Children of Lir:
One of my favorite things about Ireland are the stories. I’ve been there the past three summers with my aunt, who has a cottage in County Sligo. We always spend a few days in Dublin when we arrive. I make sure that before we catch the train north, I make it to the Winding Stair book store, which I find by walking along the north bank of the River Liffey. I have bought a ghost story book each time I’ve been in there. The stories by authors like Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, and Sheridan Le Fanu make great middle of the night reading, when I’m wide awake because it is afternoon back home in the Pacific Northwest. Besides the ghost stories, I like hearing the mythology. In Carrick-on-Shannon in County Leitrim, there is an art gallery I enjoy visiting where there is a jewelry designer, who sells silver pieces she has made, using wax molds. I have two of her Children of Lir pieces. The Children of Lir were turned into swans in ancient times by Lir’s second wife, who was jealous of Lir’s love for the children. In preparing for my North Channel trip, I’m enjoying learning about Scottish mythology as well.
The Selkie folk are seal people found in Scottish mythology. Selkies shed their seal skins on land revealing their human form. Most stories I’ve come across are about Selkie females being forced into marriage when their seal skins are stolen by fishermen. Years later, with the help of their children, they find their skins and return to the sea never to return to their families.
I feel like I’ve found my long, lost seal skin this week, after completing an outdoor swim every day. Tiernan provided shore support once when his tennis practice was cancelled, which was extremely supportive and fun. All this practice had decreased our quality time together, but I am working hard to continue to make all his home games, and he is supporting swims when he is available, and when I need extra motivation. I felt extremely strong the day before his shore support, after getting to the lake during a wind storm. The water temperatures cooled this week due to rains and snow melt, and on this particular day, the lake was covered with white caps and large, rolling waves. No one was on shore fishing at my entry point, which was very unusual and again speaks to the weather conditions. I still got in with my orange buoy and swam for an hour. I managed to avoid the big pieces of wood, but did hit what I cursed as a “stupid rosebush,” floating in the water. I later decided this was probably a blackberry bush. The next afternoon, the weather was worse in town than it had been the previous day. I had been up since 4:45 to attend a Barre3 class before work, so I really wasn’t motivated to go back in to cold, stormy water. Tiernan insisted we go though, and once back in the lake, I created a new one mile rope-swing loop in a more protected spot. I plan to go to this spot from now on in inclement weather.
In the Pacific Northwest we have Sasquatches and Yetis. The Yetis are the cold water swimmers who dip into the open waters around Portland, Oregon throughout the fall and winter. Cindy Werhane started Yeti challenges in the fall of 2017 as the water temperatures began to drop, and I was lucky enough to be invited to join. The pack grew this past fall/winter. I would never have qualified for a North Channel attempt had it not been for Cindy and my Yeti teammates, as I never would have attempted a wild swim alone in the winter. These swims have helped me acclimatize to cold water.
Since this post started with stories, I’m going to share a Yeti story here for my friend Michelle in San Francisco.
One Friday afternoon in early April, two Yetis training for mammoth swims meet on Sauvie Island in the Columbia River for a practice. One of these Yetis was between an acupuncture appointment and a rheumatology appointment, and Sauvie Island happened to be between the two offices. This same Yeti had been swimming in the wild every day this week and was sick of swimming in the cold rain. All week the weather app on her phone indicated Friday would be warm and partly sunny. Of course, this being the Pacific Northwest, that forecast changed in the 11th hour and it was again rainy. She was determined to swim, however, and had a good friend willing to join her. They walked over top of the hill that led to the beach from the road, and were immediately shocked at the high muddy water. The tall wooden post that towels and clothing are always left by was in the river a good 10 feet from the shore, and there were decent sized logs flowing down river. The less determined Yeti decided she would wait and point out hazards to her friend who was still adamant about dipping in.
The water was estimated to be around 47 degrees (this Yeti’s pool thermometer quit reading temperatures accurately the day before), and she started swimming against the strong current upriver. She swam for over 30 minutes only hitting one branch that was completely submerged in the murky water and not visible on the surface. Her friend decided she wasn’t going to swim there that day and the Yeti’s left. By the time the swimmer had finished her parking lot change (e.g., suit off, sweats on, no underclothes), she had 30 minutes to get to the hospital for her second appointment. She cranked up the heat, drank her post-swim warm drink, and booked it.
The nurses immediately took her back to her room when she arrived (before she even had time to sit down in the lobby and adjust to the room temperature). Since she hadn’t yet been out of the water 35 minutes and she had been in the hot car, the room temperature of the hospital wing felt like a refrigerator. She immediately started to shiver causing all sorts of challenges for the nurses trying to get her temperature, oxygen level, and blood pressure. One nurse decided she wanted the Yeti to take off her sweat shirt so she could get a better BP cuff seal, and the Yeti embarrassingly didn’t have on any underclothing, so the second nurse had to bring in a gown and a sheet in order for the Yeti to maintain her modesty. Of course the Yeti’s blood pressure was slightly high (this is a normal bodily response for people with mild hypothermia who are shivering), so the blood pressure had to be retaken a few minutes later when the shivering had stopped, and the oxygen sensor didn’t read while the Yeti shook.
A few minutes later the doctor came in. This Yeti prefers female physicians and typically only sees males in urgent cases, but she had decided when making the appointment, she would take the first available appointment. Wouldn’t you know, the rheumatologist was handsome and her age! After taking a thorough history, it was time for the examination. He specifically had to look at her ankles and toes, knees, hands and wrists. Besides the hands still being a tad purple his examination of them was fine. Next, came rolling up the sweats for the knees to be looked at. They were covered in goosebumps and lots of visible, scruffy blonde hairs (shaving is not a priority when regularly swimming in cold water as the extra hair provides additional, psychological warmth). Then, the Yeti slips off her socks to reveal dried sand stuck to her heel, sand between her toes, and around the cracks of her toenails. The doctor maintained a flat affect throughout the observation, but the Yeti felt her face flushing each time she had to adjust or take off her clothing. Finally, he told her this diagnostic process could take some time and that this early on, the inflammation hadn’t been present long enough to cause any joint damage. She is to look out for certain symptoms, monitor pain, and get in touch with him when things change. He was pleased that her symptoms have been lessening with acupuncture and anti inflammatory medicines.
This Yeti is still debating if that hazardous muddy river swim was worth the chaos at the appointment. She is leaning toward “yes” since swimming 20k in open water, without a wetsuit, in early April seems like a great week of training for the North Channel.