Like a fish to water… Sharon Betcher 2014

Like a fish to water…
Most humans are drawn like a fish to water, we say. That magnetic pull might be explained in many ways: the enchanting mirror of the waters, capturing the beauty of the self; the watery womb remembered. Intriguingly, well over 80% of humanity lives within 50 miles of water’s edge. We’re like waterbags—the human body itself composed mostly of water—carrying water back to its source. Or, more pragmatically, we’re smart enough to know that to take up residence, to set up home, we need a good source of water.
But honestly, I—like many humans–grew up more like a dragonfly drawn to water: water was always in my orbit, but it was not my element. I liked being near it. I enjoyed catching creek chubs along my little tributary of the Mississippi River in Minnesota. I liked water gazing on a hot summer day, letting the water carry me in daydreams of futures I would like to live. But beyond splashing through puddles on a spring day, I was not into diving into its elemental deeps. Not only did I convince myself I was gratefully landlocked (In Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes? Not!) and not only was I a “sinker” (despite the floatation devices also known as “lovehandles”), I was afraid—especially after my high school comrades decided to give me a swimming lesson by throwing me over the edge of the canoe and telling me to make shore.
But to live now as an islander, this seems to me to admit that I need a new relationship with the water. We love this moat that separates and communalizes us. But to love it is also to admit that we live with it and on it in a vital and daily way. Admiring its beauty is only one part of wisdom now. Only when we have certain skills, it seems to me, are we well suited to the island life. Those skills involve respect for the risks and dangers of water—that which has long left me afraid. But it also involves learning to adapt myself—like a fish to water. Swimming, in other words, is a discipline of wisdom for one who wants to live as an islander, one who considers the island their element.