Essay: Summer swimming

Wet bathing suits are back on the line, and we shower outside amid pale pink roses that tangle in my hair. We brush by the fireplace in our rush to get outside, barely recalling its central place in our lives these past six months. Summer solstice is just two days away and now we’re eating barefoot on the porch and listening to screen doors slap.

More visitors arrive every day. Hummingbirds have been dashing to the feeder since early May. Catbirds and bluebirds have nested, and the first eggs have already hatched. A friend tells me that when I hear the catbirds sing, I am listening to mothers and babies calling back and forth, trying to strike the right balance. Too much calling and they will attract predators. Too little, and the babies might get lost.

Our phone, quiet in March and April, starts ringing off the hook in June. “We’re here on the Island, can you come to dinner?” “Can we visit you for three or four nights?” Like the catbirds, finding the right balance can be delicate. Too many guests and we feel like we’re running a hotel. Too few and we feel selfish, hoarding this thick summer beauty.

It’s hard to set limits when a niece travels all the way from Singapore to visit, or a friend from elementary school days wants to drop by. Saying no when the fecund world is shouting yes is a challenge. Even the days are deliciously lopsided, with seemingly endless light and short nights punctured early by vibrant birdsong.

What helps me rebalance in these hectic summer months is a good swim each day. Morning plunges start in early June when the water is bracing and cold. Diving in takes my breath away, but I sputter to the surface exhilarated to be here doing this once again. As the water gradually warms, a dip becomes a long, leisurely swim in the shallow waters of Lambert’s Cove. I drop a towel on the beach and swim west to the inlet of James Pond and back. The water is so clear, I sometimes see striped bass swimming nearby. Occasionally water and movement and beauty create an alchemy that is the closest I get to rapture.

Today I swam in Ice House Pond to remind myself this delicious alternative is always available. When beach parking lots fill to bursting and visitors outnumber us ten to one, I often leave our wide open saltwater rim to the summer guests and turn inland.

With space for only four cars, this tiny Land Bank property off Lambert’s Cove Road is an ideal place for a quiet swim. Songbirds, flowering blueberries, and stands of oak and evergreen circle the small body of water. Swimming here can be a relief after the challenge of the open sea. Little fish with flashes of blue-green on their fins feed on the sandy bottom, their backs dappled by sunlight. Diving in, I braced myself for the sting of salt, but my eyes opened easily in the fresh water. I drank some. It had a loamy, sweet taste. My body was heavier in this fresh water; instead of being buoyed, I felt embraced.

Picking up a languid crawl, I swam to the middle of the pond. Voices of two other swimmers drifted over the spun sugar fog as they called to one another like catbirds. Suddenly it was quiet, and I was alone. I floated on my back and soaked in the magnificent wide sky. The tensions of this season drained away in the cool water. By the time I got out and dripped dry on the metal dock, I had fallen back in love with this Island, with summer solidly fixed on our glorious dizzy planet. At home, with a lighter step, I stood in the warm grass and pinned my bathing suit to the clothesline. The catbirds were calling to and fro in the thicket nearby.

It’s all about finding the right balance.

Laura Wainwright is a freelance writer who lives in West Tisbury. Her essays appear here from time to time. Her book of essays, “Home Bird: Four Seasons on Martha’s Vineyard,” was published this month by Vineyard Stories. She will sign copies of Home Bird at the Bunch of Grapes on Saturday, July 28, from 2 to 4 pm.The illustration accompanying this essay is from Home Bird.