All Swim Free

Grass in water reflection

In that narrow strip between the road and the woods, we are searching for the hidden entrance, marked by a concrete pylon and a dirt footpath. It’s tucked in among the autumn olives and the poison ivy.

We dart in, ducking under the vines and there’s a long corridor of grass, like a power line cut without the power lines. Small frogs leap from our path as we walk.

Our path joins a dirt road that circles a marsh and pool. Bullfrogs leap into the water as they sense our approach. We’re quieter, listening to the birds, frogs and katydids. A cicada’s buzz reaches a crescendo and fades into silence.

The August afternoon sun is strong, and the air is humid. Here, surrounded by trees, reeds and pools, every square inch feels full of life. Trees, bushes, insects. Here are the hoofprints of a fawn, and there the pawprint of a raccoon. Its tiny toes left a perfect impression in the mud.

The dragonflies are busy. Could they be the reason there are no mosquitoes? The deerflies are another story. When one comes after you, your options are limited. You can screech and run wildly, try valiantly to swat it, or employ your beach towel as a headscarf.

Did we miss the turn off? Roads and paths, in various states of overgrowth, branch in every direction. We choose a path through the cattail reeds. Now there are a dozen frogs in every puddle, and we startle a large deer, who dashes across our track.

The farther we walk, the thicker the autumn olive. It’s leaves have a silvery underside and it bears small, deep red fruits. Autumn olives taste sweet when they are ripe, and like tomatoes, they are full of lycopenes. They ripen in mid-August and they are an abundant food source for weary hikers. Autumn olives are invasive, so every fruit you eat prevents a bird from spreading its seeds. The berries grow thicker and riper as we walk deeper into the marsh.

There, among the reeds and bushes is a deep, deep pool, full of cool and clear water. Back in the day, it was a fresh dig, and people fished from its shore. Now nature is reclaiming the quarry, and the banks are thick with vegetation. There’s only one spot clear enough to step into the pool. I push aside cattails and beckon the others.

Where the reeds end is where the quarry drops off. It’s thirty or forty feet deep, so it’s best if you’re a strong swimmer. I dive down deep in the cold water, then swim back to the light when I can no longer hold my breath. The sunlight looks green, turns to yellow as I surface. The water is alive with tiny creatures, but it smells good and looks clear.

And my head, it gets turned completely around. I was frustrated. The lifeguard kicked us out of the beach because of thunder, but it’s brilliantly sunny again. It wasn’t far to the quarry. To its fair shores, I must return. We parked by the pylon. The first path we chose ended in a mess of poison ivy, so we tried another. It’s very hot and I wanted to give up, but we persisted and we found this gorgeous pool to swim in. Now my mind is clear. I can think again. I listen to the songs of the insects and birds.

I’m floating on my back, with my arms pointing over my head, lungs full of air, and I float without moving. My feet rise up when I fill my lungs, and I’m like a raft on the ocean, moved by the ripples and currents of the water. I breathe out and back in quickly to maintain my buoyancy. I see a circle of sky surrounded by trees, steep hillsides sloping down to the quarry.

There it is again, the rumble of thunder, and this time it is more insistent. There’s a huge, dark cloud approaching. We dart and play in the water, but our swimming time draws to a close. As we climb back up the steep side of the dig, the wind begins to shimmer the leaves of the cottonwoods. It’s a warm wind, but wild, and the trees begin to weave and twist. The air is full of leaves, spinning and whirling.

We walk back as a light rain begins. The sound of the wind is inescapable, its immensity and power on display. We see a new road that was just cut from the forest, and an old path, now a green tunnel, another secret entrance to these natural basins. The frogs like the rain, and crowd the path ahead of us.

Then we are through the bushes, back on the road, and running to the car, soaking wet — joyful for a glimpse of wild nature and thankful for a cooling swim.


Flash Fictiion by Fred Pierre


Fred Pierre works in the public library where he researches library tech and checks out more books than he can possibly read. He loves performing spoken word, especially down by the river. He believes in the magic of words.

This flash story is about the land right called “allemannsrett” or everyman’s right, which is practiced in Northern Europe. It means you can cross private property to travel or swim as long as you respect the land and avoid planted fields. It’s about returning to the rock quarry in the summer, for a cool dip in its clear waters, and to get back in touch with nature.