Maine winter swimming is as close as the nearest indoor pool

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Swimming and snorkeling are my favorite parts of living on a Maine pond. I am in the water as early as possible. Last year, April 22 was ice out day. I was in the water mid-May. My last day in the pond was September 30.

Sharing the swimming/snorkeling experience with grandkids is also rewarding. Eileen and I call our collective kid swimmers the Camp Marlene Dive Team. Connor, Will, Brandon, Wyatt, and Grafton. All these kids spent time under the water here, looking through swim masks at fish around rock piles, painted and snapping turtles, or picking golf balls off the pond floor.

But the key Camp Marlene Dive Team mission is helping kids learn to swim, to respect the water while not being afraid to get in and enjoy the water.

Every year, each fall day’s water smoke removes a little water heat. A sunny, warm fall day can add back some heat, but sooner or later, time wins. The sun rises and — oh no! — there’s a thin layer of ice near the western shoreline’s shallow water.

At first, the afternoon sun melts the ice.

Then one morning all my pond swimming/snorkeling/exploring opportunities are completely iced.

Before long the frozen pond is beneath snow. A few snowmobilers zip across the pond sometimes, not often. It’s the same with ice fishermen. Before the first snowfall, some families on the pond drilled a half dozen holes with ice augers, fished for awhile, went home, and never returned.

I cross-country ski and snowshoe on the pond — usually following snowmobile tracks. (If the snowmobile doesn’t break through the snow and ice, chances are I won’t either.)

All that’s fun, good exercise, a unique way to experience the pond, the weather, the sights and sounds of bright, crisp, icy cold days.

But it’s not swimming.

Last year, five-year-old Grafton — our most consistent Camp Marlene Dive Team member — and I, followed Eileen’s Maine winter alternative swimming suggestion: indoor swimming pools.

Reluctant at first, the motel/hotel pools are working out fine. Six to 10 dollars buys us two hours swimming. Grafton and I fill a large bag with towels, snorkels, swim masks, a Paw Patrol flotation vest, assorted snacks. We’ve visited three different pool facilities, each with good and not-so-good points.

Two hours is sufficient to practice swimming lessons, as well as to just enjoy ourselves in the water. Call it informal swimming lessons.

I am amazed at how comfortable Grafton is swimming with a mask and breathing through a snorkel. Without the mask/snorkel he really needs his Paw Patrol vest for swimming. With the mask/snorkel he cruises through the water, prone, mask in the water, very comfortable.

Last Friday at a pool, Grafton discovered swim fins.

My rules for swimming with Grafton? I never surprise him. For example, he likes to run and jump into the water and have me catch him. To get Grafton used to going underwater, every third or fourth jump I’d say, “Ok. I’ll stay right here but I’m not going to catch you this time. Next time I will.” Grafton, wearing his flotation device runs, jumps, goes underwater and pops back up, smiling.

When he wants to swim without flotation I’m always nearby, but I let Grafton swim on his own. He knows he can swim to me, or the poolside, or if he gets tired, I’ve got him.

When I have to step away from the pool for a few minutes (aka “bathroom”), Grafton needs to wait out of the pool, wearing his Paw Patrol vest until I return.

So, as I write, looking at snow-covered Bear Mountain across snow-covered Bear Pond — I am of good cheer. Spring is in the air, and Grafton and I have a swim date this afternoon.

Scott K. Fish has served as a communications staffer for Maine Senate and House Republican caucuses, and was communications director for Senate President Kevin Raye. He founded and edited AsMaineGoes.com and served as director of communications/public relations for Maine’s Department of Corrections until 2015. He is now using his communications skills to serve clients in the private sector.

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