The Language of Water by Helen Edwards
Helen's @artallotment was one of the first wild swimming Instagram accounts I began to follow when I started my @dawn_swimmer account in July 2020. Her artistic photos and often simple yet profound words struck a deep chord within me. Then I learned that Helen's wild swimming wisdom comes from her unique sensitivity and way of perceiving the world as well as from four years, 1500 days straight, of immersing herself in wild waters mostly the Thames River near Oxford, UK. What a remarkable feat displayed with tremendous humility, grandeur and, as you see below, depth of thought. Thank you, Helen, for translating the language of water for us so that we can hear and benefit from its mysteries too.
The Language of Water: 1500 Days of Magical Swimming
by Helen Edwards
I can just recall learning language and speech. Dwelling deep within my small body, I felt a profound interconnected wholeness of nature and wonder. I remember having more thoughts in my head than would fit into words. Their richness grasped at me and I felt them infuse my whole body. I can't remember a time, a place or person who could sense these or even feel their ripples. Untranslatable, these vital aspects of my thoughts were not spoken or heard. The echoing essence of what I felt in those first years seemed beyond word's reach; the architecture of mind seemed to have no connection to the profound early depths of body feeling and interconnected wholeness, leaving them untouched and unexpressed. People around me seemed to go about their lives blind even to the vibrant glimpses I often sensed, when I would try and see they felt it too.
It didn't make sense to me, why was this arena of the not yet conscious but known world not covered by language? Why wasn't it spoken about? What was the point of language if the most important essence of being were to lay dormant beyond the alphabet, beyond grammar construction, words and books? It was like rationing and words were in shortage. I learnt to live on the surface, iridescent but confusing, beautifully reflective with its strange patterns revealing just a fraction of the complexity emerging from the depths. Little by little the fragmented splinters of light on the water ceased to resemble the cosmos and the stars began to thin out, into a dull, transparent, porous and stretched veil of tension which only came alive again when I got into water.
Water kept my anchor safe and I have returned to her. After 1500 beautifully wild days of getting into water every day, through every season, each part of each cycle of the moon, sun and planets, four years since Winter Solstice 2016, I am encountering her living language.
My life now is filled with smells of damp mist, grass and human skin, of river vole and fish, dank and leafy. I can taste river bed and mountain stone in a drop of water. The calls of geese sound in the wind and touch the roots of my hair, encircled by gulls. River water rises steadily as my feet slowly draw my body into her, every day, every moment of skin clasped by the cold, enveloped by water.
Pore by pore water discovers my being and I become whole to her. She wraps around my mammalian outline, her flowing arms grasping its fixedness, like a mother sheep's rough tongue licking the skin of her newborn lamb into life. She feels my warmth, my fire and feeling, indwelling beyond her reach. She ripples out light in the tensing of her surface that marks my presence. I feel her awe. I respect her and I know I must take care she does not reach my fire.
Each day the clarity of the curve in the surface of water, her meniscus, embraces my every cell and welcome dreams swimming in my inner waters. She holds me in suspension without dissolving my coarse skin. She softens me, I am a mystery she learns from, and in her learning shows me the deepest intimacy and respect. She finds my being and leaves a trail behind me. She makes circles on her surface as if marking where I left the undersurface tension as I dive down to the cold depths.
I imagine the surface tension following me down, for unlike cormorant feathers my skin takes a store of air bubbles. I imagine the surface tension having taken coverage of my skin, going inside of me, opening all internal canals and rivers, letting go, moving from the state of air being to increase the surfaces of inner endoplasmic reticular lining. I imagine this cascades to engage with my limbic system as if regulating a creature so wild and powerful I can swim down forever in the time of one breath perhaps, becoming fish. Water fills all the spaces between words until they drift away. There is no longer a language gap. We breathe a deep interconnectedness which translates into a gasp of peaceful beauty within.
The years of river swimming, have let water show me her nature and dreams. She has revealed dreams she kept safe for me; the coming of light at dawn, the cradling of the wind in the sky, the underbelly of geese, the surface tension of cormorant feathers diving beneath me, her stores of light and her fertility to the earth. I love to swim at dusk. In the fading light I can hear her more clearly. She shows me a language of sensing and being sensed, of holding whilst constantly moving, of fluidity and natural movement in my body finding expression on this earth. She accepts my nature and invites the membranes of my organs to wrap around my newly organised cells to understand vital architecture, the skin teaching the brain new connections as if I am learning language all over again, only this time the language has matter, has density, has weight. I am a slow learner but water is a good teacher.
The river is my closest water, with flow, ancient river bed, meandering course and journey. I visit her often. I like to swim in different water bodies as, like me, water displays different properties in her various native environments. Each body, whether lake or sea, teaching something new. As a teacher water does not set expectation. I must learn my own lessons. In her waters my body's words come to life and I know her language deep within me. I must stay open and discover her own course within me.
I love to meet with water. She is alive in my breathing and resides in my skin; qualities of moving with her and of a beautiful atmosphere of life on this earth, a constant. I hear water awaken as I prepare to visit her. She remains a threshold to the wild interconnectedness of nature. As I pass into her I transcend the pace of memory and time and the speed of light and discover the places beyond, where my hind brain, the old lizard is free again.
Water has taught me about my indwelling nature, of the wild feeling lying there, that knows of ancient, of ancestors, of other humans in water, of belief in instinctual knowing and a fire beyond the architecture of mind. This indwelling is a steady calling, if I listen to her she will guide me, if I ignore her she will make herself heard. This watery understory is not separate from my everyday life. She swims amongst my daily movements and interactions. There are signs of her. She can be glimpsed in shards of light reflected in a whale tail necklace, a jay feather earring, my grandmother's sargassum yellow stone ring, through waves of river hair, raggled and unwashed and in skin, salty and fresh to the touch. My feelings burn deep inside her and stoke the fire, bringing a strength of visual perception, depth of heart and a path to an onward journey, living in my wildest dreams of water in remote places on the farthest shores of myself.
#Living in your own skin
#Following your wildest dreams
#Water is a journey on