My toes balance on the slotted, concrete boat launch, and the water around my ankles is cold. I walk forward, and the water makes itself known higher and higher on my body. Goosebumps coat my skin: I know I must dive in and that it will be warmer once I’m submerged. There’s a pit in my stomach—stress. Then, I launch my body into the glittering water.
I pop my head out, a delicious chill dripping onto the back of my neck. Head bobbing, I take in the ocean and islands around me. I can’t help but smile wide, and as I do, I make direct eye contact with a middle-aged woman preparing for a swim. She shoots back a knowing grin. She dives, and we stumble through our words to each other, incapable of communicating a shared breathlessness of spirit. Simpson’s Point shocks us with its beauty, its water and its relentless tides.
Swimming in September waters, I can’t help but remember my first dip in June and how my memory flashed to climbing the see-saw-like ice floats of late winter. On January days, the place is deserted, looking and feeling like the surface of the moon.
Today, I sit on the Point’s tiny, pebble beach, watching the many people who live their lives according to this place. Old regulars arrive in swim caps and goggles, ready to burst into the water with hungry strokes. A gray-haired woman tells her friend this is her fifth swim of the day. “It’s a baptism of sorts,” chimes a grey-haired man as he treads through shallow water.
When I drove here, I cried. I wasn’t sad: the first week of my junior year was good. But how can I live this close to a place so stunning, so generous in its beauty, and only have visited once since I have been back?
Each time I visit Simpson’s Point, I’m skeptical that the water will have its usual effect. I think that the novelty will have worn off. But, as always, looking out at this place, I feel my burdens wash away with an unperturbed serenity. The feeling of holding something precious, so utterly not mine, settles into my belly and grounds me to the spot.
I reflect on all the people who have passed down this place to me. I reminisce on how I ran into a friend at the end of a solo bike trip last spring and how she showed me her favorite rock—one that was flat and smooth and fit the two of our lengthy bodies perfectly. I think of one of the first spring days when I joined two Bowdoin women I barely knew in a full-exposure polar plunge. I think of all the hours and nights my best friend and I spent here, screaming Carole King into the twilight. Being here now, I try to etch one thought into my mind: run to the water—you must remember how generous and wide the coast and its islands are.
At the end of the summer, I took a taxi ride to the Portland Jetport to catch a flight home. I rode with a driver named Jack. I learned that he was a lobsterman and had visited all but six of the 300 islands in Casco Bay. In the dark, 3:30 a.m. light of the highway, he stretched out his weathered and veiny hands as proof. He told me that we Mainers (yes, we Mainers) are an island people. That much like the Greeks and their beloved Aegean, we take pride in our islands and in our coast. There are days when the squawking of morning gulls is a reminder that the coast is only four miles away. Sometimes, I can even taste the ocean salt in the night air.
Bridget Hoke is a member of the Class of 2020.