I’m not much for astrology, but I do enjoy reading my horoscope once in a while. Who doesn’t? However, I’ve always found it odd that my sign, Scorpio, is a water sign. To me, a scorpion is a creature of the hot desert or the dark forests, unlike its aquatic fellow constellations, Pisces and Cancer.
And yet, I am a creature of the water, more of a piscine than a stinger. I have never yet met a body of the stuff that I did not want to jump into. I recall being very young, maybe six, and tantalized by the fountain at my Great Aunt Lil and Uncle Sam’s retirement community in Kissimmee. I just wanted to get into it. I still do. Same with the Alligator ridden swamp ride we used to take around Disney.
As soon as the air turns warm, late in the spring, you can see me leap into the lake, yelping, chilled to the bone. The adrenaline is addictive, they say, and I believe them, whomever they are. Upon arriving at a crashing Atlantic beach, I dash and dart into the waves, testing the under-tow and my own resolve. On cold winter nights, I dream of floating in the light blue Caribbean Sea. See that big public pool, rippling aqua, sharp black lines vivid under the sun? I am in it, in my heart and my mind.
As a child, my happiest place without question was on my belly in the pale shallows of the cove of our hotel in Bermuda, a snorkel and mask attached to my face. I spent happy hours watching the tiny life there flitting around my fingers, as they gently palpitated the pink sand. Wrasses and baby octopus and teeny young sergeant majors were my boon companions. After a week of this, my back was an unholy shade of red-brown. My second favorite place was the “town pool”, freezing when you were there first thing with your cadre of fellow pre-schoolers early in the morning for a Tree Camp lesson. Dip a toe, take a step, dip a toe, take a step. Later, older, when I was brave, I’d dare to jump off the high dive. The first hit hurt hard, but it was thrilling to plunge down deep into the blue and reach, reach, reach for the surface.
My parents put a pool in our backyard when I was in the third grade. I don’t think there’s ever been anything more thrilling in my life as watching them excavate that great big hole, mold it, tile it, fill it. It was (and is) a very 80’s sort of pool, a kind of unnaturally sharp kidney shape meant to look more natural than a rectangle and not quite sticking the landing. Continuing the theme, instead of a diving board, there is a diving rock, and trickling out of the plantings of straggly garden is a waterfall. When it feels naughty, it belches dirty water into the pool.
My father kept the pool heated to a pleasant 80 something degrees. On hot summer evenings, after a long day at Breezemont Day Camp, where we swam at least twice a day, we would again swim as the grill flared up on the deck. Damp, we bolted our burgers, scarcely sitting on wet bottoms, running back as quickly as we could to the water. It was a sort of heaven to float in the warm pool, as the frogs and crickets called, and the trees swayed in the breeze. There were but steps between my bathing suit and my bed. The same sounds, peaceful and rustling in the summer night.
At my Jewish, socialist sleep away camp, in the derelict Catskills, there was no pool. There was a large, dark pond that was ironically named “Silver Lake”. Perhaps it was a small lake. Whatever it was, it was as uninviting a body of water as ever there was, ringed by ominous pine trees, marching right up to the shore. One avoided stepping into the shallows at all costs; the muck liked to grab small feet and never let go. And yet, there I was, getting pulled behind the camp’s speedboat, one of the better water-skiiers. And there I was again, taking my turn in line, to plunge off the diving float. I was the fastest swimmer in my division.
And even now, as an adult, at the end of these very long days, it is to the water I turn. How? I live in an apartment building in which we count ourselves lucky to have an elevator. A pool? No. So, to the bath, then.
As soon as the last boy is kissed and cuddled and read to goodnight, the longing begins. The steamy water, the lights dimmed, a candle lit, paper New Yorker Magazine in hand. My favorite bath has a handful of Naturopathica Sweet Birch Magnesium Salts in it; they are better than valium and smell nicer too. Epsom salts are nice too, on their own, or with a dash of whatever essential oil I have handy; eucalyptus or tea tree oil when I feel under the weather, a drop of lavender to sleep, maybe grapefruit or lemon for a sort of Floridian style happiness, whatever that means (easy goingness, maybe?).
The accoutrements matter, but what matters the most is the water itself. The perfect temperature bath lets me steep warmly but not hotly for at least twenty minutes. Too hot, and I’m out too fast. Too cool, and I’m just miserable. It is a Goldilocks situation. But when it is right, it is very right, and I am utterly absorbed. The best part is always getting in, slipping down, and actually saying “ahhhh.” My weary soul melts into the puddle, and reconstitutes itself by the end, better, stronger, sleepier, and ready for the next day.
(Painting by Isca Greenfield-Sanders)