A rope swing at Couch Beach in Marshfield, one of the most popular places to swim in the North River.

It was mid-August before I swam in the river this year. It was an unusual summer, weather-wise, but still it’s hard to believe that I let most of the season go by before I remembered to go for a swim. Now I want to make up for lost time.

A friend of mine who grew up in Marshfield but now lives in Los Angeles called last month to let me know that she was coming to town in a few weeks. When I asked what she wanted to do while she was here, swimming in the South River was at the top of her list.

That should have been enough of a nudge for me. It was hot that day, but I had work to do. I assured myself, “Later this week I’ll go for a swim.”

A few days later, another friend e-mailed to arrange a visit. He and his wife and daughter wanted to come down from the city for the day, and if possible, swim in the North River. We made plans for later in the month.

The very next day, I heard from my sister, who lives in the Berkshires. She too was planning a visit. “We haven’t been in the river yet this year,” she remarked.

She was right. And summer was almost over. I turned off my computer and hurried out to my car. It was already 4 p.m., and I had to work later that evening, but I could not wait any longer. My bathing suit and towel were waiting for me; I had put them in the trunk at the beginning of the summer, “just in case” I had an opportunity for a swim.

Since time was a factor, I decided to go to the South River, in the dunes behind Rexhame Beach in Marshfield. After all, it was on my way home, more or less. The tide was going out, and I knew the water level would be low – deep enough to cool me off, but not so deep that I would be concerned for my safety while swimming alone.

I could smell the river before I could see it. An earthy scent — part salty, part fresh. Not the sulfur stink of the marsh, nor the briny odor of the ocean, but something much more subtle and satisfying to my soul. I wanted to run toward the water. It felt like going home.

I waded into the river. It was very shallow, probably no more than three and a half feet deep at the center of the channel. A soft but steady breeze was blowing downstream, so when I stood and faced the current, both the wind and the water were flowing toward me. The marsh was still green, as was the dune grass.

I had to bend my knees and practically sit down in order to get my shoulders into the water. Crabs scuttled around my ankles. The occasional fish brushed up against me. I lifted my feet so I could float on my back, and gaze up at the clear blue sky.

“This is what summer is all about,” I thought.

The North and South Rivers are where I feel most in tune with my spiritual self. I only discovered the rivers when I was sixteen. All along I knew they were there – but they didn’t matter to me until I began searching for some meaning in my life. I looked far and wide, but ended up just a couple miles from where I grew up. I imagine that the way I feel when I’m at the North or South River is similar to the way other people feel when they enter a church or some other holy place. I feel supported; fulfilled.

In “The Unforeseen Wilderness” Wendell Berry writes “the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, … by which we arrive at the ground at our feet, and learn to be at home.”

I‘ve gone to the river several more times this summer, sometimes by myself, sometimes with friends. The water will stay warm through most of September, so there are more trips on the horizon. But perhaps next year I’ll begin my swimming season in June.

By Kezia Bacon-Bernstein, Correspondent
August 2004

Kezia Bacon-Bernstein’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168.