Cold-plinging with Maine’s ‘Ice Mermaids’

When I met Ida Lennestal on a cold January day, she was pulling an ax out of her car and changing into warm boots. A few minutes later, she lit a fire in a nearby sauna—a small building consisting of a former fish house and an old stove—before we headed under a frozen pond near her home in Georgetown, Maine. Walk down a small slope.

She drove into the snow with an axe, stomped away at a rectangular opening and dropped a layer of clothing as her body warmed up from work. When her arms or back got tired, she would stop and stretch. Eventually his partner and children joined us, tying skates and walking or tuddling along the surface of the pond. Two friends from the field, Nicole Testa and Ariel Burns, also joined in, clearing a path for their bodies, using a ladle to pull the chicks out of the water.

Ida grew up in the arctic climate of her parents and grandparents, in northern Sweden, close to the Finnish border. The practice of combining a sauna and a cold plunge, an aspect of her cultural and family traditions passed down through generations, is something she brought with her to Maine; She sees it as a way to share her culture with her community and feel connected to her home and herself. “This became especially important during the pandemic when the distance between me and my people back home became greater than ever,” she said.

When the ice was ready and the sauna heated up, we all took off our bathing suits and shoes and immersed our bodies in the cold water. The sun came out, but it seemed that there was no heat.

“Saunas and dips are a way for me to get out of my head and out of my body,” Ida said. “When I’m in a hot box”—what she often calls a sauna—”or in a freezing cold body of water, my body doesn’t worry about the future or the past, what it looks like or what it loves. body bus Is,

After the initial dip, our bodies felt calmer and slower. It was sauna time. Inside, the air, which smelled like cedar, was hot enough to draw sweat away immediately. The way cold and heat affected my circulation and changed my breathing, my body came to love the feel of the opposites. The group repeated the dip three times: dip, sauna, dip, sauna, dip, sauna. Each transition felt like a small renovation.

“These sessions are direct experiences of the body, anchoring me in the present moment,” Ida said. “It has taught me to sit with what is uncomfortable, both hot and cold, to breathe through it. Pay attention. It has taught me to listen to my body and hear what it needs. It is a ritual. Almost sacred.” And the joy when everything is over lasts for hours.”

Later, curious by the experience, I started asking about other women who seek cold water. I started winter surfing a few years ago and understood how water could affect my body and mind, especially when it was cold. I usually surf with women, many of them beginners like me. But the process of drowning in the cold, I found, was a different experience of its own, with its own intention and power.

Later that winter, I parked my car near a farmhouse in Bremen, Maine, and drove across a snowy meadow to the edge of a lake. The ice had frozen in a thin layer. Intrepid, a small group made provisions and breakfast to share by the lake. Alternating with an ax, hammer, saw and drill, the group spent hours cutting a giant heart into the lake to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

A year ago, Dip organizers Caitlin Hopkins and Kelsey Hartley posted signs in all caps around their community: “Valentine’s Day Mermaid Sighting!” They went to their local beach and wiggled in mermaid tails, playing on the rocks and in the water. Some families brought their children to witness the event; Some winter beach walkers were thrilled, others unfazed.

That day, Caitlin and Kelsey began calling themselves Two Men Mermaids. They dive throughout the year and in different places, often in costumes or crowns and to celebrate the new moon and full moon, sometimes using the name of the Eb and Flow group. Caitlin Hopkins explained, “We were celebrating birthdays, solstice, full moon and anything else we could think of right at the start of Covid with our small group.” “Some days it’s quiet, peaceful, and just calm. Sometimes it’s a party. Either way, water always gives us what we need—never fails.”

Only half the group decided to take a dip in cutout hearts on that cold day in February. In swimsuits, booties and mitts (like the ones surfers wear), they lowered themselves into the water, mingling with small icebergs and mud. Some embraced the ice, or dragged their bodies over large pieces, their spirits delighted. He monitored for minutes to test stamina and protect his body from frostbite. Most stayed for five minutes, some for seven. When he emerged, he smiled with blue lips.

Kelsey Engstrom said, “After I’m out, I try not to rush into my towel or dry robe.” “I like to stay in my swimsuit for as long as possible. I love the way my skin feels in the air after being in the water.”

“After swimming, I feel so strong and happy and calm,” she said. “I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been in a bad mood after the plunge.”

Katie Stevenson, who also dabbles with Two Men Mermaids, is taking a year off from medical school and enrolled in a course about medical clergy. “I don’t practice a formal faith tradition at this point in my life, but being in the water feels more sacred to me than any church service I’ve ever attended,” she said.

“When I’m stressed in the hospital, I try to find the nearest window with no water view,” she told me. “I imagine myself in the water, feeling the waves pounding against my chest, the pressure of my lungs and expanding in opposition to the deep cold, focusing my energy on slow-measured breaths. , watching whatever incredible sunrise, sunset or full moon I’ve seen recently. Sometimes when I come across patients who are particularly troubling, I imagine the agony that I or the patient and their family waves to getting away.”

The annual tradition of polar bear drowning has existed for more than 100 years in the United States and beyond. But informal cold-wrenching groups seem to be spreading: Red Hot Chili Dipper in Vermont; Puget Sound Plunger in Washington State; Bluetits Chill Swimmer And this Wild And Skilly Mermaids In the UK, to name only a few. Lately, the sense of mindfulness surrounding the dipping process feels different. Many of the people I met near the water told me they were there because drowning in the cold had given them a way to live with a certain fullness. This gave them the process of associating more challenging emotions with joy and humor, as well as having an inner intimacy with grief, trauma, and pain.

Amy Hopkins organizes a group of dippers in York, Maine. They are found on local beaches and in creeks, sometimes the water is so cold and turbid that it has the consistency of a margarita. I met him and a group of women on the edge of the beach around sunrise on a misty morning, the sky was milky and the sun was slowly rising. They descended into the water and their heads sank, their dips as swift as baptisms.

For them, the most beneficial part of the ritual is the act of dipping, a moment of complete surrender to the cold. “When your body is in that fight or flight, it’s shocking,” said Amy, who began her career as a labor and delivery nurse. “That cool temperature immediately compresses and protects everything. The blood rushes to your vital organs.”

Amy finds her way to cold water while mourning the loss of her two parents and the collective loss of the pandemic. She is now facilitating dip trips for women and is working with school counselors to provide a business coolness for high school students. Saltwater Mountain Company But he started by conducting free, open community plunges — like in a cold, foggy cove — under the name Dip Down to Rise Up. In the spirit after that dip, participants often splash or hug each other while holding hands as they emerge from the water.

In a place like Maine, six months a year, connection with nature is one of difficulties, even pain. Cold air damages your exposed skin; The wind can clench your lips and make your eyes water. Moving chores usually require scraping windshields and shoveling snow. Winter is harsh and uncertain, but it is also very, insanely long.

And so the prevailing culture holds a sense of pride about toughness, the ability to find joy in tolerating it all. Menors understands that there is a symmetry in living in a space with extremities – that there is no heat without the pull of cold.

Amy Hopkins said, “You can’t think of Maine winters without talking about depression—the depression that just comes from being in the long winter.” “But with this practice, you are meeting the weather. Instead of complaining, you are meeting the weather.”

“I didn’t like the cold until I started doing that,” she said.

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