There is something special about being awake before the world stirs. Leaving the house in the dark when the thermometer reads -2 and crunching through frozen mud and frost to reach the water’s edge. At this moment, my head and body are in agreement. All but the tiniest part of my brain is telling me to stay dry. To stay comfortable. But that little part, that’s the part I let win.
Breath, stolen willingly by the million needles floating invisibly under the surface.
As the numbness creeps through fingers and toes, every other sense comes alive, embraced by the warm hug of molten ice. Creeping through my veins, into my heart. Childhood memories of hands playing in snow, so cold they feel burnt.
Move. Breathe. Watch.
Animal instinct kicks in and in turn, I remember to be human. Fearlessly vulnerable as the cold takes over. Not without danger, this cold lures you, lulls you. Entices you to stay longer. Lose yourself, but stay aware. The minutes are precious but don’t steal too many.
Calm descends as veins turn to ice and toes return to remind me of their presence. Of my presence.
The rush to stumble, numb fingered, into clothes before the shivers start. Hot tea is poured shakily and I stand in silence, waiting until I’m warm enough to carry on with the everyday. Forced to stop and be still until my mind and body return to their normal functioning state. But with a thread of calm left behind, to be pulled on throughout the day. My reset button, re-set.
Spring approaches. The cold will soon be gone and we will mourn.
I speak to fellow swimmers of this feeling that we all share. That whilst we can’t wait for the water to warm and enable long, lazy swims along the river, we will miss the magical medicine of the cold. The solitude of a spot that only we, at this moment, feel the pull of. But the seasons change, and with them each river brings a new delight, each lake a new challenge.
words by Catherine Cox
photos by Emily Walker
featured in Oh Magazine