5 AM @ Stanford Aquatics Center
The crisp air fills my lungs with bracing energy. The sounds of the engine and the tires on the road are more noticeable than usual. The pitch black sky is a backdrop to the empty, sodium lit streets. This is a fairly dense town, yet we don’t pass more than a couple cars the entire three mile trip and the business parking lots, that in three hours will be packed with vehicles jockeying for position, are, at this moment, empty lined blacktops. This is the scene as I drive my son and his teammate to the Stanford University Aquatics Center at 4:40AM for morning swim practice. We have the opportunity to do this about once a month.
We arrive a little before 5:00AM and I am amazed at the utter quiet of the campus as we walk from the parking lot to the pool. All we hear is the occasional scrape of our shoes on the pavement as we hurry to the athlete changing area. The boys gear up, and jump in to help deploy the floating red, white, and black lane lines. I head to the upper deck and contemplate the crystal blue expanse as the lane lines spill into the water and contort like snakes across the surface till they eventually straighten, taut across the length of the pristine 50 meter olympic pool.
Except for the rhythmic splash of about 30 swimmers performing drills, punctuated by occasional instructions from their coach, it is quiet on the upper deck. The sound is like a form of white noise, almost lulling in its syncopated hum. The stadium lights, in arrays, atop tapered poles, throw the pools and surroundings into sharp relief. The matt black firmament contributes to the pop and HDR photo quality of the illuminated area.
I am usually alone on the upper deck, a generous flight of stairs above the pool deck, looking down on the dissipating movement of water to the intense training of the individual swimmers. On particularly cool mornings, steam rises off the heated water, creating the magical look of a giant hot spring. Sometimes the swimmers all but disappear beneath this surface fog. There are just the occasional droplets of water erupting from the cloud layer and the sound of precise movement through the water, beneath the blanket of white, to remind me that the athletes are there, hard at work.
The chill of the air emphasizes the quiet in a cottony sort of way that enhances the simple beauty and overall mystical quality of the surroundings. If I tune out the splashing water, the world becomes as quiet as I imagine outer space to be and my sense of my surroundings shrinks down to a narrow focus. The cold air suppresses the spread of odors. This reduced olfactory stimulation lends a peaceful sensory deprivation to the overall experience that enhances the feeling of connection to the heart of the universe. The space becomes a tiny world, on its own, under a black blanket that hides the spinning spheres and infinite heavens above. I find it fascinating that the suppression of the senses can lead to a sharper sense of nature.
This concoction of experience, the early morning dark, chill, and quiet, the awe inspiring dedication of the swimmers, the pop of the colors under the stadium lights, all serve to invigorate and relax me in this space and time. This is a space and time that plays nicely across the screen of my memory. Whenever I feel the mundane, quotidian activities and stressors of life pressing down on my spirit, I can close my eyes and go to this place for a break that both calms and energizes me.