Water’s Touch

Thursday, September 1, 2016

One of the wonderful things that has emerged from my participation in our swim blog is that it has forced me to stop and think about one of my favorite things, water.

One of the byproducts of writing about swimming so much is I’ve become obsessed with identifying the how each new body of water I swim in feels. I jump and think “how would I describe this water’s touch?”

For example:
Pool water (chlorinated) - Sharp and clean, a hard water to cut through with hands pointed and with purpose.
Lake water - Alive and rich, broad surface begging to be broken by dock side dives, or to be delicately navigated across while floating with arms stretched wide.
Pond water - Earthy and slow, a thickness I like to not think about too deeply.
Salt Water - Light, tacky, and a bittersweet sting to the eyes.

This is a very generalized list, each different swimming hole has it’s own unique profile, which brings me to my main focus of the this swim story, The Gatineau River! 


On our swimming road trip earlier this summer one of the main purposes of the adventure was to spend a good amount of time immersed in the Gatineau. And I have to say it was worth every kilometer we traveled.

My first swim in the river was at the tail end of dusk, with night falling fast. We all jumped in at once, holding hands, because that is what you do when you are grown a#$ women who love to swim. The minute I hit the water the first feeling that came flooding my way was… I’m covered in silk! Yes, silk! A deep, dark, silky black pool of water. It was night, so of course the water was black, but it felt extra dark, like black hole dark! I felt as though I was being swallowed up when I opened my eyes underwater. I felt everything and nothing all at once. It was right and good.


I remarked on the silkiness of the water out loud and our fantastic host and resident Gatineau expert Patrice, let me know that I was not imagining it, that in fact the Gatineau River is actually a particular type of river, a blackwater river!

Obviously, interest peaked!

Turns out there are all these different types of river water like whitewater, or clearwater and just plain old black mud river water!
The key properties of a blackwater river are:

  • A river with a deep slow moving channel that runs through swamps or wetlands
  • Tannin rich waters, due to vegetation decay leaching into the water
  • A darkly stained, transparent and acidic water that resembles my favorite morning bevy (minus the cup of milk I dump in it) - black coffee 


Patrice also explained that the Gatineau was used as a logging river for years and logs would often sink to the bottom, and that was where the tannins heavy water developed. Which of course made me think of the classic Log Driver’s Waltz animation, because all Canadian children of the 80s know this film, and it’s still a must see in my opinion! 


The next day there as more swimming, or really more jumping. And I got to see the blackwater more closely in the daylight. It was still incredibly dark! You could barely seen your toes looking down while tredding water! Incredible! Later that evening we went skinny dipping, because guys, that water feels like SILK! I know I’ve already said it a million times! But I had to feel it once against naked skin, and it was amazing.


On our final day, I pulled out the GoPro loaned to me by my brother. A tiny technological dinosaur now, compared to newer models. No viewfinder and low low res. But it was apparently waterproof and I was dying to try taking photos underwater! The photos in this post are the result of that sunny day photo shoot. They are haunting and surreal and I love them all! And they almost capture the mysterious and decadent swims we had that weekend. Almost. My memories though, have these moments locked up safe in my watery heart for life.


Bonus note, turns out I have been swimming in tannin rich waters once before at a most wonderful Shebeshekong Bay, and it too possesses the same silky texture, though maybe not as dark.

Either swimming hole though, is a win! 

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  1. hi there, just found your blog and am going to do some back reading.
    we are just coming into our warmer weather (first day of spring today actually) and i can't wait to be in the water without a wet suit...


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