“When will you be back?” Mary asks.
“I’m in the car, but not moving,” I answer from my commute down from Boston after a day in the office. Thursdays we try to get people to return, luring them with free lunches and a chance to see people we’ve only seen on a screen for the last two and a half years.
“Well at least you’re in the car,” Mary points out, which is true. And I’m thrilled not to have to make this drive more than once a summer. Truth is, I haven’t driven my fifteen-year-old Volvo to work since before the pandemic. No reason opportunity to, and I hate giving up a bike ride for anything.
“Waze says 5:30 and in the water by 5:35,” I joke. “Do you think it will take more than five minutes to get my wetsuit on?” I ask, not serious, but making the point. “I need to swim or I’m going to strangle someone.”
“Lighthouse?” Mary asks, of my distance, of what I have in mind for a swim today.
“It’s flat out there,” she points out. “Light off-shore breeze.”
“Perfect,” I think to myself. Reward for a day-and-a-half in the city teeming again with college students who walk in front of moving vehicles. Don’t miss that.
Traffic’s a bit worse than Waze first estimates, minutes creeping on to the total until I arrive at the house about a quarter to six, sun falling quickly. I’ve been looking at its position since crossing the Sagamore Bridge, estimating what swimming into a sunset will be like. Air temp in the mid-sixties. Water temp in the mid-seventies.
On arrival back at the house, it takes me a bit longer to get my gear organized and on, but I’m not cold despite cool evening air. Adrenaline running hot, the anticipation of my swim out to Wings Neck Light and back palpable, the swim I used to think impossible now comfortable and occasionally easy. A swim past the houses that make-up many childhood memories along a magical spit of land my grandparents found some sixty years ago when they and the Jenkins made the decision to break ground and establish summer residence together.
“I’ll be here,” Mary says from her place on the couch, recovering from a concussion, listening to her fifth audio book surrounded by quiet of the place. She the person responsible for my new found passion for making way through ocean water.
“I know you will tree,” I say in a reference to a favorite Jay O’Callahan story. The two of us there for each other, standing the test of time.
When I get down to the water I note the sun setting down perfectly in line with the end of the neck, our channel light momentarily the world’s brightest torch.
“I’ll not have trouble sighting during this swim,” I think to myself while settling down at the base of the jetty my grandfather cast for stripers off of. I find a seat where the boulders have moved over time. Mary’s got her spot, though not here with me today, and I have mine. I’m here alone, with a swim buoy and final preparation for what will take twenty-five minutes or so, there and back, three quarters of a mile in total. Preparation for longer swim on the weekend.
The goggles I wear are big and clear, not like those little racing ones all the serious swimmers favor. I like to see when I’m swimming, not only to sight my course, but also to marvel at what passes below. The rocks and vegetation move along as I work my way on the surface of coastal waters. With a triathlon wetsuit as floatation, my body rests flat, streamlined, gliding effortlessly towards the point.
“The water’s clear,” Mary had mentioned, and she’s right, as clear as you could have for early September, though not the perfectly clear waters of April and May when we take just a few strokes to say we’ve done it. Today the same air temperature, though not the water, April a frosty high forties, which makes for short work. Today will be different. Relaxing. Comfortable.
Each hand enters the water and my field of vision, the bottom moving past like a lazy river boat cruise. The method of swimming Mary’s taught me makes no wake, but guarantees long distance.
“Break your stroke down into parts, and work on each one at a time,” she has instructed over the years since I started listening and attempting more than a twenty five yard thrash to the swim dock. The connection of a two beat kick powers up through my torso to drive me forward into the next reach and stroke. Fishlike swimming the idea, and feeling, though not yet mastered.
“Swimming to change your life,” many seem to be whispering, and I can now agree. I’m not fast, but that’s not the point. I’m not entering races, and that’s not the point either. Instead, Mary and I are dedicated to an open water Zen like learning experience. One stroke at a time, we propel ourselves forward.
As part of a Swim for Life event Mary’s completed for the last twenty years, a few of us will be swimming a mile and a half on Saturday morning. We’ll do our part right here in Buzzards Bay, and not at the end of the Cape where they once could swim in from Long Point light into the harbor. Today we’ll be swimming from the house down to Atkinson’s buoy off Bassetts Island, all the way back along the neck out to the Light House, before turning home. A couple of friends will join the effort, our end of summer rite of passage.
On this day, Mary will sit sentinel on the beach, her head still a bit foggy and not yet ready to dive back into healing tides. Though she will not be in the water with me, I will hear her voice guiding me along flat water under light off shore breeze.
“Point your head down, like you are swimming downhill,” her clear instruction. “Don’t fight the water, work with it.”