“It’s around here somewhere,” Soni says, squinting, looking for the turnoff.
I’m hunting for a place to swim at the end of my first season in Nova Scotia. My partner Soni is driving, an expert at local backroads and secret spots after a childhood in these woods. I am a recent transplant, still getting my bearings.
Fog rolled in on the drive over. After nearly four years of living in the desert, I marvel at it. The cool, visible moisture and endless lakes and ponds and waterways. I must have been dehydrated. My skin prickles with goosebumps and my dark hair is wavy again.
We park and the dog jumps out. She sees the trail and drags us along. It is rocky. Trees create a canopy. Lichen and moss cover the trail. Ferns fill the space in between. Aspens or birch and maybe spruce. I have to learn the trees here. The trail opens up for a few metres. I can use metres in a sentence now. Reddish brown rocks have fallen away from a short cliff.
“Iron,” I say to Soni. The seams are bright and bleeding.
The path meets a creek and the dog is thrilled. She pads over and laps murky water.
We are silent, walking up the trail. Soni looked at my bare feet before we left and told me to put on sturdy shoes.
“You can’t wear sandals. We’ve got to walk a bit before we get there,” they said.
So I put on worn-out sneakers with socks and a swimsuit under some gym shorts. Now my shoes squeak against the wet rocks.
We come to a fork.
“This way,” Soni tells the dog and I.
A fog horn bellows.
Shouts echo through the trees. The dog looks back at us, unsure. There are shrieks and screams and peals of laughter.
I tell the dog that it is okay. “Someone is having fun,” I assure her.
Soni asks the dog if she wants to have fun.
“I think she is having fun already,” I say. “Look,” I say, pointing at the dog’s wagging tail.
The dog leaps from rock to rock. She loves the woods.
The fog horn and high-pitched voices make a chorus in the trees.
We pass a cluster of kids on a giant boulder. Mostly shirtless boys are showing off for one another.
Maisie pulls us down a tiny path towards the lake, but Soni says, “No, let’s keep going.”
There isn’t a beach here. Just a network of trails winding around the pond. Everyone usually finds a rock at the edge to sit on and swim from.
Soni lowers their voice and whispers, “Let’s get away from these kids. They are so loud.”
We continue through the woods but the options fizzle out. Soni and I turn back, towards the rock the dog had been trying to take us to in the beginning.
A wide shelf of granite leans against the water, with narrow plant-filled crevasses criss-crossing its base on one side, algae creeping on the other. I drop my towel, kick off my sneakers, and plop myself down on it.
Fog disappears the other side of the lake. The water is still. Trees blur out in front of us. A large rock around a bend looks like an excellent place to swim from. It is occupied.
Soni points and says, “Maybe the fork in the trail led over there.”
We watch as bare legs walk away and vanish into the trees.
The cacophony of conversation echoes across the water and I sit and wait for invisible neighbors to leave. It doesn’t quite fit with the peaceful scene in front of me. I want to swim in the quiet. Soni lets the dog off leash and she tears into the brush, adding to the noise. Leaves rustle and bushes are thrashed and I call out, “Where are you?”
The dog bounds back to us, beaming, showing off.
“Do you want to go swimming?” I ask. She doesn’t. She runs away again and comes back covered in forest goo. It could be anything really.
“Gross,” I tell her. “You are a dirty dog.”
The loud boys leave. I exhale.
Soni and I smile at each other and I take my shirt off.
“Is it deep?” I ask Soni.
“Yes. Not sure about right here, but eventually yes. “
The water is a dark cinnamon orange. The rocks we are sitting on slope steeply into it. I take off my gym shorts and make my way in. I can’t see the bottom. Silt forms a liquid cloud and I have no idea what I’m stepping into. I perch on the edge and scoot ungracefully in.
It is deep. I swim a few strokes and I am relieved when I don’t touch bottom. I have a lingering childish fear of lake beds. I never know what I am going to step on.
The water is warm on top and cool underneath. After a summer of stratification, the thermal layers are distinct. I am grateful for the sharpness of the temperature drop. A few ducks join me. We are all swimming slowly towards the other side of the lake. I smile at them but I don’t know what they think of me. I pull a few more strokes and they don’t change their course to avoid me. I take this as a sign of their approval.
I turn and swim back to the rock to say hello to Soni and the dog. The dog doesn’t understand why I swim. She wants nothing to do with this lake but can’t seem to decide if she should be worried or not. She sits and stares at the speck of me as I move further away.
I do another lap. Back and forth and back and forth in the gentle mist. I am swimming in an impressionist painting. I felt anxious and stressed and sad all day but it slips away as soon as I get in the water. In the lake I just swim. I don’t think. I move my arms. I kick my legs. I breathe and I swim into the soupy white-out embrace of the lake.