DISCLAIMER: Open-water swimming is inherently dangerous. Open-water swimmers risk drowning, hypothermia, hyperthermia, heart attacks, panic attacks, cramping, jelly fish stings, fish bites, boat or jet-ski collisions, collisions with floating or submerged objects (including other swimmers), and other calamities that can be injurious, disabling or fatal! The "West Neck Pod" is an informal association of open-water swimmers who swim "outside the lines" with no lifeguard protection, it has no formal membership, organizational structure or legal identity, and its participants, including the author of this blog, make no representations and assume no liability with respect to its group open-water swims. All swimmers who participate in West Neck Pod group open-water swims do so at their own risk. Be careful out there!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

'Snow time like the present....

The second major snowstorm to hit the New York area this winter dropped another 18 or so inches of snow in Huntington this past Wednesday, reminding us that Spring is still a long way off.  By the weekend all of the roads had been cleared, but the gates at West Neck Beach remained closed, the lot unplowed, and the only footprints on the long path to the waterfront were the deers'....until mine.  Homesick for my familiar water-home, I parked outside the gate early Saturday morning and trudged in through the knee-deep snow for a glimpse of the open water and my beloved beach, which looked both familiar and strange in its snowy, icy blanket.  The brilliant sun did little to warm the 19-degree air, and a thin layer of ice extended out from the shore, covering the shallow water of the low tide and the exposed rocks of the jetty to the south.  

The air was still and silent, and except for the flock of geese bobbing in the water just beyond the ice, I was alone....Even the flag was gone from the pole, to be replaced with a fresh new one sometime soon as a result of Rob Martell's importuning the Town on behalf of our faithful, tattered friend (see Rob's story on his new blog at   http://touchsomethingeveryday.blogspot.com/2011/01/day-32-west-neck-beach-essential-friend.html ).   

 Standing there, watching the frozen, shimmering water, with the sun glinting brilliantly off the snow-covered sand, I felt an acute awareness of the cycle of the seasons, and an appreciation of the importance of each season to the whole cycle of life....Having been nurtured and nourished by this beautiful beach and body of water throughout the Spring, Summer and Fall, I suddenly felt ashamed of my growing impatience for a return to warm weather and the open water.  I was reminded that even our Mother needs her long winter's rest, and I cannot begrudge her that....For the rest of this winter season, I resolve to honor and appreciate the winter soul of West Neck Beach and to practice patience as I wait for the days to lengthen, the sun to strengthen and the winter to melt into spring....But I'll be back to visit before then...See you on the Beach!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

"Polar Bear Swim" -- Caribbean Style!

The annual "Polar Bear" plunge into icy waters is a New Year's Day tradition that is practiced in various wintry venues throughout the world, including Canada, the northeastern United States, Holland -- and, yes, the Caribbean island of St. Maarten! In a gesture of solidarity with their frigid compatriots in the Old Country, and perhaps nostalgic for the colder climes of their homeland, the Dutch residents of St. Maarten, aided and abetted by the sponsoring Dutch soup manufacturer, Unox Soup Factory, also have a tradition of an annual New Year's plunge into the sea -- albeit the far more temperate Caribbean Sea! Wearing bright orange woolen caps emblazoned with the Unox logo, and warmed by the prospect of a hot, steaming bowl of soup when they emerge, hundreds of game Dutch folk and friends line up on the sun-drenched "Karakter's" beach and then, at the signal, plunge into the surf to celebrate the beginning of the New Year!

While I had the pleasure of joining this deeply quirky frolic on my last trip to St. Maarten two years ago (as these photos and videos show), this year's scheduled Polar Bear plunge conflicted with my flight home and I was unable to join the silliness.

 Still, mindful of my brethren back in the snow-blanketed North, and fraught with the significance of the first open-water swim of the New Year, I was determined to undertake my own solitary "Polar Bear" plunge....As I entered the water at Simpson Bay and took my first strokes, a rainbow hung in the early morning sky, signaling an auspicious beginning to this new swimming year! In the warm Caribbean water I swam easily and effortlessly (buoyed, no doubt, by the higher salt levels, which seemed to help compensate for my week of pina coladas and strawberry daiquiris!).


Though my proximity to the equator made my Polar Bear swim less onerous than that of my northern fellows’, it felt no less momentous...In that purposeful “plunge” I had a distinct sense of “washing off” the old year (an exceptionally difficult one for me, as those who know me are aware) – and of immersing myself in the unlimited hope and possibilities of the impending new year. When I finally left the water it was with some regret, as I knew this would likely be my last open-water swim until Spring, but I was also looking forward to returning home -- to my friends and family, to my Pod, to my own West Neck Beach....where I’ll see you all soon, in the Salt! Happy New Year!