You’ll all forgive me but with far too busy of a schedule today, I’m reposting a previous post from Write on the Water. I was discussing this very topic with a friend only yesterday, how, as the thermometer climbs to unpleasant heights, more than anything, I’d love to take a nice, refreshing dive into the Hudson.Yes, the Hudson River.
I know. People hear ‘Hudson River’ and they immediately imagine a stew of sewage and toxic waste, with mobster disposals, tires and God only knows what else floating in on the tide. But thanks to the efforts of the kind folks at Clearwater and Riverkeeper, along with countless other grass-roots environmental groups, the Hudson is a vibrant and healthy river, alive with blue crabs, record-setting striped bass, sturgeon, eels, and even sharks. During the winter it’s not unusual to see seals frolicking and basking on the vacant docks while bald eagles nest on the cliffs, osprey plunge down for fish, cormorants crowd the rocks and night herons patrol the shores. Occasionally deer decide the grass is greener on the other bank and you’ll see them swimming across. Foxes and coyotes are not uncommon, and Bear Mountain lives up to its name. But those unfamiliar with the area look at the brownish water, murky with natural silt in the same way as the Mississippi, and assume the coloration equals pollution. But I’ve long known, it’s some of the best swimming water you could imagine.
First off, that silty water has many wonderful qualities. For one, it holds warmth, so the water reaches a pleasant bath-like temperature much earlier than the Atlantic, and retains it well into fall. It’s brackish, not quite as harsh as pure salt water, but still retains those wonderful buoyancy-enhancing abilities. And that silt seems to have a ‘clay bath’ quality; a nice soak in the river leaves skin feeling soft and rejuvenated. After a lifetime of swimming in that opaque water, I’ll admit I’m almost suspicious of any water I can’t see. But I still get odd looks from those who don’t ‘get it.’ I still recall the time a transient boater at our boatyard, heading up the brown river, regarded my daughter and I in horror when they discovered we’d actually been swimming. I told them we’d both been swimming in the Hudson for our entire lives with no ill effects, though they regarded us strangely and looked far convinced. It wasn’t until later that I realized why they might have been a bit skeptical. My daughter was in her teens, at a point where she had been dying her hair a lovely shade of vivid blue, and I even sported a few cobalt streaks for fun. We still laugh about that.
But the funniest ‘swimming in the Hudson’ story will always be the ‘dead baby’. Trust me, it’s not as bad as it sounds, in fact it has gone on to be a family joke. Just stay with me on this one — I can assure you no infants were harmed in any way. We had dropped the hook at Croton Point, one of the most popular anchorages in the area, and we had some guests aboard. It took some coaxing to convince them the water was indeed safe for swimming – they were certain it lived up to every horror story they’d ever heard. Finally they went below, changed into swim suits, then proceeded tentatively to the swim platform… and that’s when the screams of horror erupted. One of our guests was incoherent, she couldn’t even relay what had set her off, it was so unspeakable. But her companion pointed overboard to the oblong ten pound shape, clothed in sodden white fabric and gently bobbing, half submerged, a few feet astern of the boat. “Dead baby…” he stammered, clasping the transom to steady himself. “There’s a dead baby in the water!” At which point, my entire family began laughing.
Yes, I come from a warped background. Shocking, I know. But we’re not *that* bad! (Okay, maybe we are, but let’s stay on topic.) We reassured our guests it wasn’t a deceased infant floating on the tide – it was dessert. Let me rephrase that – it was a watermelon. With limited room in the icebox and no air conditioning aboard, we’d found the best way to keep the watermelon fresh and chilled (or at least somewhat cooler) was to place it in a laundry bag, secured by line to the boat, and float it in the river while at anchor. We’d done it for years, and never once thought about how it might appear to someone unfamiliar with the process. But from that day forward, that ritual was referred to as ‘floating the dead baby.’