Skinny Dip

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Skinny Dip

We had all trekked down to the rock that formed the upper ridge of Skinny Dip. It was our day off, and with this crew in Yosemite, that meant either hiking up something or jumping off something. And because I prefer the slow, steady pace of a climb to the wild abandon of free fall, these days of collective planning—which inevitably followed the whims of the more adventuresome members of the group—were sometimes cause for minor apprehension.

This particular summer I was 18 years old and had returned to Bass Lake outside of Yosemite, where I had spent every July from the age of 8 onward. The kids that grew up with me at this particular camp had formed a strange kind of family over the years. We had known each other for so long, and in the most intimate of ways…without electricity, sleeping under the stars, lazing around the docks, sneaking across the poorly-enforced border between boys’ camp and girls’. We were a hodgepodge of friends that shared this enchanted place and then left it behind every year to return to our normal lives. On this day, a group of us had set off in search of the swimming hole called Skinny Dip, which, at the time, was a well-kept secret among locals. I had never been there, but the name conjured images of water nymphs and bronzed, bare bodies, and so onward we went.

The thing about Skinny Dip is that the rock curves out and falls away into the swimming hole below. In order to get into the water, you have to run down the slope of granite as it tilts downward in a steep arc. At just the right place, you must leap off the rock and let your body fall into the cold, green water pooling at the base of the waterfall below. If you undershoot it, you hit the rock. If you overshoot it, you risk crashing into the upper rim of the next pool down. The hole was small, and timing had to be just right. Now, for many people, Skinny Dip is a no-brainer. It’s hardly a ten on the scale of difficult jumps. But for those of us who have found ourselves on a ledge of earth, peering down into water that seems impossibly distant, trying to summon some reserve of courage as others impatiently wait their turns, we know a jump is never a simple affair. And Skinny Dip seemed even more daunting because you couldn’t totally assess the situation from above. You kinda had to just do it and find out how the whole thing went down while already in the air.

As one friend after the next scurried down the rock and leapt off into the hole, I made the grave mistake of sitting down to calculate my route. What I have since learned is that, when movement requires the swiftness of action, rather than the quiet of contemplation, the last thing you want to do is sit down and map it all out. I did eventually jump off the rock. And it was the strangest experience because I had been sitting there for at least an hour. I couldn’t stand up because I wasn’t ready to jump, but at the same time, I certainly wasn’t going to turn back. A friend of mine had sat down next to me. She knew that, for me, it had turned into something much bigger than jumping off a stupid rock. She told me that none of it mattered, that whether I did or did not jump, it would make no difference to anyone at all. No one cared. Of course, she had already done it, naked a few times, although she, too, had been hesitant at first. When I finally did leap into Skinny Dip, she was in mid-sentence, telling me something comforting. But in that moment, she simply faded into the background. I could hear her voice, but I was off and running.

The whole experience at Skinny Dip must have lasted not more than a few hours. We were in and out before dark, and most of the people in our crew probably wouldn’t remember the afternoon all these years later. But it stays with me, I think, because it is indicative of so many things that tend to recur in my life and in the lives of people I know. There is something about this tension between action and thought, between trusting the body and the interventions of the mind. Over the last few months, I have spoken with so many people who are trying to do things—big things—in their lives…business things, personal things, make changes, earn more money, find more love. We talk and talk and talk about these things, we plan them out, to the extent that there is something to plan. We then sit with it, think on it some more, discuss it again, and the whole process repeats ad nauseum. There is a loop that people get stuck in, and it has something to do with the protective measures of thought, the failure to just DO, to risk it, to leap. I am a very measured person. I think things out. I strategize. I make lists and I make plans. I am not saying that these things are bad or wrong or foolish. But they can be limiting. I don’t know how to tell someone to take more risks, to be more free, to jump when fear blocks forward momentum. I’m in no position to advise, as I can hardly ensure these things for myself. But I did feel it at Skinny Dip and many times since then, that liberation, the feeling that takes over when caution falls away and pure action, pure movement is all that is left. For me, the best of life transpires there, and I beckon those moments, as daunting as they may sometimes be.

-Jacqueline Abrams

3 Comments On This Topic
  1. Sara posted
    November 12, 2012 at 11:49 am

    I remember that day and I remember when you got up and took action at a moment when I though you were still contemplating the jump. I love how you made it relevant to your life today and the “loop” that many get stuck in (including myself). There is a lot to learn from this post.

    • Jacqueline Abrams posted
      November 12, 2012 at 11:56 am

      Ha, Sara! You just blew your cover as the naked jumper that day! :)

  2. Kristen posted
    November 25, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    Love the connection. And you are so right, sometimes you just have to DO.

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