Jumping in

An ode to the first swim of the year

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff

I walked into the water up to my ankles and heard that all-too-familiar voice in my head: “What are you thinking?”

The voice is familiar because I’ve heard it on the first warm day of early summer for more than 20 years now, since I’ve been able to walk myself down the shoreline of Lake Pend Oreille in pink water wings, preparing for the cold shock to come.

A recent sunny Wednesday when the author first jumped in the lake in 2020. Mac, the dog watches the author’s friends swimming in the background. Photo by Lyndsie Kiebert.

It didn’t occur to me that the year’s first dip in the lake was a ritual until last week, when my sister invited me to join her at one of our favorite Hope swimming spots. She’d already been in the water when I arrived.

“It’s not bad,” she said. “It feels really good once you get out.”

Temperatures hit 80 that day, and as someone who used to jump in the lake as early as April, I knew I could handle it. But standing in the water up to my ankles, that old internal voice came through: “Just splash some water on your arms and legs, that will cool you down.”

Still, nothing compares to the feeling of goosebumps warmed in the sun and hair dried into tight curls as you lay face down on your towel after jumping all the way in. These are physical comforts you learn at an early age as a Hope kid, when mom takes you to the lake every day and you and your sisters find different ways to jump off the dock — cannon balls, pencil dives, the daring belly flop — like it’s a sport.

As I got older, jumping into the lake became the great equalizer. Laying on the dock with friends in varying stages of teenage awkwardness, the constant pressure of comparison beating down on us like the lakeside sun, it seemed that no matter how great the hair, glamorous the makeup or flattering the swimwear, jumping into the water made us all kids again. Dripping wet with hair plastered to our foreheads and mascara running down our cheeks, we all tugged at our clinging suits and laughed together, complaining about the cold shock of the water.

Now, at 24 years old, I still look forward to that first jump — especially this year. We are nearly halfway through 2020, a year during which a series of events has transpired that no one could have predicted. As they say, you can’t make this stuff up. We all deserve a refresh, a restart, a way to feel normal again.

That’s what I felt during my first dip in the lake last week. There is something about closing your eyes and giving yourself over to the cold weightlessness of the first swim that makes you forget exactly what year it is. The shock of the water forces a meditation that’s impossible to achieve on land — you have no choice but to be in the moment, if only for the short time it takes to kick off, glide a few feet and resurface, shouting the customary, “Wow, it’s not that bad!” to your companions onshore.

There’s something about having round lake rocks underfoot and pushing ratty hair from my eyes as the disturbed water settles all around me that feels the same no matter how old I am. During that first swim of the year, all is right with the world.

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