My Father’s Daughter.

I didn’t enter the water gracefully. It was a precarious balance on slippery rocks, before I lost my footing, gasped as my whole body plunged under the waves. Though it was September and there was still warmth to the sun, the body of water that lay before me was chilling beneath the wind that whipped the surface into tiny white peaks. ‘Keep swimming,’ was the motto, and swim I did, even if the cold of the water numbed my fingers, made my skin tingle. 2 km didn’t sound like much, but previously I hadn’t had much practice. I was rusty and my muscles let me know it!

As a child, my family would have weekly swimming evenings at the local pool, followed by a chippie tea and Doctor Who on the TV. I was lucky to be born when the old Victorian school buildings still stood, before modernisation bulldozed them for clinical, soulless buildings. My school, red bricked and full of ghost stories had a wonderful heated swimming pool alongside it. Even before entering the building, with towel rolled under an arm, the smell of chlorine always tickled the nose, cleared the senses.

The noise at poolside was often deafening! Children shrieked with nervous excitement, trying to stay afloat with giant orange inflatables around their arms. I would emerge from a blue curtained cubicle like a butterfly from its chrysalis, proudly wearing my red swimsuit. Always, my father would be in the pool first, beckoning me into the cradling waters, challenging me. In his youth he had been a finalist in the inter-city championships, had numerous certificates and badges. He still enthused about the sport and would encourage me to swim further than I could ever think possible. 100 metres was a long way for a young girl.

Where I swam now was very different to a pool and I was no longer ‘Daddy’s little champion.’ I was a woman of 40. An infinite expanse of sky, pregnant with clouds arched overhead. Shingle beaches lined the shores and jagged mountains crowded around, like they were bringing me into their confidence. Crows shrieked their good morning. Day would soon arrive and with it the chance of rain. As I pushed my body through the water, soft like silk, Nathan sat alongside me, paddling silently.

I met Nathan at a turning point in both our lives. I was chopping vegetables in the kitchen of a hostel, where I was holidaying in Scotland. Onions sizzled in a pan while tears tore down my face. ‘Something smells good!’ I started and the knife I held clattered to the floor.

‘It’ll be a chilli once it’s cooked.’ I turned to face a larger than life man. He was still wearing his hiking gear and had trodden mud through into the kitchen. ‘Hungry?’

‘Famished!’ He grinned.

The evening sun dipped beyond the horizon, turning the clouds into a kind of pink blancmange. The air was still, sweetly scented. Spring in Scotland has its own beauty. Trees slowly unfurled their tender leaves and rivers raged with melt-water from the mountains. Nathan, freshly showered, and I sat on a bench eating our bowls of chilli in the hostel’s garden. A bottle of wine shared between us. ‘What brings you to Scotland?’ I asked.

‘Adventure,’ he shrugged, then looking up at me he said shyly. ‘A broken heart. You?’

‘I recently lost my father.’ I took a mouthful of bitter wine. ‘We had been estranged the last couple of years, so the news was pretty hard to take.’ I paused. Nathan sat silently, listening. ‘I just had to get away, escape. You know how it is?’ He nodded. ‘I just packed the car and headed up here.’

‘Planning on staying long?’

‘A day or two. Depends if there’s anything to stay for.’ It was then that we shared one of those looks and the world suddenly shifts. Two people, lonely and broken, found comfort in each other’s arms.

Two years later, I found myself immersed in nature, practicing for a charity swim. The northern shore of the lake loomed ahead, trees, tall and prickly stood sentinel. From the water’s surface I suddenly noticed a familiar figure standing motionless by the lakeside, his arm raised in a wave. I stopped kicking, felt my body suspended by the water, while minnows gently swam between my fingers. ‘Sarah!’ Nathan called. ‘Don’t stop!’

‘Do you see..?’ I shouted, treading water.

‘What?’ I looked back towards the shore, to where only trees huddled around a burnt shell of a building. ‘It was probably a dog walker.’ Nathan encouraged. ‘You’re almost there! Don’t give up!’ I stretched my tired arms forward and pressed on for the last 50 metres or so. Soon my legs hit rocks as I crawled out of the water. My muscles ached, my skin purple with bruises. ‘You made it!’ Nathan cried jumping out of the kayak, ‘and in under an hour!’ His feet splashed in the shallows before he draped a towel around my shivering body.

‘Maybe I am my father’s daughter after all,’ I panted.

‘And more,’ Nathan cupped my face in his hands. ‘He would have been amazed at what you can achieve.’ Wells of tears unexpectedly flooded my eyes.

‘Really?’

‘Yes. Sure, he would have been jealous. Swimming in a lake! That has to beat swimming in a pool any day!’

‘I suppose,’ I smiled through chattering teeth.

‘You’ve swam further than you’ve ever done before. He would have been so proud of you!’ I felt Nathan’s lips, hot on mine as he wrapped his arms around me. I leant into his warm body.

‘I know it sounds silly but I could have sworn I saw him standing by the boathouse.’ Nathan looked to where the wooden structure stood derelict. There was no other living soul, save them at the lake.

‘Perhaps he was, cheering you on as he used to.’

‘It’s a nice thought.’

‘Come, let’s get you warm. A strong, celebratory coffee is in order. Perhaps I’ll buy us cake!’ We turned our backs to the lake laughing as we went, and the rain that was promised began to fall.

© 2016 Christine Lucas


I haven’t written anything of note in a while. The above story was written in response to an advert for submissions for an anthology on wild swimming. Needless to say I was not successfully chosen, so I’ve posted the piece for you, my lovely readers. It was written with a word count restriction, so forgive the fractured feel to the narrative.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Christine x

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30 Days Wild 2016 – Week Two

o0OhgWNNI can’t believe how quickly the first week of 30 Days Wild went and now I am finalising this post at the end of the second week! I am enjoying reading other bloggers’ adventures, and The Wildlife Trusts, 30 Days Wild app, of 101 random acts of wildness, is really inspiring me to learn more about the nature that I see around me.

 

Day Eight: Wednesday.

Wednesday was World Oceans Day. Highlighting the plight of the seas and collaborating for a better future. I was unable to get to the coast but I still managed to celebrate the diversity of the oceans. It was a day of cooking and baking bread. I shaped these granary loaves into sea turtles (recipe here). I’m no artist but I am pretty happy with how they turned out. What do you think?

In the afternoon I opened the app for the Great British Bee Count. I thought with the amount of bees flying about the yarden that I could do a timed count. I set up alongside a popular plant and started the one minute timer. Sadly, all the bees must have known and only one mason bee made an appearance! Typical!

Day Nine: Thursday.

I turned to the wildness cards for inspiration. I downloaded the cards from the email pack The Wildlife Trusts sent when I signed up for 30 Days Wild. (I wish I had asked for a mail pack as they sent a cute little ‘I love wild’ badge! But such is life!)

I picked the sketch up close card. If my sea turtle bread rolls were any indication, then this activity could go horribly wrong, but I had to try. So I grabbed a piece of paper and sharpened a pencil and sat down to draw one of my favourite garden birds. The dunnock.

Some interesting facts on the dunnock (hedge sparrow):

  1. Has a fine bill due to preferring insects and beetles than seeds.
  2. Is a ground feeder.
  3. As their diets are similar to Robins, can come into conflict if food is scarce, usually losing out to the more aggressive Robins.
  4. Their nests are often parasitised by the cuckoo.
  5. Most are polyandrous (female has more than one male mate) or polygynous (males have more than one female mate).

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Day Ten: Friday.

I let David chose today’s ‘wild card’. He chose keep a note of wildlife. List the species that you see from your window. I decided to spend an hour watching the yarden after the evenings dinner. Here’s what I saw.

  1. House Sparrow (x1)
  2. Pigeons (x4)
  3. Bees (many)
  4. Hover flies (many)
  5. Flies (many)
  6. Dunnock (x1)
  7. Goldfinches (x2)
  8. Small white butterfly (x1)
  9. Cinnabar moth (x1)
  10. Spider (garden) (x1)
  11. Snails (x2)
  12. Magpie (x1)
  13. Herring gull (x1)

Day Eleven: Saturday.

During 30 Days Wild, I have also been setting up my camcorder to record for an hour a day. Below is the ‘highlights’ video of the species, mainly birds visiting the yarden.

Day Twelve: Sunday.

With the flowers having fallen, it was time to haul up our potato plants. We have found that it has not been easy to grow our own vegetables. However, David and I were overjoyed that we got some kind of harvest! Below find pictures of us celebrating our maris bard potatoes!

For the evening dinner we boiled some of our harvest and had them with a vegetarian roast. They were delicate and creamy. They tasted all the better for having grown them ourselves.

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Day Thirteen: Monday.

Sadly the weather has taken a turn for the worse, even this poor buff tailed bumblebee was having trouble today. David rescued her/him from the yarden floor and the jaws of Artie and fed it some sugar solution. After a while it perked up and flew away. Later on I saw another bee busily enjoying an oriental poppy.

I also managed to do another bee count, in between the showers. Within a minute I got a tally of three!

Monday was also World Meat Free Day, so I made a Mediterranean flavoured white bean soup with brown rice.

Day Fourteen: Tuesday.

I decided to write a short creative passage around wild swimming. I didn’t intend for it to become so morbid… sorry!

On a frosty winter’s day. Erin dipped her toe into the water and shivered as the delicious cold touched her skin. She often wondered if her sister had felt the same sensation before she slipped eternally into the dark abyss. Perhaps her depression had steeled her against the cold? Either way Erin gasped as she stepped in.

‘What torments brought you to these waters?’ She thought, finding herself waist deep in the lake. ‘If only I could have helped.’ She swam through the icy water towards a small island, a tangle of tree branches and sandy shores.

During the summer holidays, Erin and her younger sister, Elise used to swim out towards the island. The warm waters suspended their sun kissed limbs as they splashed headlong towards an adventure of exploring over rock and under root.

Erin, felt her teeth chatter as she breaststroked through the choppy waters. Erin didn’t mind, she was a strong swimmer. Elise too, but on that fateful day she chose to succumb. ‘It’s very easy to get cramp,’ their swimming instructor had prophesied. ‘If you don’t respect the water or your ability, tragedy can happen.’ Erin swam on until a man’s voice from the lakeside beckoned tensely.

‘What are you doing?’ She turned, noticing her funeral garb heaped on the shingle shore. The waters caressed her breasts, stroked seductively between her legs. She saw Josh standing at the lakeside. In his hand he held the length of his black tie. His shoes discarded.

‘I’m okay!’ Erin called through the drizzle. She looked at Josh as she treaded water. She felt the love Elise had felt for him. Watched as he disregarded his mourning clothes and lunged into the lake. His arms were strong as he crawled towards her, while she felt cradled in the waters embrace.

Erin recalled the last time she and Elise swam together in the lake. Elise had been no older than eleven. They both lay on their backs looking up at the blue cloudless sky. Swallows skirted over the water catching flies, and laughter tinged the air with joyful exuberance. Elise had been so full of life. Her death remained inexplicable. 

‘Come back to shore.’ Erin felt Josh’s arms embrace her. They were becoming shrouded in a mist that rolled down from the mountains. ‘You’ll get hypothermia.’ Josh reached for Erin’s hand. They swam alongside each other back towards the shore.

Erin’s body ached with the cold as she walked out of the water. She looked into Josh’s dark eyes that searched her face for a reason. ‘I just felt like a swim.’

‘In this weather?’ She felt Josh’s warm lips on hers. ‘I don’t want to lose you too.’ He threw his jacket over Erin’s shoulders before hurrying her towards their hotel where Elise’s wake was winding down. With luck, Erin’s disappearance had gone undetected and they could creep inside unseen.

A warm light flooded from the hotel doorway, and bathed their heads in a golden glow. Josh took Erin’s hand in his and they both walked into the light. 

Summary:

I have taken things much slower this week. Perhaps a bit too slow. Most days haven’t been really ‘wild.’ I have enjoyed doing the creative activities, like molding bread into turtles and even drawing the dunnock, I found relaxing.

I wonder what discoveries week three of 30 Days Wild will uncover? At some point, I am hoping to go looking for moths and perhaps a wild swim will feature, who knows? I hope you will join me in my forthcoming adventures…

Christine x