The Penobscot River runs past my house, widening as it flows under the new bridge and encompassing Verona Island on its path to the open ocean. The water here is salty, stained brown with tannins and often shockingly cold, even in August. Nevertheless, most mornings, you’ll find me stepping gingerly into its murky shallows at about 6 a.m., wincing as the water rises toward my waist, eventually taking the plunge that submerges me in its chilly embrace.
This is the 2015 Summer Swim Challenge, a pledge to take a dip in “wild water” each day of the calendar summer, from June 21 to Sept 21. That’s 93 consecutive days, in case you’re counting. Along with my fiance and his daughter, I have managed to complete two full seasons of the SSC and am so far “perfect” this third summer. Enrollment in the SSC is low — as far as I know, it’s just the three of us who have made this apparently pointless commitment, finding satisfaction in checking off each passing day and in the amusement of our friends and neighbors, who suspect we’ve all gone soft in the head.
My name is Meg Haskell. From 2002 to 2011, I wrote about health-related issues and other topics for the Bangor Daily News — important work that built my knowledge base, polished my professional skills and strengthened my self-confidence. I left the newsroom after my 30-year marriage ended in 2010 and the sudden death of my ex-husband the following year. I needed a change of scene, and I got it.
They say you can never step into the same river twice. But, recently, when it became clear that the BDN would welcome me back after my four-year hiatus, I jumped at the opportunity. This time around, I will head up a new section we’re calling “Next.” Both in print and online, Next will focus on the mid-life challenges and opportunities we encounter as we enter our 50s and 60s — changes in our family relationships; ways to support and connect with our communities; our personal ambitions, health needs, finances and other aspects of living our mature lives.
These are things I know something about first-hand, the topics of everyday conversations with my peers. But everyone has a slightly different take on how to make the most of these precious, productive years before advancing age takes its inevitable toll. My goal for Next is to share stories about this passage with you, to engage your ideas and facilitate dialog. We have a lot to learn from each other.
My daily dunk in the river does serve a purpose. For one thing, it feels great and clears my head. It also reminds me every day that summer is short, that I am strong and resilient and that living in Maine is a privilege I will never take for granted, even after the 43 years I’ve called it home. It’s also a tremendous privilege to be back in the BDN newsroom, working with talented and dedicated colleagues to serve up interesting ideas and useful information that will engage our readers.
Planning for Next is already drawing on my own life experience and providing perspective on my trajectory so far, as well as challenging me to live my life looking forward, not back. I hope it will do the same for my readers, and that you will share your thoughts with me as I share mine with you, through this blog. I am delighted to be back at the Bangor Daily News.