“I was so excited to go swimming in the lake!” my best friend Sophie told me. She was regaling me with stories from a recent camping trip. “My friend Amanda Rose also went in the water with me, but not long after we got in, she said she got a bad feeling and wanted to get out of the water. I didn’t sense anything wrong and wanted to continue swimming, but I got out with her anyway.” 

If I were there, I probably would have rolled my eyes and kept swimming, but a recent experience I had made me wonder about this. 

“Oh, I think it’s good to listen to those gut feelings,” I said to Sophie. “It might be nothing, but I guess it’s better to be safe than sorry.” 

Since coming to California, I go swimming almost every day at a beach near my family’s house. The other day, I walked onto cold sand. The sky was gray and the ocean flat and silky-looking. I swam past the breakers until the water took on a cobalt blue color, no longer muddied by sand and decaying kelp. 

Not long after I started swimming towards the pier, I smelled gasoline. I stopped and saw natural oil and tar balls floating on the surface of the water. If I wanted to, I could continue swimming in this, but I find it unpleasant, so I got out and walked to a different point down the beach. Though there was less tar over there, I felt inexplicably uneasy. I got out again and by the time I had put on my pants and shirt, a thick fog started rolling in. I couldn’t even see out past the first two breakers. Swimming in fog is risky and it is possible to get lost right offshore. 

I shuddered and remembered a story my swimming hero Lynne Cox told in her book Swimming to Antarctica. Fog descended on the Catalina Channel as she was swimming across it and she lost her support boat that floated only a few yards away. She and her paddleboarder sat there terrified and disoriented in the open water, large creatures that could have been dolphins or sharks lurking below. They stayed put and the boat found them after a while, but they were pretty shaken by the experience. 

These gut feelings are gifts from my ancestors. Instinct consists of generations of knowledge stored up through epigenetics. I don’t know much about weather and fog, but I bet people in the past did and passed on their knowledge. 

And I believe in God’s Providence. One of my favorite theologians, John Calvin, says God is actively omnipotent and controls the events of the universe. Yet Calvin also writes, “For he who has set the limits to our life has at the same time entrusted to us its care; he has provided means and helps to preserve it; he has also made us able to foresee dangers; that they may not overwhelm us unaware, he has offered precautions and remedies. Now it is very clear what our duty is: thus, if the Lord has committed to us the protection of our life, our duty is to protect it…” (Institutes, 216). I believe part of my duty is to listen to those ghostly messages from the past–my ancestors are much smarter than my conscious mind, and they usually have my best interests at heart. In life, I am always in the wilderness. Always swimming in fog. God is the lighthouse on the shore. 

The fog still hasn’t lifted. It has been about a week now. The fog mixes with the smoke from the wildfires.