Monday, 31 July 2017

Swimming with Swans

This morning I checked the news online before going for a swim in the river. I was expecting dismal headlines about intercontinental ballistic missiles, mad presidents and Brexit. This was the article I read instead. Seal populations are flourishing in the Thames estuary, and they can sometimes be seen as far inland as Teddington Lock.

A seal on Islay - coming soon to Teddington Lock?
The tide was high and just about to turn - the perfect time to swim. I let myself down the ladder into the river, distracted from the shock of the cold water on my body by a swan hissing at me as I invaded her space. I swam down the creek where my boat is moored, and into the wide and welcoming river towards Teddington Lock. Two barges chugged past, and I let myself bob on the waves they created. I attracted the usual curious glances and waved, smiling to reassure them that I was waving, not drowning. They made their way slowly up the river, and then I was alone with nothing but the birds and the occasional leaping fish for company. I imagined the thrill of discovering a seal as one of my swimming companions.

The sky was high and blue and dappled with clouds. The sun warmed my face, and the water spread around me in ripples of silver and green. A heron watched me from the prow of one of the small boats moored along the river until I came too close for comfort, then it flew a little further along the river. It repeated this routine several times, keeping a safe distance between us. A cormorant lifted from the river, its snake-like form morphing into a sleek streak of wings and neck.

I began to feel the resistance of the tide as it turned. I had to swim harder to keep moving, but I wasn't ready to turn back.  The sky clouded over and the river turned dark and sinister. I felt the tide tugging against me and became conscious of the power and volume of water and my solitude and smallness. I was adrift in some timeless force of nature, and for a moment I felt that nameless fear that romantic poets describe as the sublime.

Small waves ruffled the water, flowing fast with the current of the tide. A sparrow hawk slid across the sky above me. I feared for the gulls drifting and playing in the air currents. Green parakeets screeched among the trees at the river's edge, creating flashes of tropical colour as they flew.

I swam until the sky cleared and the river turned silver again, then I turned and drifted back with the outgoing tide to the boat. I became lost in the rhythm of my breathing and the quiet steady movement of my limbs beneath the surface.

I let the river carry me home. I was one with everything. What a glorious way to start the day.

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