Sliding Home Anew.

For how many years now has she sustained me. Held me in her belly, supported my flailing body as I have navigated my way through her. And these days, these weeks, I am more than ever grateful for the energy she infuses into me…

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I come exhausted. I flop, chest and face falling into her arms. Raising mine slowly above my head and bringing them, one after another, into her embrace. I tell myself I will not swim far, that I have to conserve what energy I have for my day’s work, walking and caring for dogs, and cats and birds… I have been doing this, this new found profession in pet care, and coming to Walden every day, or almost, since summer began. And day by day I feel my energy slipping away from me, even as I reach out into her and into the Fall when families return home from their vacations and I will return to my home in the woods not far from here.

Walden has cooled recently. The cloud covering the summer sun, the torrents of rain that have run rivulets down her sandy shores have refreshed her. So the mornings of late summer greet me with a crisp awareness of Fall and the shores of Walden are bathed in the shadows the sun leaves imprinted on her. And when I immerse myself I feel the delicately carved outline of my my skin with its slowly manicured strokes.

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It is the rhythm of my life here that brings me back, again and again to her. It is the feeling I am aware of each time my feet flop up through her, shaking out the exhaustion of a day’s walking. It is the roll of my left hip and then my right, my left shoulder and then my right bringing back balance into my half crazed existence.

I swim out into nowhere. I am not heading to the distant point, that destination on the far shore that for years told me I had made it. I am merely swimming, enjoying the sense of being free to move and glide. I feel invincible in the water. My body is not hampered by back or hip or knee. 

I watch the shore and I watch for bobbing heads and for fishing dingys and paddle boards. And sometimes I watch for nothing as there is nothing to watch for but water bobbing and dipping. And there is only me sailing through it breathing into peace.

I turn, a wide sweep of a turn, circling like a bird in flight. Somehow with the turning I feel I am being lifted until I am suspended on top of the water, skimming it like a bird in the perpetual act of landing. Some force outside me is carrying me. And every moving part of me is in sync with every other. I am sliding home refreshed to begin the day anew.  

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Let The Water Hold You

It would have been a good morning not to have chosen this path, but when I think back on it… I didn’t choose it, it chose me.

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The car park was almost full when I arrived just before 9 am and the beach already scattered with empty strollers and sun tents waiting for the sun to reach high enough above the trees to make their presence useful.

As I gazed across the water, the full spectrum of summer life; heads bobbing, paddle boards gliding, kayaks skimming and fishing dingys littering the pond.

I am tired, having just come off a two week dog sitting job, arriving home late last night. My summer vacations have been to care for dogs and cats in their homes while the families go to Europe or climb the canyons in Arizona. I raised myself from bed only because it is Sunday, and if I want to swim I will have to go now, before the parking fills and the pond closes till after lunch when the heat and the water temperature deter me.     

I tell myself I will not swim long, rationalizing that yesterday I did a good long swim… I do this time and time again when I make my way to the pond for my morning dose of calm, as if a swim is laid out in my little cup like my daily vitamins, or tranquilizers, or both.

And touching that water again, my body stretched horizontally as I take those first strokes, it does not fail me. I am at rest here as I make my way like a lithe skiff sailing out of the inner harbor of buoys.

I head toward the left shore beyond the point, the beach skirting it already speckled with picnic groups.

When I swim these days I seldom have a set path I follow. The desire, the need to swim from the main beach to the point at the far end of the pond, the measured 1/2 mile, no longer seems to hold an attraction for me. 

I don’t know why. 

Each year, season after season until now, I have relentlessly swum point to point. Instead I now swim diagonally toward a shore, or perhaps straight out until some force shifts my direction to the diagonal and when I have come close enough to another shore, or perhaps if there is a fishing boat in my path I turn, as if a boat myself and head out to sea.

And that is what I do today.

Sometimes, in the near empty pond I have gotten lazy about looking around me. Today I know it will have to be different. But in turning I am elevated somehow and fall into a rhythm that carries me into forgetfulness. My mind wanders back to my childhood on Sydney Harbor. I remember the fascination I had for the hydrofoils that sped across the waves, slicing the tops of them as if they were blades cutting ripe melon. Suddenly I am one. The thought that I would, or even could interrupt the rhythm is almost lost to me. I am dreaming of the cool clear salty water of the harbor beaches I used to swim at as a child. Until I am suddenly reminded of the presence of another swimmer, blue capped and breast stroking toward me. She looks up startled as I glide by, a twinge of guilt clutching my conscious as I realize I have not been looking. And I am swimming across the main axis of the pond. Yet I slide by like an eel, only feet between us, not missing a beat of my breath. I know that even if my thoughts are unbalanced I will likely lose the magic that is lifting me. And yet, not ten strokes on, it happens again. Another blue cap, this time I had seen it and in trying to negotiate into a curve, swam toward, instead of away. The swimmer stops and looks up dazed before continuing. I maintain my stroke without a pause but feeling like the menace of the pond. 

I know when I turn to head back I often lose the magic. I know the long haul home often feels like one heaving blowing lifting sinking stroke after another. Each swim I try to capture that rhythm for the inevitable time when the beat fails me. Some days I am surprised and the beach lures large in front and I am still skimming toward it in a dream.

But when it is a longer harder haul I remember home. My home across the ocean in the southern seas. How going home is also a long haul, and sometimes I only sense it in a distant splintering of light, or sometimes it lures too far and too dark amongst the shadows to be seen at all. On these days, I just have to believe in keeping going.

I just breathe and blow, stroke after stroke, knowing if I keep going I will make it… If I only let the water hold me.   

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Circling the Sky

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For days I’ve watched the grey unfurl as I’ve swum closer… into the sky; sometimes to reveal splintered rain splattering around me, sometimes to peel back enough layers so the blue beyond can peek through from behind rolls of off-white cloud.

But today the sky almost stretched her pale force of blue from the northern tree tips to the southern shore, and the air almost felt like summer once more.

I put a lighter shirt over my bathing suit, (I’ve given up any thought for now that there will be a time when it will just be the bathing suit) and walked along the sand to the far end of Red Cross Beach.

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Each time I stretch my body flat into the water I am home. The water, its tiny curls circling down my flesh covered ribs, denudes my sense of shirt and suit. I slide through it, the water, though the wind has whipped the surface into peaks that, for an instant, stand like stiff cream before they resume their place in the infinity of the pond. From the shore I have seen the sleek sheen of the far basin, a temptation to make for the place where the breeze has not ruffled the surface… but it seems to take forever to find it when I am immersed and churning arm over arm toward it.

Finally, when the rhythm in me changes I know I am there. It is as though I have landed up-on the water deck, no longer struggling in-under it, my feet flapping and kicking to keep me afloat. Now, as I look to the left, and then to the right, gently rolling jade waves like slow moving sea creatures recede toward the shoreline. I begin to feel a litheness. I imagine I am a dolphin playing. I weave to and fro making slight turns in the water, all the time watching the scenery of the shore circling around me as I do. 

Suddenly I feel an incredible lift, adrenaline bursting forth. I am in the middle of the pond watching the world turning around me. In the middle of this enormous expanse of water watching the world turning around me. Gently flowing circles of forested green girthed by sand. I lift my body a little more each time I circle my arms into the sky, until they take on a momentum of their own. A momentum of their own, arms circling the sky, until they take my body home.  

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Pollen on the Pond

Not Yet Hooked…

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The next time I saw her after my “not yet hooked” comment about swimming she grinned and reminded me of it. Then she added “I think I am.” She was just heading back to her car, her wetsuit over her arm, a snail-like trail of water dripping after her. I was just heading to the beach, my bag of neoprene slung over my shoulder. 

I’m not going to get hooked yet. I was adamant though I did not tell Cathy this. I thought the words silently to myself as I gazed through the woods and out over the pond. Walking down the ramp I watched the sun glow on its surface. I was just going for a swim because after a day of walking dogs I would be good to plunge into the cool water and feel it massage my tired feet as I glided horizontally across the surface. It looked so peaceful. 

The alternative was going home and feeling the full weight of the exhaustion I was. 

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The water was still chilly. Much cooler than I remembered it for mid May, and even though I had only swum a handful of times since those frozen swims of late November the nerves feeding my upper back and arms, my lower back and thighs knew how to shape my body in water. I felt so at home. Like I belonged here already. I moved through the tranquil glass surface of the pond without resistance. And when I turned in a wide scoop, making sure I went no further that Sandy Point… no, I was not yet going to get hooked so that I felt the need to swim to the far end of the pond… it happened. 

I’m still trying to figure out exactly what causes it. Is it the way I turn? The roll? Or the kick? Do I change my rhythm? Whatever it is, it is still as infectious as it was six months ago when my icy digits chased me out of the pond. Only this time, the more I come, the less my fingers freeze, even on the occasional grey days when I stretch them into heaven before plunging them back into the mid 60’s water…

And my body is so accustomed to it…It is like I have been here forever…

And yet, as I stroke and slide and feel the power surge through me, I tell myself, I am not yet hooked.

Really…

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Still Life of the Pond

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I don’t realize how freeing it is until I jump off the stone wall and pick up my gear. It is only as I head off along the sand, making my way around the bend in the shoreline that I am able to appreciate my decision. With a new season of swimming there is no habit, no ritual to be adhered to. I am in no hurry. The sun is shining and the breeze, well perhaps it is the breeze that has encouraged me to head for Thoreau Cove…

I have swum only once since last November, a quick dip, twenty minutes from the main beach, inching my way along the right flank of the pond on the first of three unseasonal summer days this past week. A long sleeve neoprene shirt under my short wetsuit, gloves too large they slid off and filled with water with each stroke, and a neoprene cap. The water did not seem too cold, though I do remember feeling the icy tendrils encasing my bare thighs at first and quickly  deciding to ignore it. I had been walking dogs all day so my muscles and skin were warm when I plunged in.

Today I am feeling relaxed, exhausted even, and sitting on the wall only makes me realize it. If I don’t move I won’t want to go in at all. I am not yet ‘hooked’. I have navigated five months without swimming. I wondered even if I would have forgotten how! 

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So I pick myself up and head around to where I know the breeze will be less and the sun shine with the sensation of greater heat.

Yet still, when I sit on the broken tree trunk on the shore at Sandy Point I ponder the swim for a good while and distract myself talking to a fellow I meet who is busy capturing the beginnings of a tan.

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When I plunge in I feel the water outline my body like the thin line of a pencil drawing. Taking those first strokes the lines of pencil blur into a trail of waves. I have broken into the still life of the pond. I set my sight on Ice Fort Cove Point, which from the shore looked like an easy swim. And it is, at first, as my form from years and years of practice returns without thought. Yet by the time I near the cove my shoulders are aching with each over arm, the tiny mass of deltoid muscles a weak cry of complaint each time I ask them to raise my arms toward the sky… and in my chest I feel each rib stretch taunt the skin it covers as my lungs expand.

As I continue to swim into the cove, sweep around the shoreline and out into the open water I wonder how I will make it back… but know I have no choice. Then a familiar voice my head tells me to change my stroke technique; I am fatiguing more than necessary. The long hiatus from swimming has thrown me after all. I have returned to a former style, forgetting the practice I had perfected by the end of last season when I left the pond feeling like a skiff sailing across the waves.

Yet despite modifying the pull so that I begin it later when my arm is lower in the water, and rolling more from the hips, I don’t seem to be moving forward. Every time I come up to breath I seem to be at the same angle from the beach house on the distant shore and the point toward which I am heading never seems to be getting any closer. I am in a time warp, only it is some sort of a spacial warp. I am a water rat on a treadmill swimming over and under going nowhere.

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I know this feeling well from years and years of swimming in Walden. I also know the mind games that the cold water can play. I kept my eyes on my goal and breathe in and out relaxing into the journey ahead, knowing I will make it, even though my perception tells me otherwise.  

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Earth Day at Walden

Earth Day and finally Spring arrives. It wafts through the air, winding down the sun warmed path. 

 

I pull into the gates. The DCR ranger is on duty once more, collecting money as cars file in. I stop to ask, “Is Buddy here?” “Two weeks,” he replies. 

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My muscles and bones stir with the memory of past trips to Walden. The anticipation of water, its swirling circling caressing my skin. It will be weeks until I am able to enjoy it. The water temperature is not yet 50 degrees: today I wear a sweater, jeans and sneakers. “I’m not swimming yet,” I confess as I glance behind and see the cars lined up waiting. “I’ve just come to walk and to watch…”

Laughter flows down the ramp to picnic on the sand. I sit on the stone wall eating my lunch, watching. The wind, tussling the leaves and drying my sandwich bread. Rippling tiny marks of pencil on the pond. Dancing silver threads.

 

I walk. Last week, only the water babbled back. Today I can hardly hear her chatter under the chuckles of dancing voices parading along the sand. 

A bald eagle soars overhead averting eyes to the heavens. Soars and dives, competing with the fishermen for their dinner. 

Yet they too let their rods go for the sight of the bird…

The blue sky as unimaginable as she.

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And back to the earth, sand cake dams redirect the banks of Walden as kids and adults rejoice in tee shirts and shorts and sunshine. Making circles in the sand to remember this day.   

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The Stillness of Water

On Friday I seek silence … and in early April the soft snow dampens the earth and soil, quelling the sound of bird and voice … 

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But quickly dissolves into sand

and on Sunday the silence with it…

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The snow is faded into the ground, the sun is bleaching the clouds away, and I, walking along the beach pass a young boy hollering at his dad who asks,

“Are you in acting class now?”

Yet the boy is only thrashing his frustration at his parent’s playful teasing…

 

I keep walking even as the young voice echoes inside me … away and away from the humdrum of human noise

Remembering the silence I seek.

 

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What I want is to listen for the water tinkling as it winks upon the shore

What I want is to feel the sound of sand crunching under my sneaker sole

The wind push past my face

Or rub my hood against my hair

Or rustle at my coat sleeve as I swing my arm, as if asking me a favor…

 

I want to hear the birds, confused as to whether spring is here or winter will return again

The bugs burping out of their winter homes…

 

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I walk and watch two fishermen, take photos, wishing I was on a boat, in the middle of the pond, watching the stillness of water all around…

I wave and ask them how the the fishing goes…

“Two” they say…

“Enough for dinner?”…. I give them a thumbs up. 

We chat, (they like my accent, they say) and I wonder if they have read the latest scientific research that shows that swimmers, peeing in Walden Pond are killing their dinner. ***

I wish them well and we part as friends…

Walk on, to the silence of the wind

Around the shoreline to the beach and watch the sun shed her color in the surface of the pond.

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*** to read about the article dated 4/5/18 go to

The Boston Globe … Stop Peeing in Walden Pond