I emerge from the pond as I always do. Opposite the stone wall that today has a slim wooden fence protecting it. In less lean years Walden waters battered the stone foundations and eroded the cemented rounded rocks from under it.
It is late afternoon, cool and breezy. Not an evening to relax wet to dry. The clouds hang heavy but not threatening. Just rolls of stained white upon grey.
There is a chair, vacant, sitting solitary in front of the newly erected fence. My towel and shoes just ten feet from it. I watch, still crouching to my neck in thigh height water to avoid the evening air, resisting the moment of standing, sensing cold which I know will cling to me. Damp shivers. Fall stacked in the layers of air around me. Summer gone once more.
The occupant of the chair returns. I recognize the woman, an older woman, an acquaintance who likes to chat, whom I struggle with trying to escape the conversation as one sentence topic leads to another without breath or break. Well meant, imparting the wisdom of her senior years. For health, for healing, for the maladies of lifestyle. Lifestyle and the habits I have formed that do not serve me well.
Yet I wait, not wanting this. I know that she is facing into that stream of light I chose to swim toward not an hour previous. She cannot make out the wet shape that is me. Tall with sun and age crinkled skin, vague muscle contours on walking limbs, too slim an upper body to be power in water like a true swimmer. Me.
I cannot linger crouching in thigh deep water forever. I stand when I see her bent head reading, and walk briskly as away from her as I can and still ten feet near the chair to collect my towel and shoes.
I wrestle with the not wanting to make contact. Concerned I am becoming so self sufficient at times I hide myself away inside my thoughts, inside my writer’s mind.
Inside the meditation that Walden is to me in breath and stroke left right, bubble blow.
Rationalizing all the while I walk the ramp from the pond that my silence is to hold on to Walden’s calm.
Until I reach the bathroom block where I engage in talking to two women for ten minutes. Maybe more.
My next visit to the pond is late afternoon the following day. I have anticipated this swim and as it is later than I planned, I am eager to start before the sun fades entirely behind the far shore forrest backdrop. I head straight to the water, goggles in hand when I hear my name.
The lilt of it rising as if in question. I turn. It is my acquaintance from yesterday whom I crouched to my neck in thigh height in water wondering how to avoid. She is walking toward me. I am not rude but I know my need to swim.
I change my path to meet hers to say hello. We exchange greetings so I say my need to swim. I mention how the park was closed and I am later than I wished, and all the time I watch the shadow of the sun creeping toward me, longer and longer reaching into my tanned skin with the cool night that has become fall too soon.
She recognizes this need I have and in a minute of explanation of her swim she says to me to go. Then she turns to walk away, too fast on her older legs, her knee, her thigh, they falter and I watch fixed in the water I am standing in. Unable to move or thinking to move fast enough for what is happening. I think the faltering stumbling gait will right but it goes on and on along the half damp sand. As if her motion has been stretched out along some invisible line for more evers than it ought.
By now I am moved out of the water to her side. Thinking of the swim I am wanting and asking her if she is alright and telling her she may lean on me. We stand together on the sand. Her catching breath and me not breathing bubbles but air. Then I realize the swim is not so important after all. That her breath is shocked and her body winded and I could be of help. I lead her to the stone wall that is not falling down and together we stand and lean on it.
Presently she tells me she is alright and I should swim. I say “I will help you to your car.” I know the pond will wait for me. She says she wants to wait a while and I should go and swim.
And I say “if you are here when I return I will help you to your car.”
I swim fast across the pond, thinking all the while she will be there as the sand is unstable and the ramp is steep and the roadway to be crossed too. But when I return to the place I always do the stone wall is standing empty. There is no one waiting. And I wonder how, and how she is.
The morning that follows that evening falter I call her home. We talk while she lies in bed and I walk my dog on Sunday streets. When I have to go it is her that says to me “I’ll let you go now.” And “thank you for calling.” She has talked to me of how important friends are. And I am happy I have helped make her older woman life a little easier and less lonely.
And I think. The Buddha’s blessing in that pond works humor in its ways.