What heaven, what bliss!
It happens the same way every year: the weather starts hotting up, the tourists start swimming (and people in Melbourne) – while I say to myself, ‘Hmmm, not quite hot enough yet…’ Then suddenly there comes a day so swelteringly hot and humid that I think if I don’t get in the water RIGHT NOW, I’ll die or at least go crazy.
When I do get in, of course it’s a shock – so cold. So I dunk myself straight away and in a few moments the temperature’s perfect. After that I don’t want to get out; I stay until my fingers and toes are thoroughly wrinkled. I’m not talking ocean; never could cope with surf. I grew up in Launceston, at the end of an estuarine river, and swam at river beaches. Tasmania is a very small island, so I did sometimes get to ocean beaches too, but never became at home in the waves.
Here, I have both. What we call the river – really a creek – is just at the end of our street. It’s an estuary too; just a little further on it meets the Pacific at a vast, sandy beach that Andrew and I love to walk on in the cooler months. From our house we often hear the thunder of the surf. I might not care to swim in it but I do love the sound! It would take me three minutes to walk to the river, ten to walk to the beach. But I don’t want to cool off only to get hot and sweaty again walking home, so I don’t; I go in the car.
I’m not one of these bronzed Aussie sporting types, I’m afraid. Even in the creek, I don’t go in for strenuous swimming. Forget the Australian Crawl, all that overarm and turning the head from side to side while spitting out great gouts of water. No, I do a bit of lazy side-stroke, and mostly float happily on my back, gazing at the sky and the tree-covered banks. Sometimes the trees are hung with ibis; sometimes pelicans cruise the sky or the stream. There’s usually a few insistent gulls skittering over the sand.
Today there were no birds. It was a very windy day. The tide wasn’t full; you could see that it had come all the way up to the rocks and then receded a little. The narrow strip of sand was still wet. But it was high enough, and it was flowing upstream. I like it better that way. The current is strong in the middle of the creek, and I prefer to be swept a little way upstream than down towards the sea. Today the wind was blowing the water into rapid waves, and being an estuary it always tastes salt. I could kid myself I was in the ocean after all.
When I arrived, there was a man lying immersed in the shallows and a young couple just entering the water while their tiny dog stood guard on the bank. I passed some polite remarks. I think the man in the shallows didn’t speak English; he looked foreign, and smiled rather blankly at everything I said. The youngsters were friendly, but were more interested in kissing and canoodling in the water than chatting to me, so I tactfully turned in the opposite direction to give them a bit of privacy. After a while, first the man left, then the couple, and I had the whole creek to myself. Lovely.
And by the way, with the weight I've lost the bathing suit looked a lot better today than it did last summer! Then, I used to wrap a towel around my waist as soon as I got out of the water – not only to get dry, also to hide. Heck, I used to wear it before I got in the water, too, just walking from the car to the edge of the creek. I’m still a fat lady, but today the towel was merely for drying myself; I strode in and out of the water without feeling any need to cover up.