Wild Swimming? Is there Any Other Way? by Tamia Nelson

When I was young, summer held no greater pleasure than splashing around in a nearby pond or stream under the hot sun. Young and old alike retreated to the water after a sultry day, cooling off and relaxing with family and friends. There were no lifeguards, but parents kept an eye on their children, and older siblings looked out for their younger brothers and sisters. No one drowned. And when we packed up to go home for supper, we picked up after ourselves so others would find the swimming hole as welcoming as we did.

If anyone asked us what we’d been doing, we simply replied, “Swimming.” We would have laughed out loud at the notion that this should be prefaced with the qualifying adjective “wild.” Swimming was swimming, and the local swimming holes were community meeting places, about as wild as the grange hall. So you can imagine how bemused I was when I read of the new big thing in Britain. Yes, you guessed it, it’s “wild swimming.” And what does this mean? Heading down to a nearby lake or river and diving in. Wild swimming? The mind boggles.

This could be yet another example in support of the Shavian witticism that England and America are two countries separated by a common language. Or maybe it’s just an understandable reaction to the chlorinated sterility of most swimming pools. In any case, I’m with the Brits here: wild swimming beats tame any day. In fact, swimming in a flooded concrete basin doesn’t rate so much as a mention in my book. I’ll always cherish memories of digging my bare toes into warm ooze, competing with friends to see how long we could hold our breath underwater, and diving from rafts and rock outcrops as the breeze ruffled the treetops and clouds scudded across the blue sky. No laps, no lanes, no stinging eyes. No whistle and no showers. Just the play of light on water, and the heady incense of the sun-warmed pines. (OK. If the cows had been down to the water for a drink and a cooling dip, there might be other smells, too. But cow flops trump chorine any day.)

Wild swimming? Is there any other kind?

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For half a century, Tamia Nelson has been ranging far and wide by bike, boat, and on foot. A geologist by training, an artist since she could hold a pencil, a photographer since her uncle gave her a twin-lens reflex camera when she was 10, she's made her living as a writer and novelist for two decades. Avocationally her interests span natural history, social history, cooking, art, and self-powered outdoor pursuits, and she has broad experience in mountaineering, canoeing, kayaking, cycling, snowshoeing and skiing.