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100 Degrees: Delirious Thoughts On Summer, Swimming, and the End of the Pandemic
Waking up at 8:30, I drank iced coffee. The sound of birds raging outside. The sight of the Douglas fir and redwood outside, omnipresent…
Waking up at 8:30, I drank iced coffee. The sound of birds raging outside. The sight of the Douglas fir and redwood outside, omnipresent. The sun on them lighting up like a beacon. The heat was bursting. At 10:30, it was already 90 degrees.
I dreamt about mountains. Something about the heat of summer makes me want them around me. I wanted to run up those tinder studded hills into some random stream and hide away from the intense dry heat. I wanted to go to the mountains. The air is cleaner, clearer, there. Fewer people. Cooler too. And of course the rivers and lakes, so damn cold, so damn refreshing.
At 10:30 my brain was already fatigued from the heat. A thought came into my head, maybe a mountain chickadee, and then it dispersed into the sound of table saws, crows, and titmice.
I remember once going up to the Walloomsac river in Washington with my siblings, Cass and Wyatt, and my dad. We sat on round eroded granite boulders that popped out of the clear green/blue waters. The river was cold and refreshing. We sat there for a long time, laying down on rocks. Getting hot, jumping back in again. I don’t remember us saying too much. Instead we listened — a kingfisher echo through the valley, some people up river on rafts laughing loudly, fishing and drinking. We sat on those rocks for a long time. At one point, looking down before the other people came to the river upstream, we saw a large trout, maybe a little over two feet, tucking into the shadow of a boulder, just a few feet away from where we sat. I wondered if it was cool in the shadow for the trout, or if they were just hiding from predators, or just watching us, confused at how still we were.
We were visiting my sister in Portland. It was summer. It was hot. We could go out to places then. One day my dad painted a landscape from Savvy’s island as my siblings and I wandered around some ranch land. We got into my dad’s car and drove to savvy’s island from my sister’s apartment. We drove to Washington, to the Walloomsac River.
We’ve all been in quarantine for a short period of time, about three months, considering how long our lives have been or will be. But those memories of the past are almost another world now. Dreamlike. Pure fantasy.
There’s no water here in town to swim in. And you still can’t drive anywhere with the quarantine (I want to be clear that I think this is good). And the heat makes me so loopy. Falling into confusion from all the heat, compounded by the pandemic, by an inability to move, find a better place of shade. I just try to remember.
In college, on the first hot day, my friend’s and I would ride for the Willamette river to take a dip. Usually we would bring a thirty rack and just sit there, maybe doing homework, likely not. We had a beach that we really liked to sit at. I think we called it Pebble Beach, but I can’t remember. There was another spot made of one long piece of wavy sandstone where the mallards liked to sit and roost at night. We called that place Duckshit island. It wasn’t as nice as Pebble Beach.
Once, my friend Noah and I were at pebble beach, looking out into the river and we noticed that there were two cans in the river, one resting on the side of the island, and another that seemed to be stuck in some unnoticeable riptide. Noah swam out to it, both of us annoyed, assuming that some rafter was just throwing their empties out into the river. So Noah went out to grab them. Coming back onshore, they were full. Some rafters had lost them on their way down.
Last night, talking to a friend, he told me he hoped that we would have things open up again by the end of june. Another friend texted me saying she thinks we won’t be open until August. My main concern is that we push reopening too soon.
As I edit this piece, the number of reported cases in the United States is 1.6 million people, and almost 100,000 Americans dead. Our testing is getting better, but it is still not up to what we need. Due to this, the case count is probably higher — the death toll too.
June is probably too soon to reopen, but the thought of it lasting through August makes me miss summer in a way I haven’t since I was maybe sixteen. I want to drive out to the beach.
Yes, it’s superficial, vain, and a part of my age and privilege to be concerned today with this one question, “How do I get some cold water on me that’s not the shower?” But in this heat it almost feels essential.
In Rhode Island, it was about 90 degrees and I was going to bike to some water, some lake, with a coworker. It’s Rhode island in the summer so it’s 90 degrees and 90% humidity. And all we could think to do was find some water. We had no car. We rode out six or so miles through random towns and back roads, cracked and covered in glass like most of the roads of Rhode Island. We found a lake in a nearby town. We headed out there at two in the afternoon. We didn’t really talk as we rode through streets with no shade. We couldn’t talk. But we made it to the lake, surrounded by maple, oak, and various conifers. A lifeguard was there and a fence that blocked off the swimming area from the rest of the lake surrounded by pines and maple. It didn’t matter that the water went only to our shins and that it was about 70 degrees. We needed any body of water. And we just laid down.
According to the CDC, they don’t believe that Covid-19 can be spread through water, so beaches are fine to go to if you are still adhering to stay at home guidelines and wearing a mask at the beach. Essentially, if you can get to the water without a car, you’re good. I wonder how many people are going to follow that rule.
My housemate’s and I were so concerned with finding water in Providence. Any day that we were all off from work, or in the evening, we’d go to Barrington Bay or try to find some other spot to swim. We’d spend a while looking on the map for a good spot to swim that wasn’t a state beach (didn’t want to pay to park) and didn’t have a lifeguard. Usually we couldn’t find much so we would go back to Barrington. We’d go anytime we could — the end of the day, or night, or morning, blasting music, driving through the shaded streets of Barrington mansions, through their somewhat better roads.
Then one of our friends told us about Beavertail State Park in South Rhode Island, just passed Jamestown. They said they’d heard there was good swimming at Beavertail but they’d never been. We looked at it on a map and thought why not. It’s not warm bay or lake water. It’s the open ocean. So my housemate Matt and I went.
We drove out there, only having a month left of our lease before all of us either left the neighborhood or returned home. And going to Beavertail was an upsetting shock. It was on the ede of an island facing south. There were coves all over with little beaches. They were each lined with ground water pouring through the slate stone shelves where plants were growing. There were ropes that helped you shimmy down the small cliffs. And the rolling, loud waves of clear and cool water. We were so sad we had only found this place just at the end of our time in Rhode Island. At least we got to go there a few more times before we left.
Going back inside after drinking my coffee, I turned on my fan. The CDC says water won’t transmit Covid-19, like I said. And people are wearing masks less here. And it’s getting hotter everyday. And I keep dreaming about the mountains, mostly the south fork of the Yuba river, and having more good times, drinking and swimming in a river. But not yet. Not until I can bike there. Not until we have enough tests. I’ll wait.