‘You only live once’ makes summer one to remember
As summer winds down, I find myself looking back over the last eight to 10 weeks wondering, first and foremost, where it went. As I reflect, there were many things I intended to do that I didn’t get around to accomplishing. On the contrary, I defied a few of my own self-imposed boundaries this summer, throwing caution to the wind to experience a few things I didn’t believe were possible.
Wednesday afternoon, I did something I said I would never do: I swam in the lake.
If you’re asking, “What lake?” you haven’t been reading the paper. I swam in Bonnifield Lake.
I know, I know. I said I wasn’t going in. Period. However, when my family and I went to Florida in June, my daughter Sage assigned the summer of 2012 a theme: YOLO. You only live once.
It was because of YOLO that, in spite a lifelong shark phobia so intense that when I was a kid, I didn’t like to be left in the bathtub unattended, I swam in the Atlantic Ocean in water deeper than my ankles. I actually bobbed in waves where the water came up to my chin – plenty deep to afford a lemon shark or a blue shark the opportunity to bite my legs clean off had it been so inclined. My kids, always helpful and reassuring, reminded me lemon sharks were the least of my worries. There have been sightings of great white sharks in water shallower than what we were in, they said. I tried to focus on the statistically low probability of becoming lunch for a great white and remained in the water - ignoring the fact that the great white population on the Atlantic coastline has gradually increased in recent years to a 30-year high.
“Isn’t it fun, Mom?” Sage said as we jumped into the surf.
“YOLO!” I yelled over the roar of the waves, thankful we weren’t in Chatham, Mass., where the sharks have been seen swimming right up into the inlet.
When the men and boys decided to head to Gator Land one day during our Florida vacation, I suggested to my mom and Sage that we drive over the giant outlet mall not far from our resort.
“But, Mom,” Sage said. “You’re too scared to drive in cities and heavy traffic.”
“YOLO,” I replied, grinning. We only had to go four blocks. How hard could it be?
When we stopped for southern barbecue somewhere in Georgia, Sage leafed through the menu and asked, “What’s orca taste like?”
I told her I’d never eaten a killer whale, but if it was fried okra she was inquiring about, there was only one way to find out. When the waitress brought out the okra, we all cried “YOLO” in unison before we dug in. We were delighted to find out okra tasted like battered heaven, particularly when dipped in ranch dressing.
After countless hours of research, interviews and writing about Bonnifield Lake, it just seemed to me Wednesday morning that taking a little dip in the reservoir was the only appropriate end to my summer. After all — YOLO!
My son Zane agreed to go with me, but only after asking me to pinky swear that if there were any Trojan football teammates in the lake, we would abandon the plan. I didn’t hesitate before agreeing to his terms; the only person more horrified than Zane by the thought of me being caught half naked in the city reservoir by the whole football team was me!
Thankfully, there were only a couple of people in the lake when we got there. I got in the water first, while Zane remained on the shore to take my picture. If I was going to do it, I wanted proof.
I was quite surprised by how nice the water was. I’d expected it to be closer to the consistency of a mud pie, but it was actually quite refreshing. Out of curiosity, I completed a series of informal turbidity tests. Astoundingly, when standing in just over 2 feet of water, I could look straight down into the water and see my feet clearly, making the visibility between 24-28 inches. Impressive!
Even though there was a distinct odor coming from the lake making it seem eerily as though I was swimming inside a giant empty can of tuna fish, I finally got the nerve to go under. Councilwoman Martha Rasmussen will be happy to know I kept my mouth tightly closed and I plugged my nose, preventing whatever bacteria may or may not have been lurking the water from entering my bloodstream. (I’m not going to lie. I popped an antibiotic tablet leftover from a former illness and cleaned my ears out with rubbing alcohol when I got home. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.)
Zane snapped a few pictures, took the camera back to the car and joined me in the lake. He was surprised by how nice the water was, too.
“It’s only a little green,” he said, cheerfully.
We decided that in the spirit of YOLO, we would swim from the far rope to the first buoy. We’d assess our readiness to go further when we reached the buoy. We’re both good swimmers, and we were swimming “with a buddy,” as my new friend Susan Klauber had reminded me was a good practice. What could go wrong?
Perhaps it was because it’s Shark Week on the Discovery Channel this week or maybe it was because I’ve watched every episode of River Monsters. More than likely, it was because of the man who entered the lake just after us and insisted on making dolphin noises while we swam. Regardless, I started to get creeped out. I realize it’s not rational to be afraid of sharks in a fresh body of water. I also know it’s not rational to look in the toilet before, during and after using it to check for sewer rats, but I’ve done it, and if we’re all being honest, I’m not alone. The rational part of my brain was telling me I was being ridiculous; there are no sharks in Bonnifield Lake. The part of my brain that houses my hyperactive imagination, however, was telling me otherwise, and felt my old friend panic sneaking up on me. We were only half way to the first buoy when Zane clenched the deal by yelling, “Oh my gosh, Mom! It’s a giant catfish!”
Dolphin man probably thought I was training for the 2016 Olympics by the way I immediately pivoted and swam as fast I could back to the rope, diving under the rope and not coming up until I was back in shallow water.
“You’re dumb, Mom,” Zane said, laughing hysterically.
I’m so dumb I emerged from the lake with all of my limbs intact. Besides, even getting in it was an accomplishment. I said I was never going to get in that lake, but there I was, walking out of the water and up onto the beach like I was Bo Derek. So what if there was thick, sandy mud squished between all 10 of my toes? So what if absurd apprehension had cut my swim short? I swam in the lake!
“YOLO,” I told Zane, thumbing my nose at him as I walked toward my towel.
Who knows? Maybe next year, I’ll swim to the first buoy. Maybe, I’ll swim across the whole lake. Maybe, I’ll go cage diving with great white sharks off the coast South Africa or Guadalupe Island. What I won’t do again is say, “Never.”
Life is far too short and much too sweet to limit my own options.
Staci Ann Wilson Wright teaches special education at the Fairfield High School; she is a Ledger summer staff writer.