Water Snob

Summer came to SF this week. I had a mini-summer vacation last weekend: I read a novel, picnicked with my sister in the park near Fort Mason, had my first tomato sandwich of the year, and ate too much ice cream. On Saturday, I went to Humphry Slocombe to try one of their Royal Wedding flavors (I opted for Eton Mess – strawberries, cream and meringue — rather than Spotted Dick) and then had a strawberry milkshake on Sunday.

As much as I love picnics, tomato sandwiches and milkshakes, none of these hallmarks of summer come close to the joy of swimming and sadly, swimming season is still a few months away — at least at my usual swimming holes. Lake Tahoe and the Yuba River aren’t warm enough (or, in the case of the Yuba, aren’t tame enough) until nearly July.

Swimming on a summer day makes me feel like all is right with the world and yet I swim all too rarely, in part because SF’s summer weather often calls for ski-suits not swimsuits. Even when the City heats up, there are so few swimming options. San Francisco’s beaches are known to be pretty rough and I’m wary of ocean swimming anyway. I never feel entirely relaxed in the ocean.

A common destination for many people in the Bay Area is the Russian River. It’s closer to SF than Tahoe and it has both warm weather and beachfront vacation rentals. But a short trip I took to the Russian River last Memorial Day taught me that as much as I love swimming, I am a water snob — or at least a river snob.

This is the Russian River:

As you can see in the picture, other people were clearly delighted to be at the river.  They swam, canoed, and inner-tubed around in what looked to me like a swamp. That I could not see through the water at all worried me very much. It seemed like an ideal habitat for an alligator or a perfect place to dump a body. The color of the water also implied to me that there is a nasty, mucky river bottom below and I take the murky, greenish-brown water color as a sign that this is not good swimming.

My perspective on the Russian River is colored by the river I’m used to swimming in which has water like this:


The Yuba River flows out of the Sierra Nevada so perhaps it’s no surprise that the water is very clear. Notice that you can clearly see my dad underwater in this picture. You can also see through the water at the rocks and sand below.

The rocks in the Yuba are another attribute: it means that you won’t be bothered by canoes or rafts or inner-tubes as you’re swimming. In fact, you’re more likely to run into a pack of naked hippies at the Yuba than a floating ice chest of beer.

This is the kind of water that thinking about when I think about summer, the sort of water than I want to leap into on a summer day.

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