It's early evening, getting to be dusk. You spent the day at the beach, splashing with your girlfriends, huddling on the towel to discuss all the boys on the beach, too shy to flirt but giggling just at the thought of it. Your skin has that dry, tight feeling of skin that's been exposed to sunshine all day. You and your friends have left the beach to walk the trail around the lake, talking the whole time of course, glancing occasionally to notice how incredible the water looks - that blue green colour this lake turns on a summer day when the light hits it just right. Someday when you are older, you might take limnology and understand the science behind the gorgeous color of the water, but right now you are content to just stare into the depths and admire what you do not understand.
At Dead Man's Point, you and your friends leave the shady trail to walk back out into the sun. From here, you can see the beach off in the distance, quiet now, the lifeguards pulling in the ropes, parents tugging their children over to the parking lot. It's summer time, and a whole lazy week stretches ahead of you. Someday, you will look back and realize how privileged you were, to have a carefree summer of laughing and camping and swimming, a life in which the most important decision is which flavor of ice cream to order, but right now you don't know any different. You think that the whole world is golden, filled with slanting evening light that ripples across trees.
The water in this lake is clear, so beautifully clear that when you stand on the edge of the rock shelf and look down, the urge to dive in is overwhelming. You don't really understand that urge, that tugging that comes from somewhere deep inside, any more than you understand what makes you giggle now at the sight of a boy who last year was just an annoying kid in math class. You let the warmth slip over your toes, and then your ankles.
Bold friend comes over to whisper, "Hey, let's take a swim."
Why is she whispering? There is no one else around. The trail is empty. But the hushed tone makes the whole prospect somehow more exciting. You point to the "No Swimming" sign. Bold Friend shrugs, takes the striped beach towel from her shoulders, and hangs it from the sign. Oh, how clever. You all giggle at her boldness. What if a park ranger comes by?
Bold Friend begins taking off her clothes. She is standing near the water, unafraid. You pull back, making sure cedar trees hide you from the view of anyone who might come along the trail. You and Quiet Friend look at each other and come to a decision. Both at the same time, you step out of your cut-off shorts, piling them under the cedar trees. By now, Bold Friend is naked. She looks so different than she did a year ago. She has breasts, now, and hips, a waist that curves in. You and Quiet Friend exchange another look.
"Come on," says Bold Friend. She steps to the edge of the cliff, takes a fast look in the direction of the now-deserted beach, and dives in.
Watching her body slip into all the blue-greenness is too much to resist. And now that Bold Friend is no longer watching, it's easier to pull off shirt, bra, and panties. Quiet Friend blushes as she piles your clothes under the trees and takes another glance down the trail. You've been best friends since first grade so you can tell what she is thinking. What if those boys from the beach came walking by? The thought turns her face red. She moves quickly to the edge and goes in quietly, feet first.
Now it is your turn. You leave the safety, the shelter, the warm spicy smell of the cedar trees, and walk deliberately out to the end of the rock shelf. For a moment you stand there, letting light touch your skin. Then you hear a rustle in the trees, a chipmunk perhaps, or a park ranger come to enforce rules: the thought brings shivers. Without looking back, you dive into the water.
When you swim with no clothes on, nothing holds you back. The lake touches your skin, touches all of you, surrounds you, holds you. You are fully aware of your body, every part of you, and yet you are hidden from the outside world, from the human world of land and air. You dive into blue-greenness, and up close, it's all clear, all transparent, all fluid and moving and open, ready to take you in. Once you've been touched by a lake in this way, you are changed by that touch, transformed by that wetness. Your relationship with the lake will be changed forever.
You will return to that lake year after year, sometimes when you are alone and need a place where you can cry, and sometimes with a person you love, as a way of bonding that person forever into your memories and yourself. You will walk by this spot with your children and with your parents, with anyone who becomes important to you. On the last cold day of February, you will ski to the edge of the lake and stare out across the ice, remembering the first time you dove into the lake naked.