Buckman Pool and Pro-Rating One’s Life

As many of you know, I have taken up water walking (um, aqua exercising?) to slow down the progression of my right hip toward a  replacement. I exercise at Buckman pool, located in the basement of a fine old brick elementary school in our neighborhood.

Water walking is exactly what it sounds like, which is why I can’t claim aqua “exercising”. I just walk, or tread water, with a foam belt that keeps me upright, for 45 minutes, 3 days a week. I do so at 8 AM, which means I am not exactly awake and so the warm meditation of water immersion is just right. Jer drives me there, before coffee, which provides a serious commitment to get the whole thing over with. Then I walk home, stopping for coffee at the perfectly located King Harvest coffee shop.

Buckman Pool does not have an enticing exterior:

The school in which it is located is about 90 years old and it’s generally a charming space — big high windows, welcoming front lawns and entrance steps and columns — one of those grand public spaces they used to build.

The pool, on the other hand, is small and a bit tawdry.  But I have come to love it.

It was “renovated,” a trifle, in 2006 or so, and because Buckman is an arts magnet school, mosaic murals decorate the walls of the pool proper.

The pool has only four lanes and the water is kept between 82 and 85 degrees; it is definitely not Olympic sized (takes 40 laps to equal a mile). But for the water walker these features are virtues. The pool’s characteristics eliminate most serious lap swimmers — no grading of lanes as fast, medium,or slow, too many turns to complete the mileage smoothly, and much too hot for the hard-working athlete.  That means it’s pretty empty, particularly early in the morning.

The life guards are college students, accustomed to odd neighborhood exercisers, and totally unjudgmental. I find their presence charming.  The showers can be adjusted in temperature, a feature not generally found in other public swimming pools, where the shower temps as well as the pool temps tend to be carefully controlled — at just a bit too cold for comfort.

I don’t swim because chlorine turns my hair to straw and the swimming kick makes the hip hurt.  So I walk in the water at this tiny, old, slightly musty pool, with its spalling walls and cracked concrete floor.

This morning, as I wandered weightless up and down, I realized that this part of my life was, to use an unlikely  metaphor, about “pro-rating.”  I used to exercise toward a goal and regarded movement as forwarding a cause — getting faster at the ten-K, finishing the marathon, making it across the mighty Columbia without disgrace, or losing weight. And so when first I started the W.W. I parsed out my days — 30 minutes on Monday, 60 on Wednesday, interval training on Thursday, 45 minutes on Tuesday and Friday. Weekends off.

But gradually I realized that I don’t need or want to get faster — time will pass at the same speed regardless of whether I do sprints or move languidly. A little speed will do my heart and lungs some good, but there’s no point in pushing to regain my maidenly figure. I’m not going to win my age group in the triathlon; I’m not going anywhere at all. All I’m moving for is to keep the muscles and tendons alert to their duties of holding back the bone from grinding into the other bone.

And so, I thought, what a privilege to be able to go to a warm place, be greeted by a pleasant young thing, shower in hot showers,  immerse oneself in 85 degree water, and meditate while moving one’s arms and feet for a half hour or so.

It’s wholly different from score keeping and goal-pushing. It seemed, as I meandered in my lane this morning, that I had recalibrated, moved to another phase. As we (those of us fortunate enough to have decent health care and middle class lives) live longer, we also have to learn to live differently. Our incomes aren’t going to rise; we will not become VP of sales or CEO of human resources; our times on the ten-K aren’t going to improve; we aren’t going to converse on Oprah or show at MOMA.

And so we pro-rate, figuring out how to smooth out the rest of our days —  fewer goals to pursue, fewer hopes to entertain in the dark of the night, fewer ambitions to fling ourselves at. It’s enough, perhaps, to go to dinner with friends who are thoughtful and funny and dear; to spend a bit of chatter time with one’s beloved and busy daughter; to have an occasional exhibiting presence in our own little city; to be aided in various endeavors by one’s beloved grandchild; to spend 45 minutes of one’s morning, before coffee, moving one’s limbs meditatively about in the amniotic fluid of Buckman Pool.

Long may these tiny pleasures exist; may they be pro-rated over the next 20 years or so.  It is a joy and a privilege to have access to this kind of amenity. It’s something my parents never had; I only hope we can keep the same possibilities for the later lives of our children and grandchildren. –June

The Coming Dark, 72 x 48, quilted textile, about 1997

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17 Responses to Buckman Pool and Pro-Rating One’s Life

  1. Birgit says:

    June, the answer to my question that I got from reading your post is ‘scheduling’.

    This morning I resumed my early walk up our Empire Bluff trail, watching a scarlet tanager and towhee, chasing away deer and smelling the fragrance of linden trees. I came back with more courage to wrestle with a challenging aspect of my current painting.

    With respect to the other topic in your post, I too am kinder to my body now than I was as a young woman. It helps that I recently found a much better osteopath who figured out what of within me needed loosening.

    When I am happy, I am not just thinking of maintenance or slowing down frailty of my body but instead of improving my mind, my mindfulness.

    Love, b


  2. June says:

    Reva, Watsu sounds quite wonderful — as you say — even more waft than walk. Of course, it might require interaction with another human being, which I’m not really good at before 10 AM. There would have to be rules: No Talking! No Discussions of positionings! Just waft and pull.

    Alas, I suspect the Buckman Pool has not organized itself in this feckless endeavor, yet. It would take too much effort


  3. June says:

    Sheila, I couldn’t find the photo — I suspect Jer didn’t include it in his family album, not recognizing the historic importance of the image –snort —

    Reva, Thanks for the comment. I think you’d like water walking — amniotic fluid, back to the womb, all that California woo-woo…. (Maybe I need another –snort — here?)


    • Yep, another snort should be inserted….just as long as it isn’t a snort of water! EEEEWWW burny nose!!!


    • Reva says:

      Speaking of California woo-woo, I once tried watsu (Google it). Sounds like what you describe but without even the effort of walking. Well, you do have to move under your own power a little, but it’s more like water-wafting.


  4. Reva says:

    Lovely post, June. Your attitude — if not the water-walking experience per se — resonates with me.


  5. Sheila says:

    Would love to see THAT picture, June! You’ve reminded me of another thing about my childhood – the fact that my mother refused to let me join my friends swimming in the North Fork River. She was terrified of it sweeping me away, and in truth, it could be dangerous. But of course, I felt the martyr that I never got to go tubing with the gang.


  6. june says:

    Sheila, your high school pools sound very much like the kind of thing we were brought up with. However, summers in central PA were hot and humid, so swimming in Pine Creek or even (if our parents didn’t know) in the oh-so-polluted Susquehanna was sheer delight. One sign of being one of the “big kids” was being able to swim to the “drop-off” — a place where the stream sent from knee height to about ten feet deep. The importance of the drop-off was that you weren’t allowed to use the rope to swing out from the railroad embankment tree and fly into the water (or cannonball into it, depending) unless you could swim to the drop-off. It was definitely a rite of passage. I even have a photo of my ever-so-young self, flying off that rope into the water. Nary a lifeguard in sight. Except for our quite young mothers, of course.


  7. june says:

    Martha, thank you. I think my brain never ceases, even when nothing else is working. And once in a while I can move the “stuff” from my brain onto paper — it’s miraculous. Thanks for checking in.


  8. june says:

    Lisa, I always do the water walking in the deep end of the pool because something about moving through water while touching the concrete bottom hurts my hip. So perhaps this would work for you. You can move very gently and still receive some benefit.

    Getting in and out of the pool (not to mention the showers and dressing) however, could be more problematic. The warm pool (not for serious swimmers) too is important for me.

    I hope you find some way to pro-rate.


  9. Sheila says:

    My, that IS a charming space. But really, never exhibit at MOMA? Not sure I’d rule that out yet! vbg I’m younger than you June, but I’d already figured out I was done with this competitive thing when I moved here to Sandpoint. Yes, I still toy with the idea of winning some award or being honored in some way, but really, I am very happy going at a slower pace and just enjoying life with a minimum of achiever goals.

    The old high school in Wallace had a swimming pool in the basement, I understand. By the time I was old enough to be aware of the building, the upper story classrooms were no longer being used, just the first floor gym and locker rooms for P.E. classes & possibly the pool. By the time I was in junior high, I don’t think the pool was being used at all, and shortly after I graduated from high school, they condemned the whole building, not just the upper stories and tore it down. So my only pool experience was with the city’s outdoor pool. As you can imagine, in northern Idaho, the season was rather short and I practically lived there when it was open – afternoon’s only. One summer someone thought it’d be a great idea for me to join the swim team which practiced in the mornings. Oh, brrrr. Even on the hottest of days, it was mighty chilly standing there wet by the side of the pool at 9:00 a.m.

    So now I live by a lake and still have that brrr, it’s a little nippy attitude about swimming. Has to be pretty darn warm for me to brave it, and I find I like my indoor pools toasty as well. I think I would like the water walking for exercise.


  10. Martha Ginn says:

    How thought-provoking to be aware of how we need to analyze our abilities and activities and continue to find meaning in our lives. I am having a good recovery from a L total knee replacement 2 months ago, and it has made me all the more aware of the aging process and how we need to face the necessary changes. I admire your dedication to the water walking and particularly in putting your brain to work during this sometimes mindless activity.


  11. Great post! I’ve been told to start water walking as well because the cancer in my pelvis is making it almost impossible to walk. I’ve been a bit frightened to start because I actually fractured my pelvis while doing water aerobics…

    I love your thoughts on the “pro-rating.” Well done!

    Lisa Quintana


  12. Lia says:

    I bet your pool is ~22-25 yards long and the laps are there-and-back. 5280 divided by 3 is 1760 yards, divided by 25 is 70 and some change (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve repeated this arithmetic in my head while swimming laps). If you want to be sure to swim at least a mile, you must do 71 lengths of the pool– but then you’re stuck on the wrong side, so this must be why 72 lengths (36 laps) is the standard mile for a 25 yard pool. But you’re right– 45 minutes is 45 minutes no matter how fast or slow you go!


  13. june says:

    Or maybe in college pools, 32 laps (there and back) equaled 1 mile — I sort of remember thinking that 1/2 mile was 16 laps, which seemed to take forever.

    Moving from lap swimming to water walking was a revelation about time, because it doesn’t matter how hard or easy you take the water walking, 45 minutes is 45 minutes. On the other hand (or contrari-wise, perhaps) the quality of the contemplation makes 45 minutes seem like nothing — or forever:-)


  14. june says:

    My “lap” counting is, I think, there and back; the sign on the pool wall says 40 laps = 1 mile. And in fact, the large pools (mostly at colleges) where I’ve swum, 36 “laps” equal one mile.

    This pool probably looks shorter because it’s sort of squarish, only having 4 lanes:-) I never swam in pools until college; our high school and town had no such amenity, so rivers were my water element. I loved going swimming on hot July days in central Pennsylvania. I always had a terrible style, having taught myself, but the feel stuck with me.


  15. Lia says:

    ah! so true, so true. I like your little pool very much. Maybe it’s because I grew up where and when I did, but I have swum in so many pools that are dark and dingy that this one is quite nice by comparison. Are you counting there-and-back as a “lap”? That’s how I was taught as a 6-year-old at the Y. Upon being forced (ahem, against my will!) to join the local competitive swim team a few years later, I quickly learned that in competitive swimming lingo, a “lap” is just one length of the pool. Most competition pools are 25 yards (25 meters these days), so 40 “laps” would be 1,000 yards… or about 72 to a mile! Can you tell I’ve spent too much time going back and forth?


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