Finding a vocabulary, with which to write about experiencing seas, oceans, waves, and water is a tricky business. I’m not one for coining new terms, so I find myself working with the words that we have to convey what I see and feel, and the effects of the world I’m immersed in. Some words come easily and are used by many – glide, float, immerse, entangle, joy, wonder, elation, booming, surging, fear, terror, towering, drift, crystal, murky, foam, sparkle. But others are elusive and take time to put your finger on. It took me months of swimming, observation, filming, and consideration to find how to describe the ‘nets of light’ that ‘cast across the sea floor’, and the ‘rays that chase each other through the currents’, so that ‘the light tells the stories of the water itself’.
This week I was gifted a new word, one that I didn’t realise was such a huge lack; effervescent.
This familiar word, most often used to describe drinks or someone’s character, it was used by my friend Paula to describe the texture and feeling of the water. On that day, we were swimming through the breaking waves the whole way, when usually we would find a way behind them. This meant the water never settled to be clear, instead fizzing with energy. The current was fast and everything felt alive and energetic. “It’s so effervescent”, my friend proclaimed as we stopped for a moment, part way across the bay, surrounded by whitewash, bubbles and turbulence. The word sparkled in my mind, revealing this gap in my ocean vocabulary, and making clear to me how important effervescence has always been to the joy I find in swimming.
I could feel it once she’d said it – it was the perfect word for the atmosphere that day, the sensation of bubbles against my skin, and the enlivening effect these were having. After that, the pleasure of the effervescence was all I could notice. In the always moving sea, bubbles are floating, rising and bursting all around us. They’re more pronounced on a day of surf, but still, they’re always there. As well as the waves that crash, they tell stories of the movements of the people and animals around us. They’re part of the atmosphere of the swim – the interactions of air and water – and part of how I understand my proximity to the conditions and to others.
They’re also energising.
As I swam through the surf, I thought about the pool I swim in, and the clouds of bubbles that are a particular pleasure about swimming there too. In the tiles at the bottom of Lane 5, you swim over vents that aerate the still, chlorinated water. Swimming laps in that lane means being periodically surrounded by clouds of bubbles erupting from the bottom of the pool and burst against your skin. I love that lane, and the bubbles that make swimming there so much more playful and fun. The sensation of the bubbles tickles and thrills, and, along with the light, brings the chlorinated water life.
In the same pool, in my swim squad that never uses Lane 5, I always notices the clouds of bubbles that come from the kicking feet and exhaled breath of the person in front of me. These pockets of air catch the light and bring more texture the water, and the feel of them on my fingers alerts me if I’m getting to close to the person creating them. There’s intimacy in having the breath of the person in front of you burst against your skin. However they’re formed – by machines or people – I’ve always found delight in bubbles in the pool, and the effect they have on what it’s like to be in the water.
Effervescent! A word that describes a chemical or physical interaction that results in bubbles. That’s what waves and other movements do to the water, and that what swimming in the surf feels like it does to me.
(Thanks to my friend x)