Friday, May 6, 2016

Roger Deakin

I can no longer remember exactly when it was. Probably sometime late in 2007. I was browsing new titles at the local library, in the Sydney suburb where I live, when I saw the book. Waterlog by Roger Deakin. I knew nothing about him, but the first pages of the book fascinated me. Starting with quotations by such unlikely companions as Loudon Wainwright III and John Donne, then going on to recount breaststroking in his very own moat and linking that with T. H. White's The Sword In The Stone. I was struck by his description of swimming as a "crossing of boundaries". I'd just returned to winter swimming in the ocean baths at Coogee after a long absence, and I was re-experiencing that feeling of "freedom and wildness". So I took the book home to read in full. I couldn't put it down. I felt energised by reading it. I couldn't get over his idea of swimming his way around England using lakes, streams, rivers and other bodies of water. I began to imagine doing something similar in Sydney. What if, I thought, you were to swim the entire Sydney coastline, beaches, bays, tidal rivers, by using the rock pools and sea baths.

The idea got shelved for a couple of years, but in 2009, after reading Wildwood and Notes From Walnut Tree Farm, I found and reread a copy of Waterlog. That was it. Shortly afterwards, I set off on a my own swimming journey from Port Hacking to Broken Bay, using the ocean pools and tidal baths like (as Roger Deakin quotes from John Cheever's The Swimmer) a "quasi-subterranean stream". I wrote about the experience on this blog, Lazy Swimmer. The journey, through about eighty pools, was pretty much over after two years, although I've since added some pools that I missed. It was a journey when, galvanised by reading Waterlog, I found a lot of energy to go and discover and enjoy unfamiliar swimming holes. A pity that delight didn't show up in my writing. I find Lazy Swimmer hard to read now. Pool after pool after pool. It reads like a checklist, almost like I've been ticking off train engine numbers or rare birds. 

Roger Deakin never wrote like that. He was filled with wonder during his swimming. His eyes and mind were open to the moments that passed in that aquatic world. I wish now that I'd been able to take the time to write about those sort of moments. I wish I'd tried harder to describe a "frog's eye" view of the world. I could have written about Pied Cormorants sitting along the ropes of shark nets lazily drying their wings in the morning sun, or Crested Terns diving into waves that are breaking over rocks covered in cunjevoi. I could have written about a submarine world seen through swim goggles. About gliding above squid pulsating with changing colours, or about stingrays hovering over the sandy bottoms of estuarine swimming enclosures. I'd liked to have written about the time I shared an ocean rock pool with a Little Black Cormorant. For a matter of seconds we were synchronised in our movements. As I put my head under the water I could see the cormorant diving down to chase a cloud of tiny fry, as I raised my head it was surfacing with its catch, and as I emerged to take a breath it put back its head to swallow the fry. Just for those moments. But they were like a type of magic.

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