If I have had a past life, I feel I may have been a Selkie. Folklore tells of this mythological race of seal-people that could shed their skin and walk on land. They had to leave their seal pelts on the beach before growing legs, but if they failed to return then they would remain forever human. My past self obviously did not return, because for as long as I can recall, I have yearned to swim and dive in to water. The often plaintive poet John Masefield famously wrote ‘I must down to the Sea’, and I feel that same compulsion. I can’t help myself.
My latest reunion with the water took place this Christmas Day, midway down a wobbly Jetty reaching in to Lake Lacken, in County Cavan, Ireland. Every year, would-be or erstwhile Skelkies hurl themselves in to the greeny-brown depths for charity, and swim (or spasm) to the shore to go and celebrate with their families. I was second to jump, and welcomed the plunge after several long minutes of shivering at the lakeside. After the sledgehammer of cold when hitting the water, the thrashing back to shore was brief, and very much helped by cheers and laughter from loving spectators. Around thirty sea-folk took the plunge this year.
Mid December I reached my 35th year, and this immersion felt like a benchmark for me. In younger times I have hurled myself in to lakes, streams and seas with wild and reckless abandon, and often with no thought at all for safety or common sense. I merely saw the water, and its inviting colours and depths. Yet this year, I paused. My body felt warmed and comfortable following breakfast and an hour at Christmas Mass. I was cosy sitting in the car, travelling towards the lake. I could easily have avoided it. Yet something drew me.
A powerful and tempting something. Something that I find hard to put in to words, other than to say it is like a potent drug. A compulsion to feel, and to experience. To put my body and mind through an experience that is both intense and exhilarating, and come out of it feeling proud to have leapt. To crash in to an underwater world, where I am nothing but a fragile visitor. Strangely, this brief swim was surprisingly gentle considering my hesitations. Within a few short minutes I was dry and warming up, speeding through country lanes. A short, but sweet, experience.
My Selkie-self was stirred, though. Even in the shower, I remembered the lake waters, and yearned for them. There was a silky, gentle feel to the water when I dove in to it, and it felt wrong to wash it off. Whatever 2018 brings, I have made it one of my New Years Resolutions to get back in to the water again. I have a date with the Dorsetshire coast on New Years Day, that I will not miss, whatever my 35 year old reservations.