There remain a few hardy souls on the beach at Walden. A lesser crowd that a grey day brings at this time of year.
We hang wetsuits and sweat pants and socks and jackets along the line of the pale picket fence and chat about the water temperature, how long into and out of Fall we intend to swim, what neoprene we are wearing, and where we purchased it. We show each other our the latest high tech gloves, or hoods, or boots and share how successful we find them insulating us from what Walden is become the summer season is over.
One of us comments that “she’ll be too warm in all that gear today…after all, the water temperature is only 62.”
That makes it about the same as the air temperature, I say to myself.
It is an individual thing, this sensation of the cold, and dependent on so many factors. How fast one swims, how long one saturates in molecules of 62. I am always surprised at how different it is than air, submerged in 62 water.
We luxuriate in the emptiness of the place and in our conversations. A community that assembles when others leave. When after the summer frenzy, the beach becomes ours. No one wants it on grey days. Though in sunshine it still swarms with visitors… tourists, school kids, dressed for winter.
In my wetsuit, it is not the wading in, … certainly the feet feel the chill, but somehow I do not so much notice …and the legs are well kept warm encased in neoprene… it is instead the graceless plunge. The seeping cold as water infiltrates the slender almost imperceptible sheath of air between my skin and the false black skin I wear. It runs crinkles from my spine whiling the contours of my ribs and down my chest from my neck. It feels like a plate of cold water laying flat against me. I try to refocus away from the creeping sensation and to the scene of dark green to translucent bubbles to red leaves as I sweep my gaze from side to side blow breathing as I do. For I know if I can distract my thoughts the plate of cold armour will warm against my body, and then itself become insulating.
My thoughts wander and I cannot help remembering when I am in this 62, how once, many many years ago (perhaps almost 20) I shied away from volunteering to be the subject in our “environmental effects of exercise” class. I was studying exercise physiology at the time. The subject was to be plunged into cold water, I forget the temperature, but the very mention of it had made me shudder. They were to pedal on an underwater cycle while having their heart rate and other body measurements taken, to assess the effect of the cold on exercise performance. I hated the cold, and still do.
Yet here I am in Walden. Here I am discussing layering as I pull on my full wet suit for the first time this season.
So what is it that keeps drawing me into Walden in the cooling shortening days? I have been doing it for so many years now that I do not even announce how long I will keep swimming, because I never know when I will call it “it” for the year … and hang my wetsuit back in the closet, and instead spend months yearning for the depth of Walden’s soul.
It is the sense of safety I feel while suspended on her watery skin. The capacity of the water to hold not only my physical self, but my soul, and all the weight of worry it contains. Everyday worries, that in this human world we all hold.
Today thoughts float through my head, as they often do while I am bubble breathing… for my meditation in the pond is as fraught with the monkey mind as it is when I sit on my chair in my room… But being in Walden, being inside her protective skin, I turn my mind to the Buddha. I want to see his calm countenance, the face he shares with Walden on a windless day, when she gazes like a mirror at the heavens. But today, the strong vivid image of a lotus comes. Out of nowhere, and like no image I have dreamed before, like nothing my conscious mind has dwelt upon. And it remains there, between the in’s and out’s that the monkey leads my thoughts through, guiding my swim to the farther shore, and back until I reach the beach once more.