That smell

As land creatures we are more attuned to the early visual signs of spring. Snowdrops, daffodils and forsythia, bud tips on trees, the sun setting further along the horizon and a different quality of light in the day.  Spring doesn’t bring strong smells on land, except the artificial agricultural funk of slurry spreading. Natural perfumes are reserved for the lush abundance of summer and heat.

But in the Sea, it is different. One day, when the worst chills have left the air, and the land is well along the way, if you are lucky enough in your life to be a sea swimmer, you enter the ocean, and always unexpectedly, you will smell the first plankton bloom.

If the Sea doesn’t move you, as it does us sea swimmers, on land if the conditions are right, if the wind in onshore and there’s a bit of water movement, sure,  you might catch it, but you are usually an unheeding bystander.

But if you are a swimmer, and the day is calm and the water is still cold and as you stroke out to the headland, the haze and cloud part to reveal a blue sky that seems to unveil just for you and you glide like an eidolon of Da Vinci’s dreams of flying, submerged, then, unexpectedly like a further deepening of your place, under the water you will smell the plankton.

And you are blessed in the way that physical universe blesses, not like the paltry imagination on men, but with the richness of experience and memories to store. On that day, whether you will it or no, if you are one of us, you are a pantheist. There aren’t gods in everything, but there is wonder.

And that day, if it is a day like today, is a glorious day, and you are happy to the core to be a Lone Swimmer, and Rule Number One once again means nothing.

Is this sensory decadence, risk, or the reason you are alive?

One thought on “That smell

  1. This is a wonderful posting. I would like to inform the readers of The Daily News of Open Water Swimming of this great article. May I do so? I would like to add your photograph and the first 2 sentences to The Daily News and then hyperlink to this article. Please send your approval (or not, which I will respect) via email at

    Thank you very much for your consideration.


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