I am reposting this story from last year of my childhood and teenage memories spent as a swimming "water baby" in the rivers and lakes of my Georgia. The reason is that a dear violinist friend of mine, Juan Ramirez, still a performer with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, who was a mentor (as well as others) of mine when I was a student and Concertmaster of the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra, just made a post of him playing his violin on the deck of his holiday home overlooking the very same Lake Arrowhead where we had property and where I spent so much time swimming and loving life in my formative years! Juan and I caught up last September, and Jaun met Bob Halstead too- so its a nice completing of the "circle of serendipity" that, after all these years, Juan and I never knew that we shared a holiday location so special and slightly "secret", and we just found out today! Felicitaciones, Juan! I too, hope we can achieve your dream of performing some great Chamber Music together at your Lake Arrowhead idyllic home in the coming years!
This morning I woke up early, went outside and welcomed the dawn. I can see a glimpse of the sea from my balcony, and lush tropical rainforest surrounds me. New Years are sometimes times for reminiscing, and so here we are- I am taking you back to the waters of my childhood, in North Georgia, USA.
This is the place I feel most grounded in, and most attuned to. I have always been attracted to water, and I learned to become a strong swimmer and have a deep respect for the water not far from the banks of theChattahoochee River Park pictured here. My first lessons were with my Daddy in the pool on various United States Air Force bases in Illinois (where I was born), then California (where my sister, Kara Walker Griffith was born), then later Washington DC. Then, when my Daddy retired from the USAF, he got a new job, and we moved to North Atlanta, Georgia, where these photos are all taken.
After moving here, my "advanced" swimming training began. Besides training every day in the Olympic-sized pool near the river clubhouse, our swim team coach devised a program for us to learn "open water" skills. Every morning in summer break, at the crack of dawn (5:00am or so), we would meet on the banks of the Chattahoochee River, at the Huntcliff River Club and Stables. We all stood on a balcony platform dock hanging over the swiftly running river, and, one-by-one, had to dive off, and swim unaided (in many instances against strong currents) and with very cold water temperatures, half-way across the river, to a long island finger, where we pulled ourselves ashore - (no beach, just craggy rocks and bush scrub...), and waited, wet, cold, and shivering, until the entire group in my class had done the same. Then, we repeated the exercise in reverse, this time with the coach yelling and screaming support in a gruff voice through his megaphone from the far bank! It was only after resurfacing on the club dock that we were allowed the luxury of a dry towel and a thermos of hot chocolate!
The safety measures for us kids were different in those days, as I suppose over-regulating had not become the norm. However, we had the aid of a support canoe with a rower and a spotter together in the craft following us during our river crossings should anything run amiss! I usually wondered how there would ever be room for anyone else in the small canoe should we actually need their assistance.....
So- all my love of all-things swimming and water-related stems from these years. My Daddy "taught" me how to dive off the extreme high-dive at the fore-mentioned Olympic standard pool by climbing up the ladder after me, and saying, "You had better dive, Leighfus (YES! That was my nickname!!!!), as there is only ONE way down, and that is in the water!" So, I instantly became a "highplatform diver."
I suppose all these skills have aided me in my abilities today as a scuba diver, a sport I came to very "late" in life. Anyway, continuing on with my North Georgia waters story....some other pics are from the place, high up in the North Georgia hills, where my parents had a plot of land and planned a summer home. The home was never built, but they kept the land, at a gorgeous place near Canton called Lake Arrowhead. The lake is massive, and many summer vacations were spent there swimming, water-skiing, and rafting. My swimming adventures continued at this idyllic location, as there were frequent "swim the lake" meets and championships which I participated in and relished.
So- there we go. I am a water baby, and there is no place on earth I feel more at "home" than Georgia. Well, other than the stage, anywhere, (that is another story), and, now, more recently, in my new underwater home of the diving world. I have Bob Halstead to thank for that.
I had had only one prior (very bad) scuba diving experience before I moved to Australia and met him. I had been in the Florida Keys, and the Scuba Instructor offered me an introductory lesson, but after gearing me up and getting me in the water, he basically abandoned me. So, although extremely comfortable in the water all my life as a strong swimmer, I felt nervous and unsure on scuba after my bad experience. When I met Bob, I told him I was uneasy and apprehensive to Have another go. His words I will remember forever: "Just try a one-hour session on scuba in the pool with me, and afterwards you can see what you think." The rest is history. I wonder if it is of any significance that I was the last scuba diving student that Bob ever certified before he "retired" from instructing diving?
So, dear friends, for those of you who have bothered reading this far and have stuck with my story MUST be dear friends, that is my childhood story of my innate love of the water, and my equally strong love of Georgia, I am a Georgia Girl, through and through. The Chattahoochee River and lake Arrowhead still call me sometimes, and today, well, I listened. Happy New Year.