Yesterday was our first sweltering day this summer, appropriate, perhaps, on Summer Solstice. My mission was to fetch a friend from BWI airport, normally about a 75 minute drive. For some reason, traffic was jammed in all directions, and especially coming back. ugh!
The outside temp at 6:45pm was 97f/36c but ten minutes later, eight miles south and in the shade the thermometer read 84f/29c. What a difference a forest makes!! At peak summer, the change from urban heat island to rural cool is usually more like 10f/5c.
Cranky as all get out, I picked up the dogs and headed for the Potomac. They were ecstatic, of course, leaping from the car and racing down the shady trail. Lily was slurping cool water, belly-deep, when I finally arrived with gimpy Seneca, helping her climb over logs to get to the water’s edge.
The water was clear and cool, lapping the gravel beach. Branches hung down sheilding me from the view of the fishing pier. I shucked off my shirt and shorts and joined them, enjoying my first river swim of the year.
Where I grew up, the river was the stage on which life was played. In the summer, one would return from a hard day’s work, sticky and hot, and shuck one’s clothing en route direct from car to seawall. Depending on the number of observers and the time of day, one plunged in wearing some or all of one’s clothing. I remember standing on the sandy bottom and scrubbing the spagetti sauce and mayonaisse out of my uniform with a bar of ivory soap, the Harsen’s Island method of Pre-Wash.
Now, the embrace of the cool river as a reward for a hot summer day is not everyone’s cuppa. So many folks I know think of it as nothing but a filthy drainage ditch. Growing up in love with a river iss one of those things I took for granted, not realizing how extraordinary the rivery life was. Fast forward to Summer Solstice 2012 and find me in my underthings, paddling in the Potomac. Like a happy wet dog.
It’s a rare pleasure for more than just the obvious reasons. While the Potomac at Mount Vernon is healthy enough for bass and eagles and blue herons, it’s often choked with algae, a thick slimy green bloom of overgrowth, the result of fertilizer and sewage providing far too many ‘nutrients’ into the stream. The stuff gloms all over the native river grasses then dies and rots into a foul black stuff I call ‘dead spinach.’ Often this gunks up the river so badly I don’t even want to wade in it.
For whatever reason, this year the shore is relatively free of it, and thus the visible beach and the almost-clear water. So there I was, in bliss, the crazy lady swimming in the river. I could hear the murmur of conversation from the fishing pier and the laughing of water-skiers, fallen nearby. While I floated in the cool a bird came in low and landed on driftwood log near enough to see that it was a green heron.
So I float, weightless in a cool bath, spinning slowly under a hazy sky. What better place to be on a day like today?