A Thousand Meandering Thoughts in the Pond

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A thousand different thoughts and feelings as the waves swipe me one after the other a million times over. Today, in just a bathing suit after only a week ago feeling the chill creep under my wetsuit I amazingly still manage to lie across the surface as if I am being held by some miracle. I thank God for the power and strength to do this as I winde myself more and more into the face of the wind pushing at me. I feel peculiar, like a rat on a water treadmill stroking with all my might, going no where. I modify my direction so I am swimming across the face of the waves and it is even more bizarre. Suddenly all the world seems to be pushing against me, forbidding my getting to the shore I have in my mind to swim toward. I pass another swimmer and watch him turn his head to watch me. I sense his curiosity at the sight of this lone body pushing and simultaneously being pulled.

Swimming in open water is such an explosive psychic experience.

Somehow I find a rhythm and my body falls into a synchronicity I do not own on land between the back ache and the neck pain and the tired feet. My arms take on a tempo of their own and my breath takes her cue from them. I relax into joy. This is the moment I long for and it lasts and lasts like laughter, the kind that leaves your sides aching though and through, and if I think too deeply, move one muscle out of its context, even raise an eyebrow higher than before realizing the distance from me to shore is still a long way off and I am tiring, it might vanish as quickly as it established itself. Now I feel like that miracle and again I thank God and any other being who watches over me, a tiny speck of insignificance in this mass of wonder and water tumbling over and over and I begin to believe I belong in the water: a dolphin perhaps…?

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Appreciating the Sun and Swimming

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Once, when I was a kid growing up in Australia, I thought the sun was just one of those ‘things’ that was just part of daily life. Sure, we had winter and it rained… even in summer, but memories of my childhood predominantly are basked in sunshine and the radiant warmth of the sun. And happiness for me was always wandering amongst the trees, down dirt tracks into the gullies and across streams in the Australian bush.

I’ve lived in Boston for seventeen years now and the phrase that I was introduced to … “if you don’t like the weather wait minute and it will change” is not new to me. Yet lately I find I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting…

On Thursday I left my apartment and drove down the country lane from Lincoln center under a canopy of tall green leafy trees. The sun was glinting through the foliage from a royal blue sky far above me. Inside my body I could feel the energy of hope bursting forth, almost as if spring was beginning anew. I was on my way to Walden to swim, but the two and a half mile drive through the woods in the sunshine, watching the shadows dance on my windshield and bonnet of my car was for the moment prize enough. How I had been missing the sun!…More than I ever remembered during the whole time I have lived in Boston.
The parking lot was already populated with cars. … Thursday, late morning, no surprise as most of Boston I have spoken to have been feeling similarly about the weather here lately. (Yes, we have more than made up for last year’s drought, …and secretly, I am hoping we do not continue to do so all summer.) Standing at the trunk of my car I luxuriated in the deceptive warmth. Grabbing my shortie wetsuit and long sleeve shirt I decided I wouldn’t possibly need a sweater to put on after my swim. But before I had even walked as far as the roadway stopping to chat to fellow swimmers returning from the pond … “the water’s colder than it was last week” …. “there’s a brisk wind up this morning” …. I returned to my car to retrieve it, wishing I had bought more protective gear with me. I have been feeling the water chilly lately and my last swim, five days earlier, albeit without sun, was unpleasantly cool. But doggedly I have refused to go backwards (as I see it) and put on a full wetsuit. It is spring after all, not fall. The water should be warming, not cooling.

There are no should’s anymore.

When I did glide into the water and almost immediately the balance between left and right took over, I let myself be guided by the rhythm in me. The cold that I registered faded somewhere inside my psyche. Life was perfect and I understood again and again why I miss this (and immediately started making plans as to how to get to Walden for that next swim, through my schedule has made that impossible as yet) … For me nothing compares to the sight of the emerald blue water glistening with sun sparkles dancing on its surface, girted by the tonal variation of the early summer forest green foliage, all tied together under an arc of unending blue sky. And perhaps it is all heightened by the slight discomfort of the shiver of cold up my spine, along the top of my feet and the back of my neck, the effect it has on my perceptions and the knowledge that my body is not designed to endure what my psyche yearns for.

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Today, right now, the sky has clouded. The grey has returned. They tell me showers again.
I have learnt that the sun is not a ‘given’ but a ‘gift.’ And to appreciate it every moment, in and out of the water it shines its powerful and loving warmth on me. And when another opportunity for me to be in the water during moments of sunshine occur I know it will mean more to me than I would have ever imagined…

Along the Shoreline …

Now that summer has unofficially begun and the swimming season is officially underway I want to share some photos showing the transformation of Walden from wilderness to public recreation area.

 

 

Despite the still cool water (only a degree or two above 60) and the less than desirably cool air temperature (not touching 70) the beach was beginning to brim by the time I finished my swim this afternoon. It was still pretty easy to navigate a path through the water  without colliding though.

Yes… Despite the weather, the season begins!

 

 

Summer Weather, Swimming and Dreaming at Walden Pond.

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Last night I dreamt about my physical therapist.

Why are you telling me this, you ask?

With the weather suddenly launching Boston into summer this week; yesterday we registered the new record highest temperature of 95 degrees F for May, I have begun to swim in earnest. That means no more “in and outs” in only my bathing suit. No more “ten minute getting acclimatized to swimming again” the only protective neoprene being my bathing cap and gloves, which too large and full of the too cold water for this time of year swell and almost float off the ends of my hands…

Yesterday I did my first “real swim.” Making it down the length of the pond from the main beach, past Red Cross Beach and Sandy Point to where the wind which had been buffeting waves at my head for the first two thirds of the swim suddenly dropped and the water flattened. I could run my eye along its surface and watch the sun-like-twinkling-stars dance as I heaved and pulled my aching shoulder over and under my body… I knew I was moving forward only because the sky, an uninterrupted rich blue arced overhead and the two toned forest green which ran along the shore line left its trail on both sides of me as I edged my way onward. Then there was that welcome patch of warmer water as I neared the far end of the pond, and the con commit cold that I gritted my teeth against as I churned my arms harder to escape after I turned and moved away from the distant shore.

And the swim back.

Did I overdo it? That first swim? Heaving and pulling for over thirty minutes without a rest.

I have not seen my physical therapist since January.

Last year I spent the entire summer going to PT for my shoulder injury. For months I did this exercise and that. And then in January I got lazy, and I got discharged from PT. I knew what I should be doing so it was really up to me. But I wasn’t swimming so I wasn’t motivated. And maybe the childish part of me was rebelling because I still feel the memory of being chided for not doing my exercises. “That’s what happens in PT. If you don’t do your exercises, you get discharged,” the chiropractor I saw earlier this year told me when I relayed the story to him.

So now, back in the pond I remember my PT, enough that she visits me in my dreams. But she did not come in my dream to massage my aching muscles. She did not come to stretch out the tight bands of connective tissue in my upper arm. She presented me with a self evaluation and left me alone in a room to fill it out.

So I ask you now … What is the message there?

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Missing Walden

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I drove past Walden a few days ago. I was on my way home from the post office. My dog was sitting quietly in the back seat, her eyelids dreamily closing as she was lulled by the motion of the car. I didn’t stop but I did slow down to steal a glance at the pond. My gut tightened and a short gasp unexpectedly escaped from my throat. Before I had driven two hundred yards down the road a tear had started to form in the corner of my eye. I have been missing Walden and I didn’t even realize it.
The weather in Boston has been unseasonably cold and the sun has hardly made enough of an appearance to encourage me to make time to schedule a visit. One glance at the tranquil pool of green blue water and I immediately wanted to be sitting on the sand, my head in my hands and I would have been crying
I would have been crying, I repeated to myself.

I have not been back to Walden since my early season dips into the pond a couple of weeks ago. Each day I check to see updates on the weather and it seems impossible. Last week the overnight temperatures dipped into the 30’s. Surely unseasonable for May! “It’s more like April weather” a friend replies when I remark how happy I am to see that the newly planted grass seed is slowly making its way through the soil, “and the sky has patches of blue… and we did see the sun for a little bit this morning,” I add trying to make the most of the predominantly grey days lately.
I am not alone then in my frustration over the slow arrival of spring.

In a couple of weeks the ropes and floaters will appear on the main beach at Walden. And over the Memorial Day weekend they will take their place standing sentinel in the water off the main shore and Red Cross Beach.
Each fall I vow I will start swimming early so I can enjoy the freedom of swimming without the ropes wherever I please, which usually means in the springtime, close to shore where open water swimming is banned once the ‘season’ begins. But this year the vagaries of the weather have not made it possible.
So I am left stealing a glance from the drivers seat of my car, wishing and wondering when the weather will do us all the turn we wait for and deliver the warmth of a spring day lit with sunshine, heralded by a chorus of birdsong.

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Spring Rains Swell the Pond.

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Walden Pond from Ice Fort Cove Point, January 22 2016.

When I took this photo in January 2016 I could hardly have imagined it would lead me to this place. Standing on the point, the entry to Ice Fort Cove, perhaps I was thinking of the many times as I lifted my head above the water I drew an imaginary line between it and where my body was splashing through the surface of Walden. Perhaps I was wishing the winter be over so I could dive back into the water and feel that sense of freedom which accompanied being in the vastness of that mass.

Only that mass of water was shrinking…

For a while, she mask it, the snow creeping to the water’s edge to meet the ice. But in the months that followed the water seemed to become self conscious of the way she sprawled across the land. Urged by the scorch of the sun, the sand became as arid as a desert and the water retreated further and further into the deep bowl of the earth. So that in January 2017, when I trekked across the shore to Ice Fort Cove to photograph that same stump it was unmistakable.

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Walden from Ice Fort Cove point, January 16 2017.

I decided to investigate…
I researched precipitation totals (wunderground.com for Bedford Ma; KBED) grouping them into the following:

Jan-Apr 2016: 4.95 inches
May-Aug ’16: 4.83 inches
Sept-Dec ’16: 11.97 inches
Jan-Apr 2017: 11.69 inches

Over the last eight months we have had almost two and a half times more precipitation than we did in the first eight months for the period I researched!

 

Since January I have made numerous journeys around the shores of Walden. On some I have taken photos of the stump. Like so many of Walden’s visitors I am concerned for the continued low water levels of the pond, wondering when the water will swell enough to fully fill the space it once inhabited; wondering whether this is cyclical, as some suggest, or related to the changes occurring in global climatic conditions…

I cannot answer these questions… But I can say that little by little it seems all those grey days and the drenching rains we in Boston have experienced over the recent months are making a difference.

At least this is what my photos are telling me…

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Walden from Ice Fort Cove Point, March 18 2017.

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Walden from Ice Cove Fort Point, April 28 2017.

April Swimming

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I did not intend it when I pulled into the car park at Walden on the first of two near 80 degrees days. I intended to walk around the pond to take a photo of a particular stump I have been monitoring on the shoreline directly across from the main beach.
Ice Fort Cove is the point to which I swim during the summer and years ago I remember this stump being almost completely immersed in water. Over the past three or four years as the water level of the pond has decreased alarmingly, the stump has crept closer and closer to the shore so that over the past year the water has abandoned it completely. I have been taking series of photos of it since January 2016.* (The feature of a post to come). So when I wandered down the ramp to the sand that warm spring afternoon I was not thinking about swimming at all. I was wondering whether with the recent addition of more rain to April’s total, that stump had retreated to the water once more.

When I returned to the main beach after my walk I could not resist slipping off my shoes and wading into the water. It felt so warm compared to two weeks ago when I had taken that first dip over Easter.
As I sat on the stone wall waiting to meet a friend I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. If I raced home and grabbed my swimsuit I could come back and go for a quick swim and still be on time for my next commitment. I sat on the warm stones basking in the afternoon sun, the idea expanding like a flower unfolding in my brain.

At first I was only contemplating another plunge, a few quick strokes, flip over on my back and swimming back to shore. But after talking to my friend, a fellow swimmer about to do his third swim for the season, like the idea itself, I started visualizing more. The defining factor would be time.

When I arrived back at Walden in my swimsuit I had just enough time for a 10 minute swim, and without a wetsuit in the 57 degree water I figured that would be plenty….

All the variables of my situation were streaming through my mind …. I had not been swimming more than twice since early March … My body was not acclimatized to cold water …. I am not carrying much natural insulation …. Last year’s shoulder injury is still nagging on occasions …. It’s impossible to tell (initially) one immerses in cold water how it is affecting the body. It is a cumulative effect in any case …. Would my limbs cramp up or in the least not propel me forward? …. The thoughts raced faster and faster and the only way to test them was to put on my neoprene cap, my goggles and gloves and head for the water’s edge. Which is exactly what I did.

It was cold. I felt it run down every rib to my abdomen. I felt it on the back of my neck. I felt the soles of my feet etched in cold. After I had swum out a little I felt my hamstrings tighten as if they had only just realized they were working under the duress of the cold. I willed them to keep working anyway. My arms, in and out of the water felt uniformly … cold … Even the sun’s warmth could not penetrate it. But as I continued to swim the cold ceased to bother me. Its clutch on my psyche lessened and I wanted to go on. I knew better. One can get into trouble if one goes beyond what can be tolerated. I reminded myself I am acclimatizing. I turned at my assigned point and headed back to shore.

The following day, another 80 degree day, I did it again. And it came together better. I swam a little further and it felt a little less jarring on my body; the cold, the familiar but unaccustomed stroke. Then the weather turned. The clouds rolled in, the wind picked up a bitter chill from the north, and the rain came down. And I don’t know when it will be 80 degrees again.