Thursday, November 5, 2015

Artist's rendering

It came as quite a shock last week when one of open-water swimming's leading voices — and most thoughtful critics — announced he was quitting the sport.

He is Donal Buckley, though most know him as LoneSwimmer, the moniker under which he blogs about everything swimming. Who knew there was so much to say about one subject, but Buckley does did with great energy and eloquence.

An accomplished marathon swimmer, Buckley wrote how-tos about swimming in pools and oceans, reading tides, nutrition for different purposes, training for marathon swims, equipping properly, swimming safely alone, acclimating to cold water, you name it.

He wrote with poignant self-deprecation about his own swimming misadventures, and with piercing scorn about aspects of the sport he found distasteful or dangerous, including the fairly new sport of ice swimming.

He wrote so gorgeously of his home waters off County Cork in southern Ireland that I'm sure swimmers have flocked there to see for themselves. I certainly want to go, based on what he's written.

But last week the swimming writer who tags his blog with "Who dares swims," dares not to swim any more.
"My days of being an open water swimmer are over," Buckley began. "The sea is lost to me now and I don’t think I can ever go back."
I may have given away the reason with my illustration.

Long story short — and you really have to read this, swimmer or no — Buckley was ending his swimming routine for the season anyway. It was dark, the swells gave pause, and he was swimming alone through a sea cave one last time before fading day kept him out again until spring.

Maybe he had become complacent to the dangers of the cave, swimming by himself as he often does, but told of still being aware of how precise he must be, how mindful of how the water plays through the entrance, even with heavy chop, so that he can get in without hurting himself on the reefs.

Once in, he told of going through his usual routine to calm himself, of planning his exit, of taking account of factors in the dark waters and dancing dim light of the cave:
"The faint light bouncing past two outcropping rocks knocked out the dark adaptation of my eyes as I looked back to the cave And in front of the table rock, into a pair of eyes.
"It wasn’t a seal. I tell you I know it wasn’t a seal. Some people are terrified of being in the water near a seal, and I’m not one. I’ve swum past rocks with seals on them, had them pop up in front of me or seen them behind me or behind others in the water, seen them from kayaks and boats and land. A seal is as recognisable (sic) as a dog.
"Seals don’t have large faintly luminous eyes and no obvious nose. Seals don’t look long and thin and scaly and somehow hard. Seals don’t have a head that tapers to a bony ridge or crest.
"Seals don’t have eyes that evaluate you. That do more than see you, that look at you. That judge you, and find you insufficient.
"Seals don’t have hands."
Next he described the terror of trying to escape this being, of the water like so much sand under his flailing arms, giving him no traction to the exit through the other end of the cave, before the being could overtake him.

You'll just have to read what happened. It is something Ray Bradbury might have written. Buckley invokes H.P. Lovecraft by name.

This thing I drew may not be what he saw, but it's what I saw through Buckley's words. Illustrations are bound to ruin things for others' imaginations, I know, but I just had to draw what Buckley had conjured in me. I just had to.

One of Buckley's blog followers, who shared this post with various online swimming communities, noted the date of the post, Oct. 31.

We'll just see, the follower said, if LoneSwimmer ever posts again.

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