Am I Blue?

“Blue spaces are outdoor environments, either natural or manmade, that feature water prominently and are easily accessible to people. They can be anything from an ocean coastline, river, or lake, to a town pond, a harbor, or even a fountain. They are the aquatic equivalent of green spaces, a subset of the broader concept of nature.”

                                                ~ Katherine Martinko

It seemed like it was always hot when I was growing up in Texas. We knew the value of water — to drink, to swim in, and to run through in sprinklers. Water pistols were fun, as were water balloons, depending on how you were attired.

We swam in local swimming pools, nearby reservoirs and farm ponds; although the latter were usually more brown than blue. In the summertime, we got to go to Camp Longhorn on Ink’s Lake in central Texas. Founded by a former swim team coach from UT (with help from swim team members, including our dad and uncle), activities focused on water sports. In the lake, we did swimming — recreationally and competitively — water polo, water skiing, diving and scuba. Small one- and two-person sailboats allowed us freedom to zoom around the lake and, inevitably, become becalmed when the wind died down. Standard attire was swimming trunks and tee shirts, so we were always ready to get wet. The older kid’s cabins were on floats on the lake shore, and you could constantly feel and hear the waves in your bunk.

I felt connected to the water.

As I got older, I experienced the ocean; initially the Texas coast on the Gulf of Mexico — also not blue — then the Pacific coast. Coming from the relatively placid local waters of the Gulf Coast, the Pacific waves seemed to me misnamed and intimidating. Being used to gently bobbing in the surf, I learned not to trust the Pacific waves and never turned my back on them.

Pretty good life lesson …

Writer Katherine Martinko notes, “… hours spent engaging with or near “blue spaces” have a profound effect on children and can lead to a greater sense of well-being in adulthood.”

“Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, conducted research on how beach walks improve mental health and mood, ‘We saw a significant improvement in the participants’ well-being and mood immediately after they went for a walk in the blue space, compared with walking in an urban environment or resting.’… The researchers found that adults who recalled more time spent near blue spaces had an ongoing yearning for natural settings in general and tended to visit them more frequently—which in turn boosted their mental well-being in adulthood.”

I can attest to the benefits of ‘blue spaces’, but offer a caveat, based on my own childhood. Having an older brother, I experienced or witnessed some things that others may have missed. Early on, my older brother and I mostly swam in local pools or farm ponds. We could get a little rowdy at times and wrestle, trying to hold the other underwater. Sometimes, my brother was successful, and it could become scary.

I was also very afraid of snakes, and they were plentiful in the Texas countryside. Rattlers, Copperheads, Coral Snakes and Water Moccasins were all lurking about somewhere. Hunting, fishing and exploring all made snake encounters possible. I remember vividly, when I was maybe ten-years-old, telling my brother as we swam in a farm pond that I was not afraid of water moccasins since they would have to open their mouths to bite me under water. He gleefully noted that they survived on fish, and let me work out the details.

The farm ponds weren’t just dark and muddy, but often were thick with patches of duckweed. We would swim into a patch, reach our arms way out to gather big handfuls of duckweed, then throw it at anyone nearby. There’s an unusual feeling: being hit in the back of the head, unawares, by a ball of wet, slimy duckweed.

I could be very tentative about swimming in the farm ponds and did not always find it to be “a significant improvement in … well-being and mood.”

When I was young, we visited the ocean only occasional, so I never quite got used to the murky Gulf waters. There were unseen shells and the occasional crab to step on. We used to swim along quietly catching up to the schools of mullet that browsed the shallows with their bulgy eyes just at the surface, then with a big kick jump into the middle of them, flailing and causing them to skip away.

Once, I successfully got right to the edge of the mullet school and gave a powerful kick to leap into the middle. This time, my kick met with unyielding resistance, and sent me flying quite a ways forward. I immediately swam like crazy to the shallower water and edged back onto the beach. My brother merrily pointed out that there were other creatures out there chasing mullet besides me.

Of course, I knew the ocean held untold dangers — well mostly dangers I was told about. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea familiarized me with giant squid and Sea Hunt made me conscious of giant clams and sharks. I didn’t concern myself with pirates or mutineers, but we were very conscious of jellyfish, and my brother once got painfully into some tendrils.

Where I live in Colorado, the outdoor water is cold, and usually moving, so I don’t really interact with it much. However, Martinko observes, “Most interactions with blue spaces do not involve getting wet, however, and there are many advantages just to being near water, not necessarily in it.”

“Ongoing exposure to nature — and the inevitable attachment that will form — is crucial for raising future defenders of the natural world, people who realize the value of blue spaces (and other natural spaces) and feel compelled to advocate for their preservation.”

Blue and green — keep it clean!

Additional information:

Katherine Martinko, Exposure to ‘Blue Spaces’ Has Life-Long Benefits for Children, October 24, 2022, TreeHugger

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