouncing on the water, but you wouldn’t be as close, being in the water. When you’re right in the water, its cold bites into your arms, and it gives you a little struggle as you swim ashore and find solid ground.
These waters, this world around me, are like an old friend, large mysterious, unknowable.