The author recollects his first encounter with his fear of water as a three or four-year-old child. His father had taken him to a beach in California. He held his father tightly. However, a wave knocked him down. He felt smothered and scared.
When the writer was ten years old he planned to learn swimming but this time he took caution. He chose YMCA pool as it was safer than Yakima river. The pool was 2 feet at its shallow end and 9 feet at the deeper end.
He got a pair of water wings. He mustered courage and paddled aping others. He started regaining his confidence. But, this newly found courage was soon lost. An 18-year-old boy hurled him into deep side of the pool. There was nobody close to the pool. Douglas went to the bottom of the pool. He was alert. He planned to push himself up on touching the bottom of the pool, then lie flat and paddle to the edge of the pool. But that seemed to be a never-ending fall. These nine feet appeared to him like ninety feet. He felt acute uneasiness and his lungs seemed to burst. As soon as he touched the bottom, he tried to jump but much to his disappointment it was very slow and all he could see was water. He felt extremely terrified and suffocated. Douglas started making desperate efforts for survival. He looked for a rope but could not find it. He could see only water all around. His legs got stiff like lifeless objects. He again sank back to the bottom of the pool. Breathless, he hit the bottom with all his strength. His screams were lost in the water. He got a throbbing pain in his head, his lungs almost gave up and he started filling dizzy. However, his mind was still planning to escape this drowning. He was panic-stricken. He was going down endlessly. There was water all around. He was extremely frightened but his limbs gave up. He tried calling for help but it was in vain. Then fortunately he saw light. His eyes and nose came to the surface but then he sank again for the third time as this success was momentary. The writer gave up all his efforts. He accepted this as his destiny and went into oblivion.
When he regained his consciousness, he found himself vomiting next to the pool. The boy who hurled him was saying that he was fooling around. Douglas had a close meet up with death.
This incident had a deep-seated impact on him. He reached home and was feeling weak and trembling. He could not eat anything that night. For days he was terrified. Consequently, he avoided water whenever he could.
This fear of childhood followed him. This did not let him relish the joy of fishing, canoeing, boating or swimming.
Once Douglas grew old he was determined to overcome this fear. Finally, he decided to get an instructor to learn swimming. He went to the pool and practised five days a week, one hour each day. The instructor put a belt around him which was attached to a rope. So he practised swimming forward and backwards. For weeks he practised. It took almost three months for the tension to release. The instructor taught him the breathing techniques of exhaling underwater and inhaling by raising his nose. He practised it hundreds of times. Then the instructor taught him to kick with his legs in the water. Initially, his legs got stiff but gradually he developed complete control over them. Soon Douglas could swim across the length of the pool. But he was still scared when left alone in the pool. His childhood fears petrified him. Therefore, he thought of conquering his fear. He went to Lake Wentworth in New Hampshire, dived off a dock at Triggs island, and swam two miles across the lake to Stamp Act Island. For once did the terror return but he continued to swim. For his own reassurance, he went up the Tieton to Conrad Meadows, up the Conrad Creek trail to Meade Glacier and camped at the side of Warm Lake. He swam across the other shore and back. He was thrilled that he had finally overcome his fear.
The narrator felt victorious that he had finally conquered his fear. He quoted that death is full of peace, but the fear of death terrorises. In this excerpt, Douglas has narrated his near-death experience and the way fear of death intensifies his will to live.