Photo by Julien Haler
Reflection by Peter Karoly

It's February in Michigan and we all know what that means. Spring thaw tease likely, cold weather guaranteed, snowpocalypse 2 on its way, and cabin fever inevitable. As I sit and stare into the back yard, I am struck by the indentation in the lawn. Under that indentation is a swimming pool, waiting for spring as much as I am. If you have never owned an in-ground swimming pool in Michigan, you may not fully understand what that implies. If you have, then I think you will agree with much of what follows.

Some people claim to have learned all they need to know in kindergarten. I learned all I need to know from owning a swimming pool.

Anticipation may or may not be more enjoyable than the actual experience but it does hold its fair share of excitement. Owning a swimming pool in Michigan is like having a birth in the family every spring. The gestation period of a Michigan pool is nine months, give or take a month, and expectant homeowners spend a great deal of time anticipating what will be revealed under the cover each spring. This anticipation can be stimulating because, once the cover finally comes off, there is no longer any doubt about what the baby looks like.

Some things are easier to take care of than others. Pools, like people, can be low or high maintenance. They can require little supervision or extensive daily care. With some, you can see right down to the bottom of the deep end. The good news there is you can see, but the bad news may be that you might not always like what you see. Other times the water is murky, hazy, muddied. You need to get past that in order to see what else could be causing the problem. The garbage that is there needs to be removed, the debris filtered out, and the water treated. This takes plenty of time, persistence, and money. Sometimes more of one is needed than the others, and plenty of each is often required at various stages before the desired effect is achieved. 

We often need to just do what we are told rather than what we want to do. Pool chemicals are like school. We don’t always know why we need all of it but we do it anyway, confident that those in the know must know more than we do and they are sure we need to have it. There are always tests, often daily and sometimes hourly, to determine if what they want to accomplish is indeed being accomplished. If the results are satisfactory, we go on even if there appears to be no obvious change in anything else. Eventually, we hope all will become clearer. Take some hope in the knowledge that, somehow, everything usually does.

We may not like how things are, but we need to accept them if we are going to gain any benefits. In Michigan, water temperature is always an issue. Pool water, like life, is not always comfortable. It is sometimes too warm and sometimes too cold and very rarely is it in the middle. Regardless, we should at least tiptoe in and go up to our knees. We should experience a little regardless of the conditions because something is to be gained from even the most unpleasant experiences. Some people do nothing but wade while others plunge in over their heads. The solution may lie somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. It is interesting to note, however, that children are usually less hesitant than adults to test the waters and learn on their own to swim and not sink. Some may be freestyling right away, but they more likely will spend a lot of time dogpaddling until they get it right. Form doesn’t matter. Participation does.

Occasionally, things need to be cleaned out. While chemicals are constantly added to a pool to maintain clarity and cleanliness, it is still necessary to vacuum the pool to remove other impurities. That material is then backwashed out of the filtration system. That is called "blowing out the soot." Everyone and everything needs a good enema now and then, physically and emotionally.

Everyone needs somewhere to go where they feel they belong. In my neighborhood, that place is my swimming pool. Anyone wishing to experience the thrill of having a large family, should build an in-ground swimming pool. Guaranteed, if you build it, they will come and probably bring their friends. As Herman Melville so obliquely stated, man is naturally drawn to water. They are especially drawn to water if they are between the ages of three and 16. Got a suit? Got a towel? Come in and close the gate. The house with the pool automatically becomes the gathering place, the communal location where the youth gather to frolic while the adults keep watch for danger. That danger, according to the adults, will vary with the age of the frolickers and how that frolicking is being done. That is something that holds true even if you don’t have a pool. 

Nevertheless, a swimming pool attracts people and provides a sense of belonging that will supply a lifetime of memories for all involved. Things change. Just when everything seems to be going smoothly, the Michigan weather changes, and it is time to prepare for winter and put the pool into hibernation. When I was younger, it was just another chore that needed to get done. I have found I now delay closing the pool as long as I can and have actually developed a sense of dread about it. It is more than the usual maintenance that causes this feeling. In spite of our best efforts and lots of money, we will continue to repeat this process but note subtle differences each time. We are only delaying the inevitable. Pumps wear out, filters become clogged, liners fade and deteriorate. They will be replaced, all at once or one at a time, until it eventually becomes too much. One day, the black dirt will be ordered and the pool will be filled in. Summer is short and change is natural.

It is all worth the effort. The hassles, the expenses, the time, the frustrations. Does anyone really care? Is anyone really paying attention? Yes, more than you can imagine, and the fact they don’t ever tell you is not important. If we have been paying attention, we already know that. It doesn’t matter how long or brief the summer. Let’s face it. We already know the Michigan summer is going to be brief. We do it so we can squeeze what we can from it, hanging on to it so we can save the memories for the days when the snow is on the roof and we can no longer even tread the water. 

When everything is right, the world stands still around a pool. For a transient time, life is suspended and we revel and relax as our sensory planets seem to align. Perhaps it is the knowledge of its fragility that makes the experience so special. Perhaps it is when we step back from the pool to reflect that we dive right in and go over our heads. It is an exhilarating rush when we do. It is then that we want to tell all our loved ones, all the people that have ever visited the pool, come right on in. The water really is fine.

© Peter Karoly, 2011