It can hardly be called a swim, that first plunge into the ocean in early spring. I suppose dip is the best description--or dunk, like one of those tanks at a county fair where somebody hurls a ball at a button and the bottom drops out from under you, and you are submerged. The element of surprise is there, even if you are the one doing the running, the diving, and ultimately, the dipping.
I told myself in March that as soon as the air temperature got about 60 degrees, or the water temperature in Nantucket sound above 45 degrees, I’d go in. The first weekend in April the mercury hovered around 58/59, and while I’m not sure if it ever did make it exactly to 60, I went in anyway.
I know there are other souls heartier than I who go in regularly throughout the winter, who plunge into the icy sea as an important ritual. I read their daily dispatches online, from the comfort of my bed when I wake up in the early morning. I’ve thought about becoming one of them, somebody who braves the rain, the snow, the frozen harbor and in return receives a daily moment of clarity. But I will settle for the occasional off-season dip.
On this particular April day, it must have been about 4:30 in the afternoon, judging from the steamship’s position on the horizon. Sometimes, it’s possible to forget you live on an island. You’re roaming the same grocery store they have on the mainland, under the same fluorescent lights. Other times it cuts right through you--that everything is surrounded by water, that the only way off is by boat or by plane. That you had to really want to get here, and have to make some sort of effort to leave.
The sun was angling long down the beach, no houses or trees to interrupt it. I think this was the first time my legs had seen the sun since October. The water was cold--I won’t try to tell you it wasn’t. Our toes started turning pink from standing on the shoreline.
Gulls smarter than I sat on pier pilings, on seawalls, on jetties, on sun-warmed places and watched. The tide was a little low, I told myself it means the water must be warmer, washing over the tidal flats. It was not. Still, I dove in, or jumped in, or fell in. Or some combination of the three. It must have been a funny sight, judging by the cackling of the gulls.
What I noticed more than anything was the light. Just months ago at this time, it was pitch black. I’d rush to get down to the shore after work and catch only the lingering rays of the day, before the island plunged into darkness for another night that began way too early. Now the light stretches on.