Postcards from Katherine

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Postcard #38, From Canmore: Public Immersion


Canmore has several churches, but only one cathedral.  That cathedral is called Elevation Place.  It is the town’s recreation centre. I go there most mornings. You can get coffee, swim lengths, borrow a library book, leave your baby with a minder, take a spin class or climb a wall. I go to aquafit.

First I shower in front of a sign reading “Please wear bathing suit while showering due to visibility from pool deck.” Then I scurry onto the deck in a black bathing suit. It’s a bit of a performance, and there is nowhere to hide a flawed body.

At the stairs, I drop to my neck under the water. I like its pale turquoise and the way it refracts the light: my body becomes a Cubist painting. Other members of the class are here; I count twenty bobbing heads. Right on the minute the Beatles song starts: “O Bla Di O  Bla da Life goes on, boy, la la la la life goes on.”

Does life go on?  We believe it will, possibly forever, especially if we work out. The instructor displays her dance moves as we warm up. It’s Christmas but we’re not singing carols. We get more 60’s songs:  “When the night has come, and the land is dark, and the moon is the only light we’ll see. No I won’t be afraid, no I won’t be afraid, just as long as you stand, stand by me.”

I twist to look at the towering windows. They face south-east into whitened mountains and a few lines of cloud turned pink by a sun that has yet to breach the horizon. When it does, at 9.22 am, pearly winter light bowls along the water’s surface, glinting off the chop we stir up with our underwater karate kicks.

Water is the great equalizer. You can dance in it if you are young or very old, thin or very heavy, if you are great with child or have had a hip replacement. You can come to the pool in your wheelchair or on your walker. If you’re deaf it’s not bad either because no one else can hear anything anyway, what with the high ceilings, the scratchy recordings and the splashing. You just follow along.

We do tucks and kicks and barbell push-ups, with intense focus. Imitating cross-country skiers, we swing our arms to “Going to the Chapel and we’re going to get ma- a-ar-ied …And we'll never be lonely anymore.”

At the pool I almost believe it’s true.  The admonishing signs—Caution! No Diving!—offer certain knowledge that someone other than the lifeguard in the orange vest watches over us. If all else fails there is a Duress button. Duress: such a curious word. It means threat of violence, coercion. Surely there’s none of that here. But whatever happens, help will come.

After class we repair to a hot tub built to hold twenty-five souls, where I hear what is going on in town. We could be outside snowshoeing but it’s minus eighteen. Besides, there is a blessing in public immersion in hot water. Mountain dwellers know this. The Japanese know this. If the hot springs cool down, you make your own.

Or I might lie back in the lazy river and be swept along with the current. From this vantage point mankind seems benevolent. Fathers and grandfathers bounce little boys in their arms. The giant bucket overhead fills with water and then, slowly, majestically, overflows and dumps, making everyone nearby squeal.

Built on waste ground where a railroad roundhouse once made the earth toxic, Elevation Place is virtuous in all its being. We want to be that too, at least for this hour, in the morning, in the depth of winter, at the temple of the body.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to everyone.


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