In retrospect, my close encounter with a shark yesterday did not fill me with the kind of fear I would have expected it to. As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I’m a total wimp when it comes to wildlife encounters (at sea or elsewhere). Each time I see a seal at a distance my heart gallops, icy dread rushes through my body, and I try to swim away faster than I’m capable of swimming, which compromises my breathing and amplifies the panic. I’ve been known to attempt to climb on top of the person I’m swimming with (sorry Angie!) in a double-edged attempt to get myself further away from the seal while putting my so-called friend in the line of fire. I’m the worst.
But, despite my flurry of yelps yesterday, and our decision to swim back to shore, I was relatively calm after my shark face-off compared to what I would have imagined for myself. My heart beat a steady rhythm throughout the experience; I didn’t frantically swim back to shore, nor did I fling myself at Angie or try to use her as a human shield. The experience was more thrilling than terrifying.
It turns out I was saving that fear for today’s swim. Angie, Colleen, Sheila, and I met up early at the Albany Bulb to get our swim in before the tide got too low. It was only partially successful and we trudged through the muck before flopping into inches of water.
The water was incredibly clear; a big change from yesterday (a welcome one and also perplexing; I had assumed the murkiness of the water yesterday had something to do with the low tides, but I guess not?). I wore my goggles because I anticipated a long swim to make up for yesterday’s short one.
Well, that combination of clear water, goggles, and low tide meant me seeing imaginary sharks in all the shaded rocks, every stray strand of eel grass, and each random bit of flotsam. I kept up a constant conversation with myself:
“What was that?”
“Oh my god…oh my god…”
“It’s nothing, Jenny, calm down.”
[Slowing down, breathing]
“I see something”
“It’s a shark!”
“You’ve been swimming here every day for more than a hundred days and you’ve never encountered a shark until yesterday. No one else has ever encountered a shark.”
“But they’re always here and we just can’t see them but now I can because the water’s clear and I’m wearing my goggles…”
“Calm down, there isn’t anything here.”
“You can’t swim this fast.”
[Gasping and panting]
It was a fun little time inside my brain.
I finally closed my eyes so I would stop seeing phantom sharks. On the plus side, I hauled butt out to The Big Tree and to The Point beyond. Once there, I regrouped with my buddies. Edy had joined us at some point and she remarked on the clarity of the water. “It’s got great energy when it’s clean like this,” she said.
I heard her say the same thing a few days ago and it resonated with me then and it resonated with me today. I definitely feel that difference in the energy of the water on different days; as if sometimes it’s charged up with healing ions.
Hearing her say it today shifted my perspective and snubbed out my fear. The water stopped feeling menacing and I noticed how cool and fresh it was; how at home I feel immersed in the bay. I thoroughly enjoyed my swim back, even scouring the sandy bottom for interesting creatures.
A funny thing about fear is the way the anticipation of a scary event is often more terrifying than the event itself. The sharks were much worse today when they were nowhere to be seen than the actual, living, breathing creature was yesterday. It’s a mind trip, my imagination in hyperdrive. It’s too bad knowing that can’t erase the fear, but at least I have swimming buddies to remind me of all the ways the bay is more beautiful than scary and, if all else fails, to serve as human shields.