Gayle Madwin (queerbychoice) wrote,
Gayle Madwin

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Swimming in Spenceville

I made a firm decision to get out of the house this holiday weekend, picked a place or two to go to, started packing, and then discovered that the hydration reservoir on my hiking backpack has broken irreparably (an important piece of plastic broke off). Since I live in the middle of nowhere, traveling to buy a new one before the weekend is over would mean traveling significantly in the opposite direction from wilderness, which would cut into my wilderness time quite inconveniently.

However, I adapted to this news by deciding to swim rather than hike. I drove today to a swimming hole on Dry Creek in Spenceville State Wildlife Area, the same place I went last year and various previous years. First, though, I thoroughly sunscreened the entry hall of my house. Can someone please invent a sunscreen for single people that can be easily sprayed onto hard-to-reach spots on one's back? I have a spray-on sunscreen that I thought would do the trick, but the sprayer is awkward to grip, and becomes all the more so once my fingers are slippery from sunscreen; I found that I needed two hands to make it spray, and the need to use two hands really interfered with my ability to aim it. The result was that it took me twenty minutes to apply sunscreen to myself, and by the end of it, I had also applied large quantities of sunscreen to the mirror, the tile floor, an area rug, the wall-to-wall carpeting, a potted plant, my front door, and a chair. Then it took me fifteen more minutes to clean up the mess. I guess my entry hall will not get sunburned anytime soon. The good news is that I also do not seem to have gotten sunburned, so it seems I managed not to miss any spots.

The drive is 45 minutes long, of which the last 13 minutes or so are on a rough gravel road that it feels somewhat foolhardy of me to take on in my eleven-year-old Nissan Sentra without the benefit of four-wheel-drive. I take some comfort, however, from the fact that even if I lost control of the car, there's really not much I could possibly crash into. As long as I could manage to miss the occasional oak tree, it's just miles of dead annual grasses. Anyway, I did not lose control of the car, so it wasn't an issue. I arrived safely. And I always forget how beautiful this place is! I never feel that I can safely bring my camera with me, because my camera is expensive and came with warnings that I should not leave it sitting in a hot car because parts of it might melt. And if I didn't leave it sitting in a hot car I'd have to leave it unguarded on the bank of the creek, where it might fall into the water or get stolen or, again, simply melt in the heat. So I leave it at home. But this means I can't properly show you how beautiful the place is. I will just have to describe it for you as best I can.

The first glimpse that always gets to me is the sight of the deergrasses lining the entire bank of the creek: huge, fluffy, bright green grasses, native grasses that I grow at home in my garden, but they're a brighter green when growing on the bank of a creek. Seeing them lining the entire bank of the creek makes me think I've wandered into one of those Dr. Seuss books in which characters are transported to strange landscapes full of billowing pillows everywhere.

I always enter the creek at the first place I come to, directly under the bridge that I park next to. For some reason, no one else ever enters the creek here. Everyone else walks downstream to a wider spot in the creek, where the water is a bit deeper and there's a rope swing that many people jump from. But at the spot where I enter, the water is deep enough that my feet occasionally can't touch the bottom, and even when they can touch the bottom, I can choose not to let them and swim up and down the creek for a bit farther than the length of most backyard swimming pools. I descended the bank, which was dotted here and there with California poppies, and hung my car keys on a dead tree branch, and placed my sunscreen at the foot of the tree; I'd locked all my belongings in my car except for these. Then I walked into the water. The water was not particularly cold; in fact, in a few places it was shockingly warm, to the point that I could have sworn it was heated. It wasn't that warm where I first got in, but it wasn't cold enough to be at all difficult to get used to. Immediately I saw fish swimming around me, fish about the length of my hand, greyish in color but with white outlines around the edges of their fins. They were shaped like sunfish, but I don't know what species they were. There were two of them; they seemed to stay in a very small area in the shade of the bridge at all times, because whenever I looked for them, they were always still there. Above me, the underside of the bridge was covered with cliff swallow nests, and I could see a few cliff swallows poking their heads out of their nests to look at me. All the birds I saw seemed less afraid of letting me come close to them than birds usually are; I had the impression that when I was submerged in water except for my head, the birds perceived me as a much smaller creature, only the size of my head. In addition to the cliff swallows, I saw several dark-eyed juncos and some house finches. I also saw dragonflies and damselflies galore, and quite a number of monarch and swallowtail butterflies visiting the buttonbushes blooming along the creek. I also saw a Pacific tree frog sunning itself on a leaf. And I glimpsed a lizard between some rocks, though I didn't get a good enough look at it to be able to identify it.

Eventually I made my way downstream, wading in the creek, toward the wider and deeper spot in the creek where everyone else always congregates. It would be much quicker and easier to get out of the creek and walk on the bank; the creek bottom is uneven and painful to walk on in thin-soled water shoes, and I always fall down a few times. But it always feels like more of an adventure to wade in the creek than to walk on the bank, and anyway, I'm pretty sure that walking on uneven rocks is good for strengthening the arches of my feet, which is considered important for preventing plantar fasciitis, which I've had quite enough of in the past and would not like to encounter again. So I wade in the creek. Much of the distance from the place I enter to the larger swimming hole is too shallow to actually swim in, so I have no choice but to wade. Along the way, I help myself to the invasive Himalayan blackberries, which have crowded out the native Pacific blackberries that ought to be there, and I admire the remaining native plants: field mint, mugwort, rosillas, ragweed, common horsetail, California grape, white alders. I've grown most of these in my garden - everything but the ragweed (too ugly and weedy), the horsetail (too impossible to control), and the alders (water-guzzling trees that I don't want to allocate adequate space and water to). There's something amazing about seeing a wilderness area in which nearly all the plants present are the same plants I'm growing at home.

Eventually I emerged through some minor rapids into the main swimming hole. I stayed and swam around there for a while, but the rope swing had been commandeered today by a group of teenage boys and young men probably in their early twenties who had very little sense of caution; they were riding the swing two or even three at a time, trying to do simultaneous backflips within inches of one another, and this made me increasingly uncomfortable. I felt that by increasing the size of their audience I might be partly responsible if one of them got maimed for life, so I decided not to stay there any longer; I crossed to the opposite side of the swimming hole and continued to follow the creek further downstream until I reached an impassible barrier: at a particularly shallow spot in the creek, all manner of large branches and small twigs had piled up across the full width of a creek. It looked like a beaver dam at first, but on closer inspection I wasn't so sure; perhaps the current had piled eeverything up on its own. Anyway, there was no good way to get out of the water there and go around the barrier, so instead I turned around, waded back to and through the main swimming hole, and returned to my original spot under the bridge until the sun set.

On the gravel road in and out, I noticed signs for Camp Far West Lake, which reminded me that I've never been there yet. I'm resolving that next time I go swimming, that's where I'll go.
Tags: native plants
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