Thursday, July 3, 2014


A Swim in Scotts Flat Lake

"I am a very competent swimmer"I went swimming in Scotts Flat Lake for the first time this year on Saturday. I went because it was hot and also because I had a horrible hangover and swimming used to really knock out a hangover for me.

Scotts Flat Lake is a reservoir. It’s manmade. That might seem obvious to you but I had no idea that reservoirs were man made until I was well into my 30s. I also didn’t know Tony Blair was the Prime Minister of England until he’d been in office for about three years, and I lived in Los Angeles for six years before I figured out that the Staples Center was named after the store, Staples. I actually thought it had something to do with Mavis Staples.

Scotts Flat Lake is about an hour from Tahoe. Scotts Flat naysayers complain about how it’s not “a real lake.” But I don’t like Tahoe at all. It’s real, and it really depresses the fuck out of me. The best way to look at Tahoe is with your hands over your eyes, like horse blinders. Looking at Tahoe is kind of like looking at a beautiful, kind person who has been attacked.

No. That’s not a good analogy, because Tahoe itself is still perfect. It is like seeing a beautiful, innocent person standing in the middle of rubble.

Again, no, because rubble can be interesting. There is no analogy. Tahoe is one of the most beautiful things in the United States. It is surrounded by roads, A-frames, and the ugliest two-story mini-malls in the known world. It is a testament to all our failings as humans. But Scotts Flat Lake is a fake, perfect thing. 

Except for the fact that it couldn’t get rid of my hangover. Never go out Friday afternoon after an annoying week. You will have a wonderful time and you will wake up Saturday exactly 50 times as frustrated as you were when you lifted that first drink to your lips on Friday. And then you will try swimming. And there will be boats. Again.

I wrote a piece last year about boats, and waterskiing, and how boats made noise, and what was so terrible about just plain swimming that people needed to go through all the trouble, expense and disturbance to the atmosphere to boat? And I thought about it while I was swimming, watching all the people on their boats. Many of them were drinking. I thought about the hangovers they would wake up with Sunday while I woke up pristine, new, wonderful. They were fools. They didn’t know what I knew.

Their children were tubing behind the boats. Tubing, I thought, is to swimming like television is to life.

These parents taking their kids tubing were teaching them that swimming, which was so wonderful though not quite wonderful enough to get rid of a hangover, wasn’t good enough, that water was only good if it you were skimming over its surface at 30 miles per hour. And I have always thought that what is scary about television isn’t what’s on it, but the idea that life is supposed to move quickly, and with exciting punctuation, when in fact, the exact opposite is true.

I waterskied as a kid and I still like swimming. I thought, maybe those kids will turn out OK. Maybe tubing and television won’t ruin their lives, like waterskiing and television didn’t ruin mine. I really can’t believe that two years in a row I was actually inspired to write an article about boats and a lake and lake recreation and the perils of judgment. Talk about no punctuation.

No one battles Friday traffic on 80 to get to Scotts Flat Lake. It’s where people go when they can’t get to Tahoe. Sixty miles away, Tahoe sparkles inside its ring of shit. Whenever I see a person with a Tahoe bumper sticker I think of all the people who want to protect Tahoe, and how, if Lake Tahoe were suddenly a person, it would be a murderer. I think of some dormant Native American curse where Lake Tahoe suddenly shoots itself up into the air, and 39 billion gallons of water come raining down all at once on the surrounding land. I’d be safe in Scotts Flat, smiling up at its jagged, bulldozer-scarred banks. Over the hum of speedboats I would hear the sound of water crashing down through the mountains, and I would keep swimming.


Previously: A Few Questions About Jill Abramson, From David Brooks For David Brooks By David Brooks

Photo via ncbob/flickr.

Sarah Miller is the author Inside the Mind of Gideon Rayburn and The Other Girl. She lives in Nevada City, CA. Follow her on Twitter @sarahlovescali.

7 Comments / Post A Comment

Emily Kaye

This is a lovely piece. I really enjoy reading about swimming when it is summer and I am sad that I'm not swimming. Also the picture of the dog is priceless. I have lots of nice things to say!


well done once again!@l

Lisa Frank

I loved tubing as a kid. I'd hang on until my lips turned blue and the friction had worn away the skin on my legs. I think I turned out ok.

Jam Jam

Ah, this strikes a nice balance between grumpy and poetic.
Your descriptions of Tahoe are spot on. Next weekend I'll drive over to some springs east of Tahoe, and don't understand why people urge me to stop there along the way. I may as well stop at Chicken Ranch Casino.


I love this, Ms. Miller, this quiet, beautiful vignette. But I'm beginning to think you could write about dog food or horse flies and I would still love it.


Just wanted to come down here and say that I'm 25 and up until last year, I thought that the Bloomberg news organization was something that was named for whoever was the mayor, like...I didn't know he owns it. I've lived in New York for most of my life, but apparently only physically.

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