Of seaweed and connections

by Joan Beard

As if in slow motion, I am pulled forward until I feel that first shock that simultaneously penetrates my skull and creates a line of crackling cold on my shoulder blades.  Every brain cell is rearranged and then I am in it:  moving, floating, drinking in the seaweed, the dark blue green depths and, sometimes, the dancing sunlight.  On a good day the breathing comes easily, but it can take a few minutes to get my rhythm and adjust to this dream-like horizontality.  I love open swimming in Maine.

There are so many great lakes, ponds, rocky coastal areas and salty beaches that I am afraid to list them, for fear of leaving other beauties off the list.

I value my time submerged even more, now that I live in a world tethered by cell phones, texting and e-mail. Swimming keeps me connected to what is most important:  nature and myself.  Like so many others, I find that spending time in nature is an education in values and respect. As an artist I cannot imitate nature, but rather embrace it and become more aware of my humility.

Photographing and swimming in oceans and lakes for many years has taught me a few things. Clearer water generally indicates cleaner water. Once I snuck into Jordan Pond for a dusk swim and no water has ever tasted cleaner­­­—it was a long time ago.  Plant and sea life diversity are not only beautiful but also indicate a healthy habitat. There are a few places I have returned to annually over the past 20 years and the level of deterioration I observe sometimes terrifies me.

One grey and cool morning in early July I took a swim at Drift Inn Beach. My inner ear was immediately chilled by the water. The waves initially came at me in a way that made it difficult to breathe without drinking in the sea as I moved forward. I had no choice but to give in to the chaos so I took few breaths and focused on what was below me.  I found a wide range of seaweed and little fish swimming in schools below and beside me.  I began to relax and speed up, warming up a bit. I even felt hope that maybe we could find a way to flow with nature instead of constantly assaulting her and get out of this negative environmental cycle we are so caught up in.

As an artist it’s all in the details.   There is so much we can’t quantify like the emotional and physical benefits of fresh sea air or the healing powers of looking at a landscape unblemished by houses or clear-cutting.

I am always encouraged by the enthusiastic open swimmers I see when I emerge from my dream-like swim.  Some are moving in the water, others wading like so many of the animals (including dinosaurs) who have lived on this wild and wonderful planet before us.

Photographer Joan Beard returns to midcoast Maine from New York City annually (mainelyportraits.com and joanbeard.com).  On Saturday, August 19 she will be joining in the 5K Islesboro Crossing swim to raise money for Lifeflight of Maine with Lori Beth Schwartz and Anne Harrison.  Paddlers will include Wendy Zwecker, Madeline Rockwell, Tamara Cody (https://lifeflight.donordrive.com/index.cfm).

PHOTOS: Joan Beard

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