Thanksgiving Gifts from the River

By Julie Ann Goldring

It is early morning and I sit riverside, waiting for the moment when the sun breaks through the fog and reveals the colours of autumn to me and to my two oblivious dogs. Always changing – mist, colours, light and water – It is divine. The first of many gifts from the river today but not the last. Soon, when the sun sits higher in the sky and my neighbour is free to break from work, we will head up the summit for a warming walk and finish off with a cold-water swim.

En route

We walk with jittery anticipation. It is October 9th – a new record for both of us. Whether it’s our shared Nordic ancestry or just getting to that age where challenging oneself feels almost necessary, we are surprising ourselves with our interest in plunging into the river far past our usual summer dips.

View from the summit

The hardest part of river swimming in October isn’t once you are in. It isn’t when you just are knee deep, when the water hits your armpits or even the last plunge in. No, the hardest part is THINKING about it – anticipating the cold.

Coming along the boardwalk and knowing that we are committed I glance at my friend and wonder if she is wondering too – are we in? Can we do this today?

We reach the dock and untie our shoes. Feet in, shirts off, we sink into the water and drive forward hard. It is invigorating and breathtaking and clean and pure. The human body really is capable of so much more than we think.

All senses engaged, I take in the bright blue sky and the brilliant fall colours along the bank that follows me. Although I can’t quite name it, there is something profound about this ritual. I think of our indigenous brothers and sisters who deeply know and honour the secrets of the land and of the river and I am moved by the interconnectedness of life – water, sun, sky and light – perhaps what I feel is humbled.

Our shared dock, on the other side, beckons me home. I swim toward it. In this moment, I am Happy. Free. Alive.

I can’t decide if my addiction – small ‘a’ – to this exercise is physical (a way to calm the heat and surge of menopausal disarray?), if it is spiritual, or if it is simply an attempt to reclaim youth which seems to have slipped away so fast. Maybe it’s just plain crazy as my husband suggests. Whatever the reason, I love it.

Our first goal was to keep swimming right up to the middle of October. We have now moved that goal to Nov 1…. One minute of immersion per degree of warmth – we are currently at around 15 degrees and 15 minutes in the cold.

October 9th

They say that the secret to cold water therapy is in the breath. Perhaps this is actually the secret to life: Don’t panic. Look at the sky. Breathe. Be gentle with yourself. Breathe. Stay steady. Breathe. Notice. Be here right now. Be kind and respectful to every living thing. Breathe. Be grateful to the Creator for this magical place – this river of life. Keep breathing.

Julie Ann is an avid river swimmer and resident of Wakefield Quebec.