A summer evening some years ago as I wallowed in the tepid waters of the ocean baths, I watched as a woman sauntered in and quietly settled on the bleachers. Extracting a thermos and book from her basket, she sat for some time, slowly sipping and turning pages in between lengthy glances at the bathers, and beyond that to the duskhorizon. Swimming came last, almost as an afterthought, a brief dry-haired drift through the shallows, her face a picture of calm.
The baths for me at that time was also a place of solace. Heartbroken, my daily immersions were a welcome balm, a washing away of another layer of the boy.
Towelling drying as the first star appeared, the poollaid before us like a collective water feature; a civic sculpturecreated moment by moment by the movement of us in and through it.
Entering the lap pool was the next exploration. Enticed by a friend’s bubbling enthusiasm for his lapping practice, Idived into lane six with great hope. The first two laps were fluid and fast, my arms striking out bold and strong, and I reminded myself with some self-congratulation of my school swimming carnival success. A few laps later with shoulders aching, breath ragged, goggles full of water, and a neighbour tight-lipped from my forays into his path, I wanted to quit. Realising I had neglected to move my legs, I forged onwards with a kicking focus, and surprised myself when I emerged bright eyed twenty minutes later. It wasn’t long before I was hooked.
Moving to Merewether twelve months ago after some time living away from the ocean, foremost in my mind was the proximity to the largest baths in the southern hemisphere. I couldn’t believe my luck. Little did I know that as the ‘for lease’ sign on my house went down, the ‘closed for renovation’ notice on the baths was going up.I couldn’t believe my luck. Anticipation for it’s reopening rose with the spring temperatures. The day finally came and I slipped into the water with the bliss of a hot tub on a winter’s night.
Pretty soon I was slicing up the lanes as if I’d never left. It has become a daily practice of mental as much as physical fitness, the welcome inclusion of lane markers helping to release my mind into the watery subconscious. Rather than the habitual rapid fire of thought, ideas float in like bubbles in new and unexpected patterns, worries working themselves free and the sharp edges of judgement softening.
Post swim, when I wander out to the rock platform at low tide and look back to where I’ve emerged, the baths is another rock pool to observe; schools of darting young fish, striped periwinkles clinging to the sides, limbs swaying like anemones in the swell; a watery playground of its very own.