Field Notes: Reflections on water
John Muir Award Scotland Education Manager Rebecca Logsdon takes a wild day in the water
I begin with a cold misty wake-up swim in a loch. I’ve swam here so many times it feels like it welcomes me back today. At water level I almost meld into the autumn colour reflections. I’m making my own ripples in water which otherwise feels untouched.
Water has been a constant throughout my life; a place of solace, joy and adventure. Whether it's river, loch or sea, I’m in touch with my Piscean roots. As a child I grew up swimming the Pembrokeshire coast and, even in my wild teenage years, the pull of the sea was strong. I met my husband diving in tropical waters and on our wedding day we threw our wishes for our lives together into the river Braan. When I lost my dad I turned to the sea for solace. My grief was eased by swimming off Brighton beach, a place he swam as a young man in all weathers. It felt like a kind of communion with my beloved father, that I was reaching out to traces of him.
I’m never too far away from water and the spontaneous act of jumping in in random places. From a cold swim in the wild Loch Coruisk, below the Cuillin mountains on Skye at Easter after the snow melt – a swim I felt lucky to come back to those I loved on land – to plunging into the Ladies Pond on Hampstead Heath, after a bad night on the sleeper train. These snatched moments continue to sustain me.
I’m not alone in this watery pull. Taking the plunge by Anna Deacon and Vicky Allan celebrates the popularity of outdoor wild swimming. In this wonderful book, personal stories are shared alongside their reasons for why they swim, to overcome illnesses and grief, to finding the joy in life again. For some they find the immersion in nature a mindful, joyful experience. For others it is about the community it creates, the playfulness and there are the ever increasingly recognised health benefits. I’ve not read many books where I’ve said yes that’s me, that’s why I do it - repeatedly.
I have found it easier to communicate with people when you are bobbing about in or on water. We tend to shelve some of our reclusiveness, our inhibitions with water around so that we are more open to others. Many places are made more special because of who has been there to experience it with me. I love joining others in the watery world and feel the camaraderie of a local outdoor swimming pod (even if we can only swim in pairs at the moment).
Water makes us more playful. It invites us to jump, splash and dive. To float on our backs, to watch the clouds, to take on the characters of water creatures. There are the small wonders, like spotting a squid in the shallows with my son, the clarity of the water and the inky trail that it let out. That image is one I keep dear. In water, it feels like we are enhancing the moment and making treasured memories to hold onto.
There is the awe and wonder of being connected to something so vast. As an adult I have had to test my mental strength, to focus and not panic about the deep murk. I have a new respect for my body and its strength. My arthritis, that usually restricts adventures, becomes land locked. There is the soothing rhythm of breathing in and out, taking in the water and land views. It’s a full body and mind experience. John Muir puts it so well: “The river flows not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fibre and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing”.
Water is a leveller. Anyone can access it and you don’t need to have lots of equipment, skills, and expertise or even fitness to experience it. As long as you have the basic ability to swim for safety. During lockdown, my family walked through the length of our local burn, taking it in stages to fit with the time we were allowed out. Each time we found new things and a different way of looking at place, from the water out.
I have been playing with this new way of looking. In my longing for water I have been painting it. Trying to capture the colours and movements. I am no artist but I have been enjoying the challenge of looking more closely, trying to see where there is light and dark. I’m finding painting is a way to help lock up the memories.
At the end of my wild day I find myself back on the water, watching for the break in the smoothness. I’m floating in our family canoe, interrupted by the echo of geese honking and the occasional car. As I watch the light leave the day, there is the sound we have been waiting for: a beaver gnawing wood and the rustle of reeds as it moves about the shore. Suddenly the surface of the loch is disturbed and a tail smack comes as a warning that this is their domain – but there’s a hint we are welcome too if we are on our best behaviour.