Short Stories by Pat Nelson

Safe Swimming


July 2013
By Pat Nelson - Reprinted with permission

This time of year, I enjoy watching swimmers, boaters and stand-up paddle-boarders from my home on Woodland's Horseshoe Lake.

I, too, love to swim in the lake. As a child, I learned to swim in lakes and streams, and later took lessons in pools. Some friends say, "I don't like to swim where I can't touch bottom," but that never bothered me because I had learned to swim where the bottom was irregular and the depth varied from one spot to another. For those who learn in pools, the varying depths of a lake or stream can be frightening.

I learned to respect the water and to know that, even though swimming brings me joy, there is always potential for tragedy. My children learned to swim at a young age and grew up enjoying the family cabin on a lake near Shelton. They always wore lifejackets—their "boat coats"— when they went outside to play. I knew that if I turned my back for a moment, my children might wander into the water and be in danger. And even though they often played in the water on inflatables, I knew that inflatables could pop and that they were not substitutes for life jackets.

Click to enlargeMany years later, my husband, Bob, and I looked for a place to live on the water, and we chose Horseshoe Lake. By then, we had grandchildren, and as my children had done when they were young, the grandchildren wore their "boat coats" when they went outside to play. At age five, my grandson, Max, wanted to swim across the lake with me. He wore a lifejacket. I swam alongside him and my husband drove the boat next to us in case either of us needed to rest. We enjoyed swimming across the lake, but we did so safely.

Every hot summer day, my husband and I watch swimmers cross the lake from the park to the docks on the opposite shore. We keep an eye on the swimmers, with our boat keys handy, because we know peer pressure pushes some beyond their ability. Sometimes swimmers reach the opposite shore too tired to return to the park. Or, on windy days, we watch as inflatable floats and toys blow end-over- end toward the east end of the lake, their owners swimming frantically after them. The toys always travel faster than their owners, often luring swimmers to go farther across the lake than they are safely able to swim. Inflatables usually blow to the far end of the lake near the freeway, where swimmers can easily walk the trail at the end of the lake to retrieve them from shore.

I like to make the round-trip swimming from one side of the lake to the other, but my husband, a weak swimmer, always urges me to swim safely, even when I feel I could swim forever. That's why he bought me a buoyant yellow boat bumper. I hook my arm through the rope and take the boat bumper with me across the lake. That allows me to swim freely, but still to have a flotation device with me if I need it.

Click to enlargeI've noticed that swimmers like to swim to a goal. Many swim across the lake from the park, making the opposite shore their goal. That can be dangerous for a weak swimmer or even a strong swimmer who runs into trouble. When swimming at Horseshoe Lake, I sometimes choose a goal that is down the shoreline rather than across the lake, allowing me to swim a long distance while remaining close to shore.

Click to enlargeThe fire department provides a stand for loaner lifejackets at the Horseshoe Lake boat launch. However, borrowers don't always return the lifejackets, and the fire department must secure grants to replace the jackets. Sadly, during hot days this July, no life jackets hung on the rack. A life jacket can only keep a swimmer safe when it is available and when the swimmer wears it. Seeing that there were no life jackets available for swimmers to borrow, my husband and I gathered spares from our house. We delivered them to Bryan Borrelli at the Woodland fire station, 100 Davidson Avenue, where they can be examined, labeled, and placed on the rack. If you have spare life jackets, make a donation to the Woodland fire department and keep swimmers safe.

Water requires respect. It is fun when everyone plays safely. A life jacket or a spotter alongside in a boat can save a life and save the day.

Bio: Pat Nelson, writer and editor, is co-creator of three humorous and sometimes edgy anthologies: Not Your Mother's Books: On Parenting (publication date September 10, 2013), On Grandparenting and On Working for a Living (both still accepting stories at Nelson blogs at and her stories appear at

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