I woke up in the morning just to learn that there wasn’t going to be one.
It was after 8 A.M. on September 9th, yet it was as dark as the wee hours of the night. I got out of bed and stood at the fire escape for a moment trying to understand what was happening. While barefoot and chilled on the cold iron steps, I realized this was going to be a day like no other. The birds were silent—as were the neighbors, still fast asleep, under the hidden sun.
The sky had saturated orange hue, but this wasn’t one of those epic sunrises you have seen in the movies. Sadly, there was nothing romantic about this day. The sky in San Francisco turned orange due to plumes of smoke from historic wildfires burning across California and neighboring states. Millions of acres of land had already burned and the California fire season was only getting started.
Opening the shades to let some light in didn’t help, so I turned on the lamp. Having breakfast in near darkness felt apocalyptic and I was trying to wrap my mind around the weirdness of a moment that signaled disaster in our environment that was just screaming for air and blocking the sun in protest. I thought of all those affected by the fires and the inferno they must be experiencing. They were living the real apocalypse—for weeks in fact, already—while we were just seeing the side effect.
I was scheduled for a swim with my friend Robin that day and just received a text from her canceling the outing. I didn’t feel like swimming either but lacked the motivation to do anything else. I wanted to find some anchor on this very disorienting day. Despite the color of the sky, the air quality remained unchanged throughout the day so I decided to go to the Aquatic Park anyway.
When I arrived at the bleachers, only a few folks were there. It was quiet out there; except for an occasional runner or a dog-walker passing by, it was empty and isolated. I was bundled up in a winter jacket since the absence of sun produced some chilly temperatures. This also motivated my decision to leave my bathing suit at home. I thought it was a good idea. I was wrong.
A few people were about to dive in and I took photos as they made their way into the orange reflections of the bay. I greeted a swimmer who was just coming out of the water—an Australian guy, who is also a “cold water newbie” like myself. The absence of a day didn’t seem to phase him. Such a spectacle, he explained, is apparently far from an anomaly where he comes from. Unmoved, he went about his day as we parted.
I felt melancholic walking on the shore, watching the birds and seals seemingly as confused as I was. The atmosphere of the Aquatic Park looked foreign and felt stripped of all the warmth and people I so love coming back to.
And then I ran into Eric, a long time member of the Dolphin Club who was about to dive in for his scheduled swim. Unlike me, he was ready to follow his agenda for the day and the lack of light didn’t seem to stop him. I admired his resilience—regardless of the oddness of the moment, he was determined to dip in. He stretched on the beach and did a few push ups before he disappeared into the water. His determination for a scheduled routine brought a sense of normalcy that I felt was absent on the bleachers that day.
I was thankful to him for the change of mood inspiring a sudden realization:
Being in the water sustains me these days, more than I have ever imagined it would. I swim to center myself and find often-needed stability. That day I was looking for stability while avoiding to swim.
It doesn’t work.
Note to self: No matter what, don’t leave the bathing suit at home.