"We roll, now," the lifeguard told me, shouting a bit, in that infuriating way the young have toward their elders. "You want to maximize your stroke. Reach as far as you can. Your body should never be flat on the water -- always on one side or the other. You roll. You reach."
It was annoying to learn to swim all over again. The lifeguard was critical of every move I made: my hand position, my breathing, my head placement.
"Keep your fingers spread. Like a baseball glove."
Here again. The shadows come into play.
"Don't worry," she said. "It will feel awkward at first, but it doesn't look funny. It only feels that way. Everything always feels exaggerated in the water. That's the nature of water."
Quite the philosopher, I think, remembering her instructions as I tunnel through the ocean. The wind is picking up -- weather changes so quickly here -- and the water is getting choppy. I contract my belly into my backbone and surf the waves, and finally get their syncopation. I feel like I'm climbing a ladder, pulling myself across the swells, rung by rung.
"When you pull through the water, you must reach your arm down low. The water around your body is already moving. You are moving. When you make a shallow stroke, you are only pulling through moving water. You are just pulling through your own motion.
"You must reach deeper. You must reach to where the water is still. Then you will move faster."
Once I'm over being annoyed, I'm amazed at what a swimming lesson has taught me. If I'm a middle-aged dog learning new tricks, I'll be an old dog willing, at least, to be up to my usual tricks. That sounds like a good future to me, no matter how careful I have to be about slipping on rocks.
My reveries are interrupted by the sulfurous smell and the buzzing sound of a gasoline-powered boat. A strong voice cuts across the water.
"Hey, there. You. You swimming. Hey!"
A fisherman is standing in a whaler. The sea is pitching his boat around; he bends to the back to cut off the motor. I look around, dizzy and disoriented. He motions for me to swim in, and cups his hands around his mouth.
"You are too far out!"
I swim in to the far end of the beach, where a rubble of boulders is strewn around, half sunk in sand. I lean on one to catch my breath and clear my ears. The larger ones are encrusted with tiny snails, glued firmly down; the snails at the top of the rocks are already dusted with the salty film left by drying seawater. Their shells are the same pinkish-brown color as the stone and the sand. I stand perfectly still, staring at the boulders glowing rosily in the late afternoon rays of the sun. I wonder if the snails will die desiccated and fall off the rock; I even consider splashing water on them, before I realize how silly that would be. The snails know what they are doing.
Everything seems still and silent. Before I see it, I feel it: there is tremendous movement at my feet. The sand around me is covered with snails, hundreds of them, their fleshy, slimy bodies tipping and pulling out the front, dragging their shells at an impossibly slow pace, leaving behind a glistening, sticky trail. I can see that they are moving only because I am not. By the time a snail has traveled the length of my foot, the shadows have lengthened and the wind has picked up strength as the coral-throated gulls laugh and bark and wheel over the dunes. A crane wings past, making its sharp click click click call. I walk the length of the beach back to my boat.