The Icing of Walden.

When I first moved to California over twenty years ago I remember asking a friend “what’s the weather going to be like today?”

The response surprised me, as growing up in Australia, a land of ‘droughts and flooding rains’ (Dorothea MacKellar’s poem “My Country” which we, as school kids could all recite by heart) it had never been put to me that anything about the weather could be constant. Yet that was exactly what I heard in response to my question.

He replied, “California standard!”

I soon came to know that with incredible regularity, the foggy San Francisco mornings would at some point dissolve revealing an uninterrupted blue sky beaming sunlight down on the west coast USA, at least that which I knew of it.

Moving to Boston I was introduced to another ‘weatherism’…‘If you don’t like the weather, wait a moment and it will change.’

Boston’s weather this past few weeks has added a new twist to that saying. At Walden, north west of Boston in the town of Concord, we have experienced the icy cold north winds, snow, freezing rain and iced footpaths that have previously been reserved for January and February, not the pre Christmas winter that does not slow traffic and holiday preparations and have us negotiating piles of snow plowed and banked in car parks and roadsides.

Just over a week ago I trenched along the snowy pond path at Walden inquisitive as to how much of the southern shore had iced over. I was remembering a couple of winter’s ago when one of the Walden rangers told me “Walden doesn’t freeze until January.” From the beach on the eastern side, an icy coating frosted with pristine white snow had started encroaching on the shallow waters. That was December 15.

I do not note down each year the progress in the icing of Walden as the months of winter progress, but I do remember how in 2004, when going through some pretty rough times in my personal life, I would retreat to Walden and, suited up in five layers of neoprene, would find solace floating and paddling my super buoyant torso (the layers of neoprene almost had me floating above the water, not on it) with my stuffed turkey appendages waving out the side of me. On one occasion a fireman spotting me (a fire truck was letting off water into the pond from the boat ramp….i never exactly understood why) commented “you’re not swimming, (not with all that neoprene), your only floating.” I remember feeling incensed…of course I was swimming!

But really, what a sight I must have been!

That year I swam until the pond completely froze over on January 13. For a couple of weeks prior to the freeze I remember having to walk around the perimeter of the pond until I found a point where I could access the water from the shore. Every day the water space shrunk more and more until on that last day, January 12 there was only a tiny swimming hole left off Red Cross beach. When I struggled out of the water and into a wind chill in the negative digits I looked down and saw the water on the front of my wet suit turn to ice. I thought, “if that is what is happening to the water on the outside, what is happening to the ‘water‘ in my veins?” It was time to stop.

The following day I visited the pond and it was completely frozen over.

Swimming in an icing pond had its challenges, apart from the cold. The ice which can be seen from above is almost completely invisible at eye level. And its sharp edges can cut through neoprene, and skin.

So why did I do it?

There is something purifying about putting your self through experiences in which you touch on the raw edge of life. It builds strength to face what you have to in other arenas. When you think you can go no further… it is then you find the courage to go on. Pond swimming is wonderful for teaching this. It is literally a ‘sink or swim’ experience. So you swim, you prove to yourself you can.

But those days are over for me now. Today I visit the pond to walk.

When, on Saturday the temperatures hit the mid fifties, I was drawn to Walden. There is something that sparks inside my heart that tells me I must. So at almost sunset I finally made my way to Concord. With the confusing temperature I was sure I would find all the ice gone. Winter had disappeared and it felt like spring. But what I saw was more ice, not less. Walden was almost completely iced over, except for a small amount of water on the southern shore line. It was too late to walk the pond path to see how much the ice had encroached on the water surface, for despite the temperature there was still a lot of ice on the beach and trails. But rather than the end of the cold snap swallowing up the ice, it had spread it further. And not yet Christmas.

In the days following we have had fog and warm air, nothing like Saturday’s fifties, then rain and more rain, so that now, almost Christmas day, Boston has returned to the cold we expect for winter. But I have not been back to the pond to see what the water is doing.



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