Though I love all the seasons in Maine and look forward to their particular pleasures, I have to admit that summer is my favorite. By the time spring, that fickle flibbertigibbet, is wrapping up her teasing routine of early peach blossoms and surprise ice storms, I am more than ready for the constancy and kindliness of our short summer. I wait for it all year long, dreaming of beach roses, the scent of fresh-mown grass and the feel of the sun on my skin.
The summer solstice — that moment at which the sun reaches its furthest point north of the equator and then starts its slow journey south — took place at 6:34 p.m. last Monday. That’s about the time that Douglas and I drove over to the outlet channel of Alamoosook Lake in nearby Orland, where the fresh water flows over a little dam on its way to the briny Penobscot River and, eventually, the open Atlantic.
We pulled onto a tiny track that leads into a community of summer cottages, then into a small parking spot on the upwater side of the dam. Already in our swim suits, we hopped out of the Subaru and stepped off the grassy bank into the shallow water. The far side of the channel was cast in cool shadows, but on our side the sun sparkled across the surface of the water like a spray of diamonds.
We paused to take in the beauty of the moment. Then we swanned forward into deeper water, diving into the cool green world under the surface and coming back up with a splutter and a smile. We had marked the beginning of the calendar summer, and kicked off the 2016 Summer Swim Challenge.
You’ve never heard of the Summer Swim Challenge? You’re not alone. Outside our family and the immediate circle of friends and neighbors, no one has. And, so far as I know, there are only three of us — Douglas, his daughter Sigrid, and me — who are participating this year. But be assured, we take it very, very seriously. Well, no, we don’t … we laugh at ourselves all summer long, because there is absolutely no point to it. But we do it anyway.
The Summer Swim Challenge is a commitment to swim, or at least dunk, in wild water every day of the calendar summer. No pools. No exceptions for bad weather, bad moods, low tides, mild illness, conflicting social or professional obligations, forgetfulness, relationship difficulties or other inconveniences. Full immersion is the rule. Yes, hair and all.
“Where are you going to swim today?” becomes a routine conversation over breakfast. What happens if you miss a day? Well, nothing, except irreparable harm to your reputation. Well, no … not that, either.
This is my fourth year of participation. I had a perfect score last summer — 94 consecutive days of swims and dunks in rivers, lakes, oceans, marshes — whatever body of water I could find. The year before, I missed one day because Douglas was away, and I forgot about it, and by the time I remembered it was 10 o’clock at night, cold, raining, low tide and, okay, I just decided not to do it. I paid a high price for that decision. Well, no, actually, I didn’t.
That same year, Douglas got a dispensation — the only time such a ruling has been allowed. He was working in Washington, D.C. for two weeks in July, and though his worksite was not far from the Potomac River and a small area that looked like a beach on Google Earth, it turned out to be littered with trash and filth, and the river itself was swift, dark, tepid and murky.
After consulting the non-existent rule book, we determined he could suspend his commitment without penalty for the days he was away. It was a good call; we learned later that a couple of people had been hospitalized after coming in contact with flesh-eating bacteria while swimming in that stretch of the river.
But we’ve swum in some improbable spots: a marshy muskrat meadow; the rainy clam flats at midnight; a private country-club pond in Connecticut; a meandering, manure-scented, cow-pasture stream in Virginia. And some real beauties as well — Maine, of course, is loaded with lovely salt- and fresh-water swimming spots, and we discover new ones each year.
Each day, we solve this tiny little problem. But even on the more routine days, when we typically stumble out of bed and across the road to the shore of the cold Penobscot, it demands that we pull on a bathing suit (sometimes), pick up a still-damp towel and connect fully with the fleeting Maine summer.
And that’s really why we do it.
Read more of Meg Haskell at livingitforward.bangordailynews.com.