Swim Every River

It happened just before midnight.

There was no moon, and the night sky was so clear you could see thick clots of stars in the Milky Way, as though earth’s atmosphere had been peeled back, exposing raw, unveiled space.

I stood on the high dive at some nameless lake near Blue River, British Columbia, the still water of the lake below so perfectly reflecting the stars above that it felt as though the leap I was about to make would be not into water, but outer space.

I took a moment to breathe in the cold air, to savor this exquisite moment, to marvel with gratitude that life was capable of creating these moments of utter magic… and leapt.

So deep was the illusion of jumping into space that for a moment I felt utterly suspended, floating in the cosmos, the water rushing to meet me wholly invisible and thus forgotten until the moment of impact.

I swam to the surface, war whooped as only an adrenaline-addled nineteen-year-old can, and roared to my buddy to follow suit.

Two hours earlier, when we had spotted the lake and its shore-side high dive while pulling into town, there had been no question: after supper, when the rest of the crew were smoking up or crawling into their sleeping bags, we would be making that jump into the lake.

You see, back when my life was a blur of bush work, hitchhiking, camping, and vagabonding, my treeplanting buddy J and I had a rule:

Swim every river.

If one of us saw a body of water that beckoned, then no matter how tired or hungry we were, no matter how cold the water or late the hour…

If either of us felt the beckoning, then, without hesitation, we jumped in. No argument, no debate. Just unspoken agreement to glory in water, every time.

Our fellow treeplanters obliged us by stopping the truck when the logging road we were on passed by some tantalizing mountain stream or cliff-side waterfall, shaking their heads in amusement when we returned minutes later, dripping and grinning.

To us, it was very simple: not once did we regret jumping in. Not once did we regret pushing past the cold and fatigue and inertia to experience the exhilaration of cold water.

The only risk of regret was in NOT doing it… in a life devoid of such glories.

And so we gladly subjected our bodies to the shock of cold water, to the battery of sharp rocks and crushing torrents…

In so doing, pushing past comfort to joy.

This summer, there will be two kinds of dads: those who swim with their kids, and those who do not.

Those who do not will have their stated reasons:

They will remain on shore, comfortable and dry, because they are “too old,” “too fat,” “too pale,” “too tired.”

And they will be wrong.

Our children need to know the joy of cold currents and deep pools… need to know the sensation of living alive within our skins.

YOU YOURSELF need the joy–simple and reliable as the sun–of deep embodiment.

Most men reach for the bottle, needle, or condom for sensation… poisoning their bodies and their relationships in the process, when all around us are the tools of the gods: water and tree, paint and brush: the means to paint yourself violently, gloriously alive.

Yes, I know the water’s cold.

Yes, I know the pebbles hurt your feet.

Yes, I know you’re not as fit as you were, and that everyone will see it once you take your shirt off.

None of that shit matters.

It all pales besides the gift of deep, animal aliveness the water can bestow on you, and your mandate to share this wild portal with your children.

So this summer, be the man who leads his children to the water.

Be the dad who delights his children with cliff dives and cannonballs.

Be the dad who swims.

Create such a legacy of water and adventure and aliveness that someday, when you are gone, your great-grandchildren still keep the old family pact, their eyes locking in silent agreement as some ribbon of water glitters beneath the bridge, the words so ingrained they need not even be spoken:

Swim every river.


Bryan Ward is the founder of Third Way Man and author of the LIT Black Paper

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