Lake Ainsworth. Thursday, 10.20am
It’s been a while since I swam in Lake Ainsworth.
I used to swim here a lot – but that was years ago, back when Byron had an off season, Lennox had fish and chips under $10, and Ballina had a Big Prawn which you could climb inside, and look out its eyes. (Apparently, looking at life from a prawn’s perspective now contravenes OH&S regulations.)
I change from pants to swimmers with my modesty protected only by a towel wrapped around my waist. Except, it’s not a towel; it’s a sarong. Nimbin traditionalists like myself eschew beach towels and embrace the multi-purpose sarong when on the road. The sarong is towel, sheet, pyjama, baby sling, tent, cleaning rag and temporary fan belt. It can also be used for clothing.
It’s a thick winter sarong, so no offence will be taken by a sensitive, but inquisitive, public that may glimpse a shadowy batiked outline of a rude bit if they were to stare hard enough.
(A couple of old blokes sitting at the picnic table, rubbing cream on themselves and smoking roll-your-owns, do glance my way.)
Swimmers on, sarong and pants chucked in through the driver’s window (sending an arc of coins smashing into the door), I walk to the water’s edge, swinging my arms, like I’ve seen people do.
It hurts – and it makes a sort of crunchy sound. That’s dispiriting. Back when I swam here regularly, my shoulders didn’t make a crunchy sound, but then again, I didn’t used to do that stupid arm-swinging thing either (or wear swimmers).
I walk in to my knees. The water is warm.
Being a dark brown from the ti-trees that circle the lake and leak their ti into it, the water gathers the heat from the sun and retains it.
I dive under. I open my eyes and can barely see my hands in front of me through the dark sepia. It’s scary. I pull my feet up from the cooler, dark depths. Who knows what is down there… (Maybe a giant prawn.)
The great unknown is not a final of My Kitchen Rules, or a mystery flight to (probably) Hobart, but lies under the water in Lake Ainsworth. Despite the overreaching illusion of safe predictability in my life, the great unknown tickles my fear in this murky lake.
I rise to the surface and flip onto my back.
I float easily. Too easily. Probably, the lake is full of plastic microbeads from the tons of deodorant, sun cream and moisturiser that people lacquer themselves with. Perhaps I have ingested too much microfibre washed from this season’s fashion, and, like a turtle, have condemned myself to perpetual buoyancy.
Dangers are not as obvious as they used to be.
Looking up, I see dark clouds gathering over the lake. Looking to shore, I see the old blokes’ phones flash in the dimming light with weather warnings and flood alerts. They have concerned expressions that, nonetheless, display excited anticipation. If anything can jolt modern life back into the real world, it’s a cyclone.
For 250,000 years, humans have wandered about the place, living in a precarious moment. Your food could kill you with its claws; your shelter could fill with water; your cut finger could poison you. (Okay, there was no threat from microbeads, microfibres or Microsoft, but it was still way perilous.)
Life was challenging, but it was living until you didn’t.
There’s an ancient part of me that misses the dangerous immediacy of life.
I don’t want to hunt mammoths, but I would like to ride in the back of a ute. Or drink water from a garden hose. Or look at the world through a prawn’s eyes.