DRAWING ON THE ARTS BY ELIZA FERNBACH
The art of swimming is one of summer’s greatest pleasures. This time of year there are places public and secret all over Pictou County where people can find relief from the hot days and deepen the pleasures of balmy evenings. And there are as many kinds of swimming as there are bodies of water.
In rivers and streams fast dips refresh and startle the system. Sometimes when I brave the creek near my house I feel as if I am covered in stars when I slip back out of the water. Over at the ocean, I emerge like a sea monster eager to find a home on land after exercises in trust and politesse in the waves where there are sometimes unsuspecting jellyfish. This happened just last week. I had prepared the big rock I like to go and sit on after cooling off in the sea, and was striding towards the surf. It is good that I like to remain aware of my surroundings and survey the scene like a big movie screen before I venture too far forward. Good on this day, because there at the bottom corner of my view was a huge wobbling purple jellyfish. There was a time when the sight of said creature would have sent me running back to stand on my rock. But I am braver since I’ve been living in Pictou county and I’ve also started to realize just how kind the wildlife is if I am kind too. So I politely stepped a few feet away from the floating fellow and spoke to him as I walked into the water.
“I’m just going to cool off over here.” I said in the most dulcet tone I could muster.
“While you stay right over there in your little patch of ocean – OK?” If Jellyfish could speak, this jovial Jeffrey might have joked with me like one of my old friends. “OK, I’ll wait to sting you until just before you get out!” But instead this mysterious and graceful organism just kept treading water in his part of the water.
I wasn’t trusting enough to completely ignore him. I kept my eye on him. But somehow I felt safe. When I got out I sat waiting for the wind to dry me off and stared at him for a while as the skies turned a crimson mauve that greatly complemented his dark translucent colouring.
What a life, I thought. Squooshing around the ocean only to dissolve one day or end up washed ashore and looking like a clumsy bit of rubber on the beach. This kind of contemplation is one of the joys of swimming in Pictou County where the coastline is not overcrowded and the secret swimming holes are reserved for the hearty souls who have stayed here resisting the cement ponds built in places further west.
That was one of my favourite television shows: the Beverly Hillbillies. I always fancied myself like the little old lady even when I was a girl. They called their pool the ‘cement pond’ and I’ve always found that to be a perfect description of the manmade efforts to copy the watery wonders that nature affords us. There is a John Cheever book called “The Swimmer” that is masterful in its depiction of the way a lost soul sneaks about through a suburban series of backyard pools. If your summer swimming includes some siesta time and you like to read as you rest it is easily found at our great regional libraries or with a gadget – if you insist – you can listen to the author reading it here: http://www.openculture.com/2014/06/john-cheever-reads-the-swimmer.html.
Swimming is the kind of art that anyone can do and do in their very own way wherever they want, however they want, and even if you can’t swim or don’t ever want to, you can watch. One of the most beautiful films featuring a swimmer is the first part of Krystof Kieslowski’s trilogy “Blue White Red.”
The central character of the film “Blue,” played by the ravishingly beautiful Juliette Binoche, swims constantly to ease her emotional pain after she loses her family in a car crash. In fact she discovers she has been liberated and her swimming reflects the increasing confidence she gains as she moves through the waves of her hurt.
Wherever you are able to see and enjoy the art of swimming this summer, I hope your splashing restores you for the dog days of August when the art of contemplation might renew. But that is another ripple in another pool.
Eliza Fernbach is a filmmaker and Vice President of the Visual Arts Nova Scotia Executive Committee.