The Sacred Swimming Hole

[When I was growing up my local swimming hole was the Atlantic Ocean. Now, my local is Gilead Brook and you have to sit in it just get half your body wet.. SB SM]

Vermont's swimming holes offer a natural cooling-off spot | Travel |
Sacred” and “secret” are the only appropriate words for Vermont swimming holes. There aren’t that many days when you absolutely, positively have to cool off, but when one comes, you better know where to go.


Summer is almost over. (This is a safe statement in Vermont where summer is “almost over” anytime after May.)

Hopefully, everyone has had occasion to enjoy that most delicious of state pleasures, the secret swimming hole.

Someday, someone (undoubtedly a greedy flatlander-type) will write the forbidden book, A Guide to Vermont Swimming Holes. This person will find himself incurring a wrath so violent that the Ayatollah’s treatment of Salmon Rushdie will seem timid by comparison. After all, the Ayatollah merely threatened to kill the author of The Satanic Verses. I would personally drag the varmint who reveals the location of secret swimming holes the entire length of Route 100 behind a manure spreader. Then, I would turn him over to the next state resident.

Sandy beaches, crashing waves, girls in bikinis, Quebecers in bikinis… forget-aboudit! These are components of the summer experience on Cape Cod or the coast of Maine, but not Vermont. The requirements for a proper Vermont swimming hole are majestic only in their simplicity:

1. The swimming hole must be reachable only on foot or, in a few permissible cases, by four-wheel drive vehicle. (For this reason alone the swimming hole next to the Warren Store is eliminated. Who wants to skinny dip in full view of New Jerseyites eating pasta salad?)

2. The water must be moving, yet clear enough to permit the sighting of underwater creatures such as brook trout or leeches.

3. The temperature of the water cannot exceed 55 degrees. The water need not be deep. Some of the best holes permit immersion only with ungainly contortion. Don’t worry about it. Swimming holes are not called “swimming holes” because you swim in them.

Swimming holes are precious because our need for them is so rare. Thus, the loss of one assumes the dimension of tragedy. One of the more traumatic moments in my life came on a sweltering August day when I went to a hitherto secret swimming hole only to encounter what appeared to be an explosion of multi-colored nylon, aerodynamic foam helmets and Perrier bottles. It was, for the swimming hole aficionado, the worst nightmare: My secret swimming hole had been discovered by a bicycle tour!

It would have been bad enough had they discovered the secret on their own, but they were guided by little maps put out by a treacherous tour operator, a Benedict Arnold who had no appreciation for which of the state’s assets can rightly be peddled and which others we keep for ourselves. Foliage we peddle. Lake Champlain, we peddle. Killington, we peddle. Holsteins, we peddle. The Tunbridge World’s Fair, we keep for ourselves. Swimming holes, we keep for ourselves.

Got it?

On discovering the bikers I felt violated, soiled and abused. And there was no one to help. The state needs the equivalent of a rape crisis center for victims of swimming hole abuse. It should be staffed by sympathetic, caring counselors who speak in carefully modulated tones and who understand the trauma of swimming hole loss. Perhaps I am being too personal, but I confess, to this day I cannot go back to that once favorite swimming hole for fear that my solitude and bliss will be shattered by sudden appearance of a herd of Flatlanders in lycra, riding 10-speeds with little, fluorescent flags on the back.

Rather than dwell on the loss of one precious hole, though, let us revel in the fact that there are still holes aplenty, tiny sanctuaries from the rarest of Northern phenomena -excessive heat. It’s summertime, and may each of you find relief from the sultry August afternoons, but God help anyone of you decides to write a book on the subject.

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