I have taken to floating in the Yellowstone.
I have finally found a good spot. It’s along the path where I walk Hank, an eddy deep enough to dive in, and wide enough to swim around a little bit. Because it’s an eddy, you don’t get swept downstream, and because I am no longer young and lean, I can finally, float.
I was a sinker all the way through my childhood. I was a sinker during the years I led rafting and canoe trips. At summer camp, they lined up on the pier to watch me fail the backfloat. The camp director, head of waterfront, head of swimming and a couple of other random counselors. Arch your back they said. I did, and sank in a graceful curve, feet first, landing on my tummy on the sand at the bottom of the swimming area. Hold your breath they said. I did, and sank sank in a graceful curve, feet first, landing on my tummy on the sand at the bottom of the swimming area. Spread your arms out they said. I did, and sank in a graceful curve, feet first, landing on my tummy on the sand at the bottom of the swimming area. I’m the only one ever to get my Polliwog basic swim award without floating.
Swimming was a race against death. Could I get to shallow water or the other side or something I could hang onto before I sank?
When I started teaching again, I joined the campus gym because there was a pool. Despite being a sinker, I like swimming. You can do it slowly. It’s good for hands and shoulders frozen from too much typing. One afternoon, I was doing my usual slow crawl across the deep end, when I realized I was floating.
I rolled over on my back to test it.
I was not sinking to the bottom of the pool in a graceful curve led by my feet. I was just bobbing there. At the surface. Floating! Who knew?
Floating in the Yellowstone on these hot afternoons, with Hank-dog worrying on the shore, has been an balm. The water is shockingly cool when you first dive in, then lovely. The sky is blue. The cottonwoods are green. The boaters are all on the other side of the river where the boat ramp is, so I don’t have to worry about someone crashing into me.
I never stay in very long, but for several minutes most afternoons, I take a long moment just to float. To let the water hold me up. To look at the sky.