Night Swimming

Pink dolphins and other dreamscapes


By Ashley Wahl

If you’re not at the beach or haven’t already gone, perhaps you’re headed there before summer is over. I might be. But I certainly won’t be swimming in the open water. You see, I have a bottomless fear of the ocean.

When we went as kids, I might wade out with my brother, accompanied by our parental lifeguards, far enough for some mysterious object — a fish or a sea finger, no doubt — to send me sprinting back to shore, where I could blissfully dig for mole crabs instead.

Don’t feel sorry for me. Consider the heron, content in the shallows. Or the sandpipers, flitting like minnows at the edge of the sea. We can’t all take to the water like fish.

But I can dream. In fact, sometimes I dream that I am swimming with dolphins. The water is calm and crystalline, and while the dolphins are pretty spectacular — nearly a dozen of them, including a few calves, all pink as can be — the true miracle is feeling as if I were a selkie, changing from human form into a seal, effortlessly darting about in the water.

Did I mention that I can’t exactly swim? I mean, I can sort of swim. Just not gracefully or confidently. Imagine a cat in the bath.

As a kid, Fourth of July weekends were spent with the cousins in our grandparents’ above ground pool. Until I was tall enough to stand with my head above water, my parents stuck me in swimmies. I never had a formal swim lesson, and when the tips of my toes could finally touch the bottom of the pool, there was really no need to learn. Besides, I could dog paddle well enough to keep from sinking.

I know it’s not too late for lessons. And yet I could rattle off at least a dozen things that I would rather master. Like the guitar. Or a cartwheel. Or how to identify edible mushrooms.

In the meantime, I’m content to take my ocean dips at night. Or maybe I’ll dream of a walk in the rain with my deceased grandfather, of reuniting with my childhood dog, or of flying through the air like a human bird.

Once, I dreamed I was soaring among a thick forest of pine, the night sky shimmering like an ocean of stars above me. I felt like a great winged beast, completely at ease and at home in my element — until my rational brain swooped in to hijack the moment.

I could plummet to the earth in an instant, I thought.

My heart rate accelerated. Panic was beginning to take over. But somehow, I snapped out of it.

This is my dream, I told myself. I get to choose what happens next.

And so, I took a deep breath, pumped my legs and continued gliding through my heavenly dreamscape, effortlessly weaving in and out of trees, reality and consciousness.

But the nicest thing about dreams is how easily you can travel through time. One night, I might go back to the edge of my grandparents’ pool, legs dangling in the cool water, where the terrier paddles in endless circles and the cousins giggle between cannonball splashes.

Traveling is what dreams are for. Unconscious or otherwise, they take us wherever we’re meant to go. Like night swimming — which, for me, is the very best kind.  OH

Contact editor Ashley Wahl at

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