The Warm Spot in the Lake

I am a Midwestern girl who spent her vacations fearfully swimming in the fresh water lakes of the upper peninsula of Michigan.  Bobbing in a boat offshore, the surface water was a rich dark blue, but beneath the color quickly turned to a rusty brown and then inky blackness with rays of light that emanated upwards from a central spot.  In my suburban world, I was accustomed to the chlorination of swimming pools painted a reflective blue, so crystal clear you could call heads or tails on a dime dropped into the deep end.

But swimming in the lake left absolutely everything to the imagination.  Jumping in, your pale white distorted legs below you turned a rottenish shade of brown as they hung above the abyss.  I was most fearful of something touching my legs, whether a stray fish, an odd piece of flotsam, but especially seaweed.  I imagined that seaweed had a cunning strategy to draw me under, perhaps borne of many fishing expeditions where yards of seaweed would entangle a fish or lure.  I shuddered to think of a frond gently stroking my leg, sending me into a thrashing frenzy, which would further entrap and suck me under like quick sand. 

And then of course there was the mysterious warm spot in the lake.  A sudden distinct patch of warmth arriving and then quickly disappearing.  Everyone knew about warm spots, and everyone universally assumed that the person next to you had just peed and that you were swimming in urine.  This theory was probably based on swimming pool experiences, when in the middle of swimming you had to pee, and resisting temptation you ran to the bathroom inside.  Peeling off your clammy and clinging bathing suit, the urine seemed absolutely steaming hot in contrast to your cold skin.  Presumably the same thing happened in the lake.

Even at age 10 or 11, I knew that this theory was ridiculous and that any warmth would be quickly dissipated and could not be sustained beyond a few inches.  But on the other hand, this theory was the most acceptable, because if the warm spot was not of human origin, what was it?  I didn’t want to think about it.

One teenage year we decided to have a sunfish war.  Each sailboat was manned by two people, and the idea was that everyone would chase each other around the lake, and if you got close, one person would leap off the boat and try to board and grapple with the other boat and tip it over by hanging off the mast.  I don’t think that it occurred to anyone to wear a life vest even as we dodged swinging booms and rudders.  This was without a doubt the most dangerous activity you could conceive of, but back then nobody gave it a thought.    This was the 1960s and parents were probably pleased that we were doing something other than engaging in bitter debates or sitting around listening to anti-war songs like the “Eve of Destruction.”  In fact, a sunfish war probably seemed like a splendid alternative to vacation-wrecking debates.

I joined the group headed to the lake, pleased to be included in the first place since I was a marginal player in the social pecking order.  In the best tradition of baby-boomers, I was only 14 months younger than my brother, but he had made it very clear that he did not want his “kid” sister tagging around telling me “there is really nobody your age around here.”

My real coup was partnering with Butch Turner, a massive football player and wrestler who was several years older than my brother.  As I sat on Butch’s boat, I thrilled to the realization that I had leap-frogged past my brother in social standing.   I wanted to take advantage of this extraordinary opportunity and be the best and most fearsome partner.  If a boat came near us, Butch would stand up and extend his arms and flex his muscles in a body building pose, which totally intimated any boarders and grapplers, but it was my job to be the boarder.

When Butch yelled jump as we got near the first boat, I knew not to ask how far, but just leapt.  I never even made it to the target sunfish, which quickly came about and sailed off.  I looked around for our boat, waiting for Butch to rescue me, but he had also sailed off.

I was alone in the middle of the lake literally trying to keep my head above water with a determined dog paddle, suffering the visible ignominy of falling from the tip top of the social ladder to its watery depths.  Butch had sailed off to score a new and improved partner.  I was nothing more than an expendable piece of jetsam.

And then I felt it.  The warm spot folded and drifted around my legs and  I knew that I could no longer maintain the comforting charade that I was swimming in pee.  The additional theory that this was a patch of sun-warmed water had to be discarded since I clearly felt the warmth spreading upwards from below.  Past campfire ghost stories came to mind, of an ethereal white hand emerging from the watery depths, a strange creature from the deep.  I imagined some sort of primordial ooze at the bottom of the lake, releasing a deadly vapor that now had me in its clutches.

The sunfish war had moved off to my right and Butch had disappeared into the melee.  I wondered if anyone would notice my head bobbing about in the tousled waves, but it seemed safest to assume that I was on my own.  I converted my dog paddle to a peculiar backstroke with my legs skimming along the surface and my hands fluttering at my sides like little fish fins, desperate to avoid any grasping seaweed.  I thought about the accompanying cautionary tale about my demise, a story that would live for generations.  “Remember that girl, I don’t know, it must have been 25 or 30 years ago.  She went sailing without a life vest.  Such a tragedy to die of stupidity.”    I began to concoct embellishments, “Poor thing, she got tangled up in seaweed, panicked, couldn’t seem to escape.  It’s hard to believe that seaweed could kill anyone.”

This last scenario seemed a distinct possibility since I would have to cross a seaweed bed to reach shore.  Just then I heard the snap of the sail and Butch’s voice.  “I’m coming around to the left, see if you can grab the boat as I go by.”

He had returned.  I grabbed the gunwale and sloshed back onto the boat.  I was back in business.  “Hey Butch, where do you want me to jump next?”


The missing words in the following poem are all anagrams (i.e. list spot, stop, post).  The number of dashes indicates the number of letters.  One missing word will rhyme with either the previous of following line.  Your job is to figure out the words from the context of the poem.  Scroll down for answers.

The warm spot swirls about my knees like a silky negligee

Then it rises to my —– before it gently slips away.

What is this phenomenon, for years I have been curious to know,

Is it a weird effluvium percolating from the primordial ooze —–?

Or perhaps the —– of pike or bass has let a toasty fart go free

Whatever it is, it just can’t be as prosaic as a patch of human pee.







Answers:  elbow, below, bowel

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