There Is Perfect Peace

Thom Gunn (1929 – 2004)

Happiness is impossible, and even inconceivable, to a mind without scope and without pause, a mind driven by craving, pleasure, or fear. To be happy, you must be reasonable, or you must be tamed. You must have taken the measure of your powers, tasted the fruits of your passion, and learned your place in the world and what things in it can really serve you. To be happy, you must be wise.

George Santayana

Mont Brevent

by George Santayana (1863 – 1952)

O dweller in the valley, lift thine eyes
To where, above the drift of cloud, the stone
Endures in silence, and to God alone
Upturns its furrowed visage, and is wise.
There yet is being, far from all that dies,
And beauty where no mortal maketh moan,
Where larger planets swim the liquid zone,
And wider spaces stretch to calmer skies.
Only a little way above the plain
Is snow eternal. Round the mountain’s knees
Hovers the fury of the wind and rain.
Look up, and teach thy noble heart to cease
From endless labour. There is perfect peace
Only a little way above thy pain.


We are at day 23 this summer of days over 90 degrees by end of July, which for central Minnesota is trending towards shattering the record for a season.  My partner and I have found our new swimming lake and are trying to get a swim in each night as the sun is going down to relax and cool off, before heading back to a farm house without air conditioning.   Although we may someday install air conditioning, there is something about the lack of it that brings us both back to our childhoods, where keeping windows closed during the day and opening them at night with a small fan circulating the evenings cool air, that feels energy efficient and familiar at the same time.   Yes, there is a bit more sweat on the sheets some nights and a bit of tossing and turning, but as a Minnesotan that also needs to prepare for -10 to -20 F some night this winter, I see it as my bodies need to store some of that latent heat deep in my bones so that I can call upon it when faced with sub zero temperatures. 

I don’t know if I can explain the joy of swimming in clean, clear fresh water, its softness, its crystal embrace.  There is no other feeling like when you dive head first into clear water in a lake just cold enough to refresh and yet warm enough to be comfortable.  Swimming in fresh water is so different than swimming in the ocean.  It smells different, tastes different, feels different.  Our new favorite swimming lake has a great city park that is not too crowded, and yet part of the fun is there are others there sharing the lake with us.  Most nights we get there about 8:00 pm, and there are several groups of families speaking multiple languages, taking their kids down for a dip in the evening before bed.   The scene in the evening are toddlers all the way up through teenagers frolicking in the shallows of the sandy beach up to their waist, throwing balls or wrestling, each age group with its own rituals of rough housing and play, while older kids and adults take out paddle boards and kayaks or swim, like we do each night, out into the middle of the lake and back.  Our goal is to swim as many nights as possible the next 2 weeks, each night going a little farther and farther out into the lake, until one night we will swim all the way across it.  It’s not a small lake and more than once as we return we get comments from fellow beach goers about how far out we swim each night.  We swim close to each other, but not on top of each other, keeping an eye out for the other, but letting each take their own pace, letting the silence of the water cleanse our minds and bodies.  There is a family of loons, one juvenile and its parents, that are frequent companions on these swims, diving for fish and swimming close enough we can observe their behavior, their calls of joy punctuating the silence now and again, a sound that connects us to past summer’s swims on lakes far more remote than this one that takes us back in time and connects it to the present.   If you haven’t swam recently in a clear, cool lake, particularly one with a loon calling as you swim, seek it out, and get out and dive in sometime in August.  Find water worthy of protecting the unique experience, find your own swimming perfection.

From the Wave

By Thom Gunn

It mounts at sea, a concave wall
     Down-ribbed with shine,
And pushes forward, building tall
     Its steep incline.

Then from their hiding rise to sight
     Black shapes on boards
Bearing before the fringe of white
     It mottles towards.

Their pale feet curl, they poise their weight
     With a learn’d skill.
It is the wave they imitate
     Keeps them so still.

The marbling bodies have become
     Half wave, half men,
Grafted it seems by feet of foam
     Some seconds, then,

Late as they can, they slice the face
     In timed procession:
Balance is triumph in this place,
     Triumph possession.

The mindless heave of which they rode
     A fluid shelf
Breaks as they leave it, falls and, slowed,
     Loses itself.

Clear, the sheathed bodies slick as seals
     Loosen and tingle;
And by the board the bare foot feels
     The suck of shingle.

They paddle in the shallows still;
     Two splash each other;
Then all swim out to wait until
     The right waves gather.