Chilly-Plunging With Maine’s ‘Ice Mermaids’

After I met Ida Lennestål for a plunge on a chilly January day, she was pulling an ax from her automotive and switching into hotter boots. A couple of minutes later, she lit a fireplace in a close-by sauna — a small constructing cobbled collectively from a former fish home and an previous range — earlier than we walked the quick slope right down to a frozen pond close to her house in Georgetown, Maine.

She took to the ice with the ax, chipping away at an oblong opening and shedding a layer of clothes as her physique warmed from the work. When her arms or again have been drained, she’d pause and stretch. Finally her associate and youngsters joined us, lacing up skates and swirling or toddling alongside the pond’s floor. Two pals from the realm, Nicole Testa and Ariel Burns, joined, too, utilizing a ladle to scoop chunks from the water, clearing a path for his or her our bodies.

Ida grew up in Northern Sweden, near the Finnish border, within the arctic local weather of her dad and mom and grandparents. The apply of mixing saunas and chilly plunges, a facet of her cultural and familial traditions that stretches again for generations, is one thing she introduced together with her to Maine; she sees it as a technique to share her tradition together with her neighborhood and to really feel related to her house and to herself. “This grew to become particularly essential throughout the pandemic when the space between me and my individuals again house felt even greater than earlier than,” she stated.

When the ice was prepared and the sauna was heat, all of us stripped to our bathing fits and boots and took turns dipping our our bodies into the chilly water. The solar got here out, but it surely appeared to supply no heat.

“The sauna and dip for me is a technique to get out of my head and into my physique,” Ida stated. “After I’m in a scorching field” — what she typically calls the sauna — “or in an ice-cold physique of water, my physique does not fear in regards to the future or the previous, the way it appears to be like or whether or not it’s liked . The physique simply is.”

After the preliminary plunge, our our bodies felt calm and sluggish. It was time for the sauna. Inside, the air, which smelled like cedar, was scorching sufficient to tug sweat instantly. My physique appeared to relish the expertise of opposites, the best way the chilly and the warmth affected my circulation and altered my respiratory. The group repeated the plunge 3 times: plunge, sauna, plunge, sauna, plunge, sauna. Every transition felt like a bit renewal.

“These periods are a direct expertise of the physique, anchoring me into the current second,” Ida stated. “It has taught me to take a seat with the uncomfortable, each the recent and the chilly, to breathe via it. To concentrate. It has taught me to hearken to my physique and listen to what it wants. It is a ritual. Sacred virtually. And the bliss when it is throughout lasts for hours.”

Afterwards, intrigued by the expertise, I began asking round about different ladies who hunt down chilly water. I would began winter browsing a couple of years in the past and understood the methods the water may impression my physique and thoughts, particularly when it was chilly. I normally surf with ladies, a lot of them newbies like me. However the means of chilly plunging, I discovered, was its personal distinct expertise, with its personal intention and energy.

Later that winter, I parked my automotive by a farmhouse in Bremen, Maine, and walked throughout an icebound meadow to the shores of a lake. The snow had frozen right into a slick crust. Undaunted, a small group carried provisions and snacks to share right down to the lakeside. Taking turns with an axe, hammer, noticed and drill, the group spent hours reducing an infinite coronary heart into the lake to rejoice Valentine’s Day.

A yr earlier than, Caitlin Hopkins and Kelsy Hartley, who organized the dip, had posted indicators round their neighborhood in all caps: “VALENTINE’S DAY MERMAID SIGHTING!” They went to their native seaside and shimmied into mermaid tails, taking part in on the rocks and within the water. Just a few households introduced their youngsters to witness the episode; some winter seaside walkers have been thrilled, the remaining befuddled.

That day, Caitlin and Kelsy started calling themselves Two Maine Mermaids. They dip year-round and in several areas, typically in costumes or crowns and to rejoice new moons and full moons, generally utilizing the title the Ebb and Movement group. “We began with our small group celebrating birthdays, solstices, full moons and anything we may consider proper initially of Covid,” Caitlin Hopkins defined. “Some days it is serene, peaceable and simply calming. Generally it is a occasion. Both method, the water at all times offers us precisely what we want — by no means fails.”

Solely half of the group determined to plunge into the cutout coronary heart on that chilly day in February. In swimsuits, booties and mitts (like the sort surfers put on), they lowered themselves into the water, mingling with little icebergs and slush. Just a few hugged the ice, or pulled their our bodies onto the bigger chunks, their spirits buoyant. They monitored the minutes each to check stamina and to guard their our bodies from frostbite. Most stayed in for 5 minutes, a couple of for seven. After they emerged, they smiled via bluish lips.

“After I get out, I do not try to rush into my towel or dry gown,” stated Kelcy Engstrom. “I like to remain in my swimsuit so long as potential. I similar to the best way my pores and skin feels within the air after being within the water.”

“After swimming, I really feel very sturdy and blissful and calm,” she added. “I truthfully do not suppose I’ve ever been in a foul temper after a dip.”

Katie Stevenson, who additionally dives with Two Maine Mermaids, is taking a yr off from medical college and has enrolled in a course about medical chaplaincy. “I do not apply a proper religion custom at this level in my life, however being within the water feels extra sacred to me than any church service I’ve ever attended,” she stated.

“After I’m confused within the hospital, I attempt to discover the closest window with a view of any water,” she informed me. “I envision myself within the water, feeling the lapping of the waves towards my chest, the strain of my lungs contracting and increasing in protest to the deep chilly, focusing my vitality on sluggish measured breaths, seeing no matter unbelievable dawn, sundown or full moon I noticed most not too long ago. Generally when I’ve significantly troubling affected person visits, I envision the struggling that I or the affected person and their household are experiencing getting carried away by the waves.”

The annual custom of the polar bear plunge has existed in the US and past for greater than 100 years. However casual chilly plunging teams appear to be proliferating: the Purple Sizzling Chilly Dippers in Vermont; the Puget Sound Plungers in Washington State; the Bluetits Chill Swimmers and the Wild and Scilly Mermaids in Britain, to call just a few. Not too long ago, what feels completely different is the sense of mindfulness across the means of the plunge. Most of the individuals I met by the water informed me they have been there as a result of chilly plunging gave them a technique to stay with a sure fullness. It gave them a course of to have inner intimacy with grief, trauma and ache, whereas connecting more difficult feelings with pleasure and humor.

Amy Hopkins organizes a bunch of dippers in York, Maine. They meet at native seashores and bays, generally with water so chilly and slushy it has the consistency of a margarita. I met her and a bunch of ladies on the fringe of the seaside round dawn on a foggy morning, the sky milky and the solar sluggish to emerge. They waded into the water and submerged their heads, their dips fast like baptisms.

For them, essentially the most rewarding a part of the ritual is the act of submersion, a second of whole submission to the chilly. “When your physique is in that combat or flight, it is stunning,” stated Amy, who began her profession as a labor and supply nurse. “That chilly temperature instantly makes all the things constrict and defend. Blood rushes to your very important organs.”

Amy discovered her technique to chilly water whereas mourning the lack of her two dad and mom and the collective lack of the pandemic. She is now facilitating dip journeys for ladies and dealing with college counselors to supply chilly plunges for top schoolers in a enterprise she has named the Saltwater Mountain Co. However she began by organizing free, open neighborhood plunges — just like the one on the chilly, foggy cove — underneath the title Dip All the way down to Rise Up. In that post-dip feeling, contributors typically splash or hug one another, rising from the water holding arms.

In a spot like Maine, for six months out of the yr, the connection with nature is certainly one of hardship, even ache. The chilly air hurts your uncovered pores and skin; the wind can chap your lips and make your eyes water. Operating errands normally requires scraping the windshield and shoveling snow. Winter is harsh and erratic, but it surely’s additionally simply lengthy, maddeningly so.

And so the prevailing tradition retains a way of pleasure relating to the harshness, a capability to search out pleasure within the endurance of all of it. Mainers perceive that there’s a symmetry in dwelling in a spot with extremes — that there isn’t any heat with out stretches of chilly.

“You possibly can’t take into consideration a Maine winter with out speaking about despair — the despair that comes from simply being in an extended winter,” Amy Hopkins stated. “However with this apply, you are assembly the season. As an alternative of complaining, you’re assembly the season.”

“I by no means liked winter till I began doing this,” she stated.