Swimming with porpoises

Camping at the coast last year, I went for a run and swim every morning. It was a cold, wet summer, and the beach was deserted in the early morning. On its east side stood a solid headland, a half mile into the sea; to the west of the beach, a mile long, low black cliffs.  Like the cold wind and clouds, the sea rocked and butted and streamed aggressively into the bay; its spray clashed into strewn rain showers; seabirds wheeled menacingly in their sea-air elements. I make my way in, a boxer, braced and sinewy, alert.

I dive into the thick dark middle of a breaking wave, and surface; and again, and swimming against them, bob, weave, throwing crawls, going out deeper, where the swell no longer punches but keeps you in hold and pushes you onto the ropes.

A distance out, I float, pointed to the horizon. Then, arching high above me, half-serpent, half-mountain, a silent black fish; its swift slick solid power, a body of the sea’s depth, rises out and sweeps back in, a smooth black sea bull. Then I feel the gulf between my feet and the seafloor, two white legs below a tiny string body, hanging in a vast sea a thousand miles wide; and I sense this great fish coursing beneath me in the cold infinity. I am too lost to panic, I move myself slowly backwards towards the shore – and see it again, now farther: turn, a frantic crawl to land, I touch ground and sprint onto the beach, overawed.

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