On one of Lacey’s rare, precious days off from her job as a teacher and dorm head at the Putney School’s Summer Arts Program, we set out to find “Indian Love Call,” a local swimming hole with a legendary high jump and uncertain coordinates. It was a sunny day, with just a few proud sails of cloud cutting the calm blue sky, the temperature warm enough for swimming but not too hot for comfort. We parked at what we hoped was the right pulloff and made our way through cool woods, following a path laid with a soft bed of pine needles that in turn paralleled a clear stream. We knew we had guessed right when we came into a gorgeous clearing, sunny and cathedral-like: tall conifers lined the sparkling water, a sandy beach on the near shore with craggy rocks and a rope swing rising on the far side. The water was green and clear, tadpoles wiggling in the shallows before the pool descended to its emerald depths. I ducked under and below the surface the stream shimmered before my open eyes with bows of sunlight. I swam to the opposite shore, found the best place to pull myself out, clambered up the rocks, and launched from a flat, perfect crag that jutted fifteen feet over the water.
My favorite swimming hole is even closer, just a five-minute bike ride down the road from the farm and my summer trailer. Two sets of falls form separate pools, but the lower one is largest, a falls of about twelve feet that descends a steep curved rock face in a cold white rush before reclining in a wide pool, spun by a quick current and long, lazy eddy. Beside one section of the pool is an old mossy stone wall, the remains of a small mill. Next to the falls is a small cliff with just enough hand and footholds to climb to the top. The twelve-foot jump leaves time for a flash of self-awareness and nothing more, before the shock of water and the plunge. Sometimes my toes graze the rocks at the bottom of the pool before I push up and break the surface again, shake the water out of my eyes, and grin at no one in particular.
So what am I grinning about? It could be because I have always been an adequate swimmer, but never a particularly good one, and the swimming hole doesn’t really require me to swim. Even in concrete swimming pools, my favorite activity was to dive in, climb out, and repeat. But those pools are full of chemicals, and set off with square corners; many of them have hours, lifeguards, sticky-floored bathrooms and all kinds of other annoyances. The swimming hole is just there, ready when you are, going about its business of splashing and reclining between the rocks and trees, a business you can join anytime. The water is fresh and clear and bracing; the rocks are smooth and warm in the sun.
But there’s something else about the swimming hole that makes me grin. It comes from the pause and the plunge, the cool clear stream that I can see right through, the awareness of my body and my skin, here, in this water, and not anywhere else. The swimming hole puts me squarely, undeniably in the present, and for this reason it’s more than a place to get in the water: it’s a passageway, an entrance to a fresh world. So if you get a chance this summer, try a swimming hole, and if you do, pay attention, because after the sleek rush of your first jump and your cold gasp to the surface, you might find yourself somewhere new, someplace you’ve never been before: the rest of your day, your summer, and your life.