Summer′s Last Swim, Perhaps{21}

This morning the fog has crept in low and slow, and wrapped itself around my house like a big unasked-for hug. Surprisingly, the birds are unruffled about our weather change, chirping, singing and calling from every direction, happy to hide behind the cloak of this presumptuous caller.

Around here, fog is a harbinger of fall (or at least, the final days of summer). The temperature of Puget Sound and that of the atmosphere above it make for a steamy stew each morning. By noon the thick, cloudy layers will dissipate as if by magic, swept away by gentle breezes and a sun re-awakened. But this morning, the fog is different, heavier, and more resolute. It lumbers about not veiling the trees but rather eating them whole.  To the west, a grove of fir manages to prevail as a telling foil, revealing that our morning fog is really more of a drizzling mist. What a difference a day does make; just yesterday the sun found every corner of the sky and island, and the Sound was as flat as a mirror, and calling me for one last swim.

My friend Karen is to be credited with one of my favorite summer-day rituals: swimming in the Sound. To say the experience is bracing is a bit of an understatement. Puget Sound water temperatures vary little between winter and summer, so you must find some idyllic protected  sandy beach that warms the water with the incoming tide. And by warming I mean, allows you to swim without floating to the top as a hypothermic popsicle.

Karen and I set our time to meet; we knew such a sunny day late in the season could not be ignored, and that perhaps this swim would be our final splash of summer. I arrived first, but Karen was right behind me, both of us sporting well-known rides that folks around here lovingly call “island trucks.” Karen lowered the tailgate. From under the camper top emerged Tank, Luna, and Molly, Karen’s elder dogs and canine family. Each peered over the tailgate shelf and leapt with the grace and determination of a retired champion. We all marched down to the beach single file, like an impromptu circus parade.

Passing by the house, Karen and I were saddened to see the grand dame closed up for another year. Our friends had returned to Boston, and the front porch was empty and silent of  conversation and the pontifications of the Burton literati (and their take on our  swimming attire).

On the beach bluff stands a lone madrona tree. More art than tree, the quiet keeper punctuates the property, twisting skyward, one trunk opening to three. Its smooth red  bark shocks against a summer’s blue sky. And the old tree has seen many summers, and heard many bouts of laughter beneath its boughs, including ours.

The tide and sun obliged our late arrival, sharing as much warmth as each could muster at the end of the day.  Once we made it past the logjam ramparts littering the shore, Karen and I paused, took deep breaths and waded in slowly. The dogs followed, slowly as well. Nearsighted Tank stopped when the water was at chest level, Molly too. Luna swam in circles and whimpered near the shore, her dog paddle fixed in a clockwise direction.

Karen and I caught up on the day with each step, no doubt hoping small talk would take our minds off of the ice water around us. And then when I neared the tenor-about-to-turn-soprano-thigh-high level, I pushed off and dove forward, cruising below the surface as far as one breath and a little shock plunge would take me. I celebrated my reemergence to the surface with a couple “boo-yahs!’ and several head shakes and a statement of the obvious, “Man, that’s cold!” Karen smiled, agreed wholeheartedly and started her swim to the outer buoy.  (I prefer to swim closer to shore in case of leg cramps, though we do keep an eye on each other.) In the distance, the waning din of a motorboat was interrupted by the shrill antics of two bald eagles and a cadre of crows in hot pursuit.  All was right with the world.

I have no photos to share. Yesterday was a perfect day for remembering, for me to simply close my eyes and recall a fine summer day and fun swim with a friend.  The sun couldn’t have been brighter, the sea no smoother, the water no more clear. Indeed, All was right with the world, and that is the snapshot I will keep in my mind.

So close your eyes and think of your most perfect summer day and enjoy it all winter.

As one fine woman once said, “…the right kind of day is jeweled balm for the battered spirit.” I couldn’t agree more.