I sense I’m not the only one on my city beach who feels nostalgic. The light is softening and the water temperature is dropping. Most of the teens have cleared out, perhaps to show off their tans from behind the cash register of a deep-fried food stand at the fair. Toddlers are still digging moats at the water’s edge but their parents seem restless, as if they should be somewhere else. The leathery dude, who is at the beach all day throughout the summer chatting up the regulars, has disappeared. The Italian tourists who walk into the lake up to their waists and stand in place, idly chatting, have left. They are glamorous and I’ve wondered about them, assuming our beach was featured in an Italian travel article. The large plastic swan has been deflated and put into storage with the slight scent of “Eau De Bde” to remind her of the summer sun. The family who paddles a yellow canoe to shore each evening has moved on. It has made me happy to watch the dad, tattooed from head to toe, play with his son. The boy laughs as he is tossed into the water and shouts, “Again!”
Somehow, I’ve been gifted sealskin. I put up with the murky warm lake of July, but cold water clears my brain and lifts my mood. A few nights ago I was late for my sunset swim. As the light faded, I noted a lone couple sitting on the bench by the sidewalk as I strode through the still-warm sand. I dropped my towel, kicked off the flip-flops and waded in.
What a pleasure to swim alone in a lake. I walk through the shallows and swim out as far as I dare. The remaining light provides a silhouette of the approaching storm clouds. In the distance I can see a figure with dog maneuvering a paddle board toward the shore.
I’m not a great swimmer, but have created my own hybrid of sidestroke mixed with dog-paddle and breast stroke. I swim toward the spot where a spring cools the water, flip over to float on my back and admire the sky. I pretend to synchronize swim. I lift my legs in the air. I float and stretch in ways I can’t on land. I’m weightless and free. I’m young.
It becomes dark and I return to shore — using my white towel as a beacon. But where are my flip-flops? I search the area and then look suspiciously at the couple. I was scarred as a teen when my clothes and shoes were stolen while I floated in the middle of a lake. I was forced to walk home — over a mile barefoot in my swimsuit — something that is seared in the psyche of a shy teenager.
The couple wave me over. With big smiles they explain that while I swam, a fox darted across the beach, grabbed my towel in its teeth and dragged it across the sand. My emerging from the water had startled it back into the bushes.
We can feel it. The soft air and 8 p.m. dusk. Soon the sun will leave us at 7:30 and then 6 p.m. Even the fox is padding its lair.
Jocelyn Hale lives in Minneapolis.