de-stressing: swimming

Makry Gialos, Crete, at dusk (July 2016)

I'm not much of a swimmer. I had a swimming lesson once as a kid; the tan, smiling, sun-bleached teenager in red trunks instructed us to stand and dip our faces underwater, blowing bubbles. Unlike my Californian cousins who had a pool in their backyard, sliding in and out of the water like seals, my family donned swimsuits once or twice a year during mid-summer: while camping up at icy-cold Oregon mountain lakes and during the week at our grandmother's cabin in the High Sierras, my grandmother paying for tickets to the town's private man-made lake. Underwater activities for me have always meant risking screaming ear infections requiring antibiotics, my ear canals neatly trapping water, tubal petri dishes for blooming bacteria. Even so, I can (approximately) frog-swim, tread water, side crawl, and float—all self-taught.

southern Crete coastline (July 2016)

But this summer in Crete, my younger sister, who has more normally shaped ear canals, insisted I try snorkeling, handing me a drugstore package of Mack's silicone putty ear plugs. I suppose I had always assumed ear plugs would never really work. Even on two separate occasions as an adult in warm sub-tropical Hawaiian waters alongside sea turtles, I refused to snorkel. But in Crete, post-cancer, a new me, I thought, "Oh, why not?"
So I did, for the first time, borrowing gear from the hotel. My sister gave me a quick lesson at the beach near the hotel. Even with me nearsighted, all margins blurry, the feeling was freeing, slipping underwater into the muffled quiet with the fishes like any other mammal.

swimmer at Vai, Crete (July 2016)

The next day we took a party-boat cruise to a nearby uninhabited island where the water was crystal clear. We snorkeled later in the week at the northeast beach at Vai under Crete's sole stand of palm trees, the water a pure turquoise. Our last full day we returned to the magical island via the party boat for more hours of snorkeling. If I'd had the money, I would have bought a little hill house and stayed in Greece forever, hiking the herb-scented hills and swimming in the buoyant sea.

Mediterranean Sea viewed from hills over Makry Gialos, Crete (July 2016)

sunset view, Crete (July 2016)

I've been missing that feeling of escape from routine, the feeling of floating in a body of water. So one evening this week my roommate and I drove over to our nearest local public pool. I forgot to put in my ear plugs before stepping into the water, but it didn't matter. We spent an hour treading water and chatting, splashing around, schooled by the high-school swim team practicing in lap lanes on one side. The water was 86 degrees and the room humid but still a bit chilly when half-naked, winter's cold breath pressed against the tall glass windows. Instead of natural sea-salt breezes, we grew redolent with poisonous chlorine. But the pool was sparsely populated, only a handful of water-aerobics class members, plus the swim team, so we had much of it to ourselves.

After a warm shower in the changing room, slipping on yoga pants and an oversized, thick cotton sweater, my hair wet under a wool hat, I felt more relaxed than I've been since paddling in the summertime Mediterranean Sea. Exercise and de-stressing for five dollars at a public pool—I'll take more of that, please.

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