Alright. Maybe this post isn't about swimming at all, and maybe you won't forgive me for that. We'll see.
Yesterday, Patrick and I walked from Ditchling Beacon, which is a fifteen minute drive from my house (we'd walk, but crossing the A27 is terrifying), to Lewes. The weather was grey when we set off, but the Sun soon burnt through - mother nature, I think, wanted to laugh at us as our faces turned pink and we tried not to drop the cumbersome jumpers tied around our waists. The paths were soft and inviting, if a little over-populated, at times, by cows (who, irrationally, frighten me ar close proximity), but at times we skipped off the beaten track to wade through meadows - my exposed shins didn't thank me, but my senses did. Cowslips (Cow slips?) smell sweet close to, the moss, crass and clover beneath the taller scrub was very soft and, this best of all, we saw a young stag, skipping out from behind a coppice, bounding through waves of grass and leaving a path we could follow...
About half an hour into our journey, we reached Black Cap, the small woods at the crest of a hill that were planted, or rather re-planted, to commemorate the queen's coronation in 1953. This site is the reason I decided to share the story. I have just started reading Wildwood, Roger Deakin's posthumous Book About Trees. The trees at Black Cap called to be climbed; I recognised oaks and fruit trees, but beyond that I recognised only foot-holds, and possible seats. When I swim, particularly in the sea, I feel very much that I am in my element. A part of my natural habitat certainly, though of course I could not live in water alone. The trees, for me, were a challenge. I could climb any of them quite ably if there were branches that I could put my feet on, and push upwards from there - I was rather less confident when it cam to trusting to my arms. A passage early on in Wildwood, perhaps even in the introduction, came back to me, though, as I climbed and particularly as I watched Patrick climbing, swinging easily into higher and higher branches, grinning (and terrifying me), and looking very much as though his ancestors had never really descended. There is a school of thought, Deakin writes, that makes Wood the fifth element.
I think perhaps it makes more sense to think not of wood as an element, so much as of woods. Woods last longer. We don't really know where they came from, but they have offered us shelter and disguise, fuel and food for longer than we've been writing things down to remember them. As if they needed further proof of their belonging to the very fabric of the world, they contain all four of the other elements: they grow thanks to earth and water; when burned, the produce Fire (One), Ash (Earth - Two), Steam (Water - Three) and Smoke (Wind - Four). Quite what this means I don't know, except that I was sorry that it had been so many years since I had climbed a tree - the last one I was up was on another continent entirely.
We ran into another tree, later on, when I saw a lot of damsons lying on the path just before we descended into Lewes. I looked up, and saw the Tree On Which They Grow. Patrick swang up it without hesitation. Even the under-ripe ones were sweet.
Thank you for bearing with me...