The Old Swimming Hole

Psalm 42:7

Learning to swim came slow for me.  I’m not exactly sure why, but I remember thinking, “I should have this down by now!” My first, feeble attempts at mastering the art came in Balmorhea, Texas, in the irrigation ditch.  Before you pooh-pooh the idea of dunking in a ditch, let me explain.  All the farmland in that area is watered by a vast system of irrigation ditches which originates at the lake.  If you have ever enjoyed Pecos cantaloupe, you owe it to these ditches. The lake is spring fed and has served as a reliable water source for the past century.  Periodically, water is released from the lake into the irrigation system, a good portion of which flows through a downtown rock-lined canal.  The water runs a little over three feet deep and about five feet wide. The flowing water serves many a young tyke as a refuge from the summer heat.  My first attempts at swimming was with my siblings and the Methodist preacher’s kids, as we all would crowd into the water rushing through the culvert. Before I could actually swim, I could float. I would position my head pointing upstream and float vertically, letting the water rush past my body.  Actually swimming was a different matter.


As I got older, I gradually learned to swim in water that was not moving.  I learned the breast stroke, then the backstroke, then freestyle.  On occasion, the family had a bit of extra spending money, and we would go to the nearby state park. Balmorhea State Park was and is a jewel. The same San Salmon Springs feed the enormous pool there. The water stays 72-76 degrees year round and  is crystal clear, and you swim with the catfish.  I remember when I finally got the nerve to go into the deep end.  The deep end of the pool is a social barrier, as much anything.  Big kids go to the deep end. It’s a rite of passage when you can ascend the ladder to the dizzying heights of the diving board then plunge into the perilous depths, touching the natural rock bottom before coming up for air.

The naturalistic setting of that pool formed my aquatic preferences for years to come.  I don’t mind a swimming pool, and will almost always use one when it’s available. My first preference, though, is natural water and deep water.  If a swimming pool and a lake are side-by-side, I will choose the lake.

As teenagers, David, Darrell, Eddie, and I would regularly head out, wearing nothing but cut-off blue jeans, bound over the barbed wire fence of the Double-U ranch, trek a mile or so through the mesquite and cactus, and have an afternoon of tom-foolery at Jackson’s Tank.  I have no idea who Jackson was, but I liked his tank.  (For you urbanites, a “tank,” in West Texas, has no man-made materials. Think more along the lines of a great big pond or a small lake, for watering livestock.) We spent hours on end swimming around in the redish brown water, seeing who could stay under water the longest and throwing mud and moss at each other.  I remember one time when “Babs,” a local friend, had especially good aim.  I had been under water somewhere around 60 seconds and came up for air just as Steve Babb launched a mudball. It went directly into my mouth instead of the air I had hoped for.  I spent the next few minutes coughing, spitting, and rinsing my mouth, as the others were raucously celebrating his prowess and accuracy.

A few years later, Uncle Don and Aunt Pat moved to Galveston, shortly followed by Mamaw and Eddie.  I traveled there as often as I could, soaking up the salty seas, diving into the surf, and even attempting (poorly) to learn surfing. No matter. A full afternoon of swimming on the beach leaves one pleasantly crusty, exhausted, and smiling.  In addition, there are few experiences more soothing that watching the sun setting and the moon rising over the water.

There is something about deep water that beckons us to approach then immerse ourselves in it. There are always various degrees of peril, but it’s possible to drown in your own bathtub. Danger be hanged. The best safety strategy is the ability to swim, using the water itself to transport yourself in it. Sometimes, we are afraid to get too deep into following God. It’s dangerous. It will cost me.  Yes it is, and yes it will, but navigating the deeper life will also enrich yours.  I and others invite you, “Come on in. The water’s fine!”

Through the years, I have experienced swimming in pasture ponds, alpine lakes, meandering rivers, and spreading oceans. I have immersed myself in spring, summer, fall, and winter.  The water calls to me, and I respond. I hope to never reach the point where I feel too feeble or too afraid to walk myself out into the water that is over my head.


Published in: on January 30, 2018 at 11:57 am  Leave a Comment  

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