Column: Any day with a long swim is a good day

  • Micki Colbeck photograph Micki Colbeck photograph

  • Micki Colbeck. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

For the Valley News
Published: 9/12/2020 10:20:04 PM
Modified: 9/12/2020 10:20:02 PM

I live in a village a short drive from a pond. Most days I go there to swim in the clear water that smells of wet sand. With goggles on my eyes, I see the bottom, a flat plane of yellow-brown mud, punctuated here and again by curly pondweed bushes and tall, thin stems with round, flat leaves reaching toward the sunny waterline. They grab at my arms as I pass.

Photosynthesis throughout is the characteristic that determines a body of water to be a pond rather than a lake, and even though this body of water deepens to well over 7 meters in its center, it is still called a pond. Most days I go there and plunge into the water near the reeds and waterlilies, walking unsteadily on the sharp rocks until the water deepens. Taking long strokes, I move away from the shore, away from the putting in and taking out of boats, away from the fishermen and the families having picnics, away from the litter often left behind.

As I fall into a rhythm — breathe, pull, pull, pull — my body becomes comfortable with the cold and the breathing and stroking. Lately, the fishing people are not there, saying the fish are gone, leaving only the loon, the eagle, the osprey, the dragonflies and me, the swimmer, to the clean, blue, gray, brown, green water. As I pull through, there is a softness on my arms, a caressing like the fur on my beagle when I pet her over and over — the caresses of 14.6 pounds per square inch, the pressure of water at sea level.

Some days my swim is about building a project in my head. I plan the construction, make a material list, haul it home in the Honda, and start building, step by step. Head-building is a pleasant trick I learned to put myself to sleep or to pass the time.

Other days, I just want to sense. Smelling the water takes me back to a sandy river shore looking for stones with the kids. I open my mouth and taste the water back in my throat to slake my thirst. I grab glimpses of the shore, the tree line, the camp, the very tall pine that marks the halfway point, sometimes the white breast of the loon. I stop in the middle, in the 7-meter place, and tread, seeing how the colors change on the water as I look around in a circle — yellower here, bluer and greener there, grayer here. I stroke on my back and enjoy the cloud show — elephants and mice, bubbling cumulus formations on the horizon, wispy horse’s tails of high ice crystals. Often the osprey will glide overhead, plunging talons into the water for a fish.

Hunger always arrives during a swim and I stroke back to shore with determination, thinking about fresh tomatoes and wood-fired bread and fish and Strafford ice cream. If no one is on the shore, I will haul up on a big rock, lay back and sun myself for a while, like a seal. Every day that includes a long swim is a good day.

There is some element of danger swimming alone, even though I tow a floatie behind. Last week, a perfectly clear blue sky became dark gray and thunderous just as I hit the 7-meter place. The normally 20-minute swim to shore seemed to take hours as I was forced underwater, pulling hard. Grabbing gulps of air, the heavy rain had turned the surface into white foam. When I finally crawled up on land and ran to my car, I felt the thunder and lightning and was grateful not to have been aware underwater. Seals survive thunderstorms, don’t they?

Micki Colbeck, of Strafford, is an artist, a conservation biologist and a member of the Strafford Conservation Commission. Write to her at

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