In a year with a poor summer, any remaining prospect of heat finally slips away like an ebb tide by the second or third weekend of September, to be replaced by the next straw to be grasped in the eternal Irish hope for future good weather, that of the mythical Indian Summer, with which we will entertain ourselves for another month or so.
While trapped under an awning in town by a rainstorm and torrent that turns the amusement arcade to a lake and the prom road to a river, I reflect that any hope of treating the Open Water Swimming Year in Ireland as a series of calendrically-aligned periods of defined weather can be understood for a false hope on this day when the Guillamene diving board is blasted off the platform at the Guillamene by a storm which turns the bay to washing suds. There was little summer this year, and whatever there was, is over.
The normally unsettled weather pattern in Ireland continues unsettled but shifts more toward increasing wind and rough water. The long northern latitude evening contracts, and by mid September it is darkening by eight PM. The water temperature holds, drops, holds. It even recovers for a week toward the end of the month. In a seeming blink our washed out summer will be a fading memory.
Scads of collected data about myself shows to me that this period that I anticipate and treasure is usually, apart from December, the month of the year that I swim the least. Annual vacation, the lessening of swimming opportunities, a mental relaxation, all extract a price in metres from the more normal monthly swim total. An outsider looking at the raw data, (because who does not like raw data, I quizzically ask) would conclude I do not like swimming in September.
But they would be wrong. In this fading time there still lies one of the most special of the year’s swimming treats. This is the best time for night-swimming. For even in a good summer, to swim earlier requires too long a wait until full dark falls. The latest sunset on the Copper Coast in June is about 10.45 pm. Out in the water, away from lights, eyes wide open, it takes another hour before full darkness descends around midnight.
But some September Friday or Saturday night or night, if the weather allows, (though I prefer Friday because there is less chance of anyone else being there), I hive off to the coast, The Guill or Newtown Cove or maybe the beach at Kilfarassy.
Those of us who are of the sea will tell you, if the breeze is light it will often drop completely at sunrise and sunset. The surface glasses off and looks like an oil slick.
Some one or two people might be having a pre-sunset dip at the Guill if conditions are clement. I wait for 30 minutes after sundown and the last person has departed. The lack of street or house lights in the small cove beneath the cliffs means the sky is still a deep azure when I enter the water, not fully dark, but this last light is quickly lost. What can I say about night swimming that I have not said previously, that I cannot say better, or even say as well, except to try to say it differently.
As the colour bleeds out of the world, as you imagine a pool of eternal night beneath you, I harvest my aquatic birthright and open myself to the glory glimpsed beneath my feet.
I do not swim far, rarely more than a mile or thirty minutes. The LED clipped to my goggle straps behind my head casts a green aura that is invisible to me but sometimes reflects forward such I see ghostly hints on bubbles or on my shoulders. If Dee is with me, it assures her of where I am. I do not know why I use it when I swim by myself except it is something like a declaration of being myself. Water-borne bio-luminescence has greatly lessened by September, the fecundity of the spring and summer having passed. But it is not gone. Oh no. Instead of a blaze of underwater fireworks, now there are flares and tracer fire as I reach forward and puncture the water, sparking miniature explosions off my fingertips. Once past the Comolee, the next named reef toward town, street lights dot the cliff-edge road into town, and the orange tungsten glow of the prom is low on the horizon. A car pulls up to the front of the Guillamene car park, and for reasons I cannot fathom, leaves its light on, pointing out into the darkness, illuminating nothing, except the pinpoint glare on my eyes which can dazzle me and steal my night-vision. So I head the opposite direction instead, past Newtown Cove away from the car park, streetlights and the town.
Out there, lone aquanaut, I can see the Night. To say I become the night would be pompous and wrong but I do feel it bleed into me for a brief period. I swim out so I can stop, and look down and beneath me is the inheritance of September. Eigengrau made deeper and more profound by the stars, comets, nebulae and galaxies. My human eyes encompass a dynamic range such that I see back holes and supernovae at the same time. There are quasars here too but the sound is not a radio frequency, but my own breathing. I tread water, and my foot annihilates a galaxy. The future collision of M31 and the Milky Way will be as a calm breeze compared to how I obliterate a super-cluster, end civilizations while simultaneously creating new explosions of life in the very same motion. Terminus and Genesis, light in the darkness, water and light. Everything. Everything is here beneath my feet and though it seems I am the One Above All, still, I am less than it all. Here then is another example of the almost infinite demonstrations that water is life.
In the multiverse, all parallel realities will not be co-equal in size, and I look down on a pocket universe, or a universe as a Titan would see it, able to block it all out with the palm of my hand. Another universe, as the child I was imagined seeing the stars from one of Ray Bradbury’s silver needle spaceships, stealing the silver apples of the Moon, the golden apples of all the suns.
Of the things I do by myself that can just as easily or better be done with other swimmers, night ocean swimming is an exception. It needs to be seen and felt by myself. I need the space to allow myself to experience it fully, not to struggle to discuss it or talk of it with others. Briefly I become like a hermit of old, seeking isolation in order to find the silence to hear the voice of the all, who they call the gods, to get away from the external distractions of other people that would distance me from participating seeing with my eyes and my fingertips and my whole self.