Swimming in Lake Champlain

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(Host) One of commentator Madeleine Kunin’s particular summer pleasures is swimming in Lake Champlain.

(Kunin) The Islands are the seacoast of Vermont. Some are attached by land, others by bridges. Lake Champlain hugs them all, the embrace of an inland sea.

Each time I cross the causeway into South Hero, I feel I am entering a landscape that is different from all of Vermont. For one thing it’s flat, for another it’s still sparsely settled – a place where a bait shop is a sign of activity.

I have a favorite place in Grand Isle County, an island that can only be reached by boat. I can walk its shoreline in about an hour and canoe around it in less time. Like any island, it has unusual plants and shrubs. A botanist once visited to take a census.

Deer manage to reach the island and I would like to ask them, did they walk across on the ice in winter, or swim there in the spring? Either way, they seem to find enough to forage on within the island’s confines.

The edges of the island vary from sheer cliffs and rocky outcroppings to pebbled beaches. I’m amazed at the fir tree which leans out over the shore at a ninety degree angle.

On a clear day, you can see forever: the Green Mountains to the east and the Adirondacks to the west.

Entertainment is limited but satisfying. There is sitting on a wooden porch style swing overlooking the dock, observing the waves and assessing the wind direction, boating, watching other boats pass by, guessing about the weather, and of course, swimming.

A dip into Lake Champlain feels different from a dip in other water. It is soft and smells primeval. The pebbles and rocks test the soles of my feet. I lift them off as quickly as possible and plunge into the deep.

Immersed, my body feels the shock of the temperature change, and I am awakened in every pore. Feeling cool and sleek, I backstroke through the calm water, reaching nowhere in particular. This is not like lap swimming; this is lake swimming, where the opposite shore is a distant rim, not a destination.

This water does not have the buoyancy of salt water, or the challenge of waves. I have to keep moving to stay afloat, and yet I am hardly conscious of the effort.

The water is kindred to the water in my body’s cells. I feel alone in the deep, gaze upward at the sky, downward into the depths. And emerge, after a while, refreshed as if I had been reborn.

This is Madeleine May Kunin.

Madeleine Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.

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