The lake above is where I ended my last book, A Sideways Look at Clouds. I was floating on my back contemplating the watery bodies that are the lake, the clouds, the human body. And this is where I am beginning my next writing project (hardly anything I can call a book at this point).
The Washington landscape is a feast of lakes that are scenic, ecologically significant, life-sustaining, and a source of joy for a wild swimmer. “Wild swimming” the name for swimming in natural lakes, ponds, rivers, sounds, bays, and open ocean. It’s a big deal in England. There’s the Outdoor Swimming Society to prove it.
Ever since I moved to Olympia in 2006, I have been swimming in lakes around the state. Though my pursuit of lakes to swim in has been casual, not purposeful, I’m up to about 30 lakes so far and am only just dipping my proverbial toe into the thousands of lakes our state has to offer. So where to begin my research? The usual places for this natural-history writer. In the library and in the field.
The subject of lakes, lake ecology, limnology, lake swimming, and the pleasure of swimming and being in water is not new territory. The research is potentially endless and the physical territory where lakes are found is vast. The same was true with the clouds—only the clouds were more variable and ephemeral and required several (as in eight) years to capture in my book. A writer has to begin somewhere—to get to know the territory, to cast a wide net, to explore, brainstorm, dream. That’s where I am now.
This winter, I have been reading, taking notes, gathering resources, signing up for newsletters and emails from organizations monitoring lake water quality, watching films about people swimming in really cold water, and marking this summer’s swims on a state map. In 2018, I began swimming in late April and continued into early October. The real “wild swimmers” who swim year round would rightly call me a “mild swimmer,” so I hope to develop the skills to extend the swimming season and increase my tolerance and enjoyment of very cold water. I am not sure how to accomplish this. Probably cold showers are a start. I hear they are invigorating.
Maybe this should be the working title for my book! Brrrrr: A Wild Swimmer’s Plunge Into the Natural History of Lakes in Washington.