Libby Clark lives by the bay in Provincetown’s West End. Most days, if the tide allows and it isn’t the dead of winter, she goes for a long swim to Long Point. Out in the middle, she’s immersed in the life of the bay. Here’s Libby in her words.
I have always been completely fascinated by water. My parents were huge ocean lovers. They basically threw my brother, my sister, and I in the ocean and said, “Have fun and figure it out.” You couldn’t keep me out of the water. It’s funny, I remember as a kid seeing big puddles and thinking, Is that something I could swim in?
There was a long period in my life, in high school and college, when I didn’t swim, but when I moved to New York, I started swimming more. I discovered the more I swam, the more I needed it.
There’s something really special about swimming here in Provincetown. I swim from my beach next to the Red Inn, along the jetty, and across to Long Point. Most people swim along the other side of the jetty by the marshes. It’s beautiful, and I occasionally swim there, but it’s almost too claustrophobic for me. I swim on the left side of the jetty, which is wide open. It just feels wilder and freer to me.
I know sharks are there. And there are other risks. If you get a cramp, and you’re out in the middle of the bay, that can be really, really scary. There have been times when I was sort of a beginner, and I was determined to swim when it was cold water. I got a heavy wet suit, and I started going. I got so into it that when I looked up, I was really far out. And that’s when I realized, Hold on a second, I gotta get back! This was a little bit dangerous because I started to get colder and colder and colder.
I get to the beach, and I stand, and I look out at the water. First, I check to see what the boat situation is, because honestly on that side, the boat situation can be a little bit more dangerous than the shark situation. I walk into the bay and check the temperature. I’m putting on my gear. I always have a buoy around my waist. I have a bright colored cap. I put my earplugs in and adjust my goggles. And then, there’s a moment when you think, Oh God, how am I gonna do this? And then there’s a moment when I think, Oh my God, I can’t wait to do this!
As a kid I had terrible anxiety. When I was in school, I agonized over an essay. I was so anxious that I could write the first sentence, but how do I get all of the middle, so I can get to the end?
When I’m swimming, I don’t think about the end. Being in the middle, or being in the swim, is exhilarating and calming all at the same time. I think it’s being in your body. There’s something very soothing and methodical about the rhythm. My thoughts can go kind of in and out. I’m looking at nature, I’m looking at the crabs. I’m feeling the jellyfish, and it’s all about being in that moment, stroke by stroke by stroke. You’re in with the currents. So, you’re feeling the whole being of the bay. Sometimes, I just stop and look around and realize that I’m this tiny little speck out in the middle of the bay. It’s incredibly beautiful. Am I any different than the jellyfish that’s floating along there? It’s the same thing.
Sometimes it’s peaceful. I feel at ease and I’m gliding. And even sometimes when it’s wavy, there’s peace in the struggle. There are days when I push myself really hard. I get into a complete zone. I am in this moment: I’m in the middle, and I can stay in the middle, and I can work through the middle to get to the other end and feel amazing.
When the current’s strong, I have to respect it and swim with the current and not try to force it so much. There are days when I come in after swimming for an hour and a half, which is a long time, and feel powerful that I worked with nature, and I worked with the water, and had this amazing journey.
When I come out of the water, if it’s a long swim, I slowly take off one ear plug and the next ear plug. And I usually turn around and look at where I just was. There’s a moment when I sit there in shallow water, or float, and take it all in. When I get back to my cottage, I take off my wet suit, jump into a hot, soothing shower, have a great cup of coffee, and get on with my day.
I’m 65. I hope I can swim forever. I want to swim every season. I want to swim every day. There are days when I take a day off, but I have to be really tired to do that, because if I don’t swim, I’m a little edgy and a little cranky and, you know, I don’t want to miss out.
I’ve said to people, you know, God forbid I’m out in the middle of that bay and have a heart attack. If that’s where I go, that’s where I go. And that’s where I’m meant to go. And that’s the most beautiful place I could imagine ever, you know, leaving this Earth.