When we enter the water, our perspective shifts. Looking back at the land from this changed viewpoint can offer clarity, peace and a view of the world often unseen by human eyes.
When the writing below came across our desks we were instantly transported to that place. Read on, as Deya Ward talks us through her love of wild swimming and what it's like to look at the world from eyes on the water line.
As a zoologist and researcher for wildlife television, my work revolves around observing wildlife and stems from a deep love for the natural world.
From wading through swamps in the Bornean jungles following wild orangutans to sitting in the garden spotting different birds come by, the key principle with every observation is always the same; you must build up trust with the animals that you are encountering.
I began regularly wild swimming a few years ago in and around Bristol. There is something totally unique and exhilarating in the sensuality of skin swimming in ice cold water. With each swim, I realised something spectacular was shifting in my daily wildlife observations; travelling through water, you swim with a frog's eye view of your surroundings.
This change in perspective can be totally enchanting. I noticed that swimming in rain, as opposed to sheltering from it, reveals how each droplet falls into water and creates mini explosions at its contact point with the surface of the water. The shifting time frames of the days also hold a magical quality; something happens to light in sunrises and sunsets when taken in by eyes a few centimetres above water. The way the colours of the sky irradiate the ripples almost feels like they are melting into one.
But this frog's eye perspective takes you further than new angles and observations. Gliding down a river, outdoor swimming shifts me from a spectator looking into a separate and parallel world, to becoming one with the animal world around my bobbing head. I still vividly remember swimming down the river Wye and watching a kingfisher skim the water a foot or so away from me. There have often been quiet moments when cormorants regally sit on their branch thrones surveying their surroundings high above in a tree. As Spring shifts to Summer, I hover at a distance by newly hatched cygnets feeding with their mothers while dad keeps a close eye on me and watches from behind. I’ve seen Kenneth Graham’s immortal water voles leaving their damp dens in the river banks to join me breast-stroking across the water. Or witnessing the dancing display of emerging grannom flies in April and mayflies in May laced in the warm light of golden hour as fish leap up and out of their aquatic world a few metres away. These moments are so precious because they are only truly visible when your eyesight is just above the water.
Much like the grannoms and mayflies, in many ways I feel like wild swimming allows me to have my very own metamorphosis; shedding my clothes and leaving them with any worries or stresses by the shore or bank. I feel privileged to wear this Finisterre x Natural History Museum costume with Maria Sibylla Merian’s prints - her observations were the first ever to record the process which we now know as Metamorphosis.
This frog's eye perspective that a swimmer is gifted with through outdoor swimming has another side. Swimming in the ocean, lakes, quarries and rivers with the wildlife means you are acutely aware of the health of the environment you are so immersed within. From the Leave No Trace packaging to the swimsuit made with ECONYL® recycled yarn, of sources including disused fishing nets, I really feel this collaboration celebrates the joy of stepping into and observing the natural world, whilst understanding our responsibility to protect it.
Words by Deya Ward
Film photography by Stuart Swift