By Judy Pettet, High School Faculty
by Seamus Heaney
And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughened and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard
And blow it open.
In the early days of our shutdown, when we were isolating and so conscientiously disinfecting our homes and everything we touched, I suffered from intense claustrophobia— an anxiety from not being in open space. So, like most everyone, I went for long walks. My neighborhood is hilly, and I trudged up and down the streets for miles every day after I finished with classes. But I still felt a kind of psychic claustrophobia and the urge to be free.
I frequently walk along Lake Washington, and in the sunny but still chilly days of spring the water became the focus of my passion. I yearned to be in the water and away— away from land, away from gravity, away from the lifeless rectangle of my computer screen and the oppression of worry and fear and boredom. And so I bought a wetsuit.
With a like-minded friend, I took my first plunge in early April. The water that was so icy cold it hurt our hands and gave us headaches, but we persevered and after a few weeks we were able to swim happily for 30 minutes or so. And what a joy! Yes, it was still cold, but oh boy did it feel great to leave the shore and go out into a world without boundaries, to float and roll and move with ease and forget about gravity for a little while. We swam through the spring and summer, and this fall I’ve been going to the lake in the early morning to swim and watch the sun rise before my workday begins. I love it entirely. Though I always feel a moment of reluctance, I love the quick shock of the first plunge; I love that with each stroke, again and again, I look down into eerie darkness and then up into the bright blue expanse of the sky.
Open water is wild, and when I swim away from shore I experience what I believe Heaney means when he writes “You are neither here nor there,” and describes feeling “known and strange things pass.” That is a blessing I hope everyone finds from time to time, in whatever place or action allows them to be open to the experience: to feel both lost and at home, and to have the heart caught off guard.