All morning I ached to get into the water. The cool fresh feeling I knew it would offer. I thought of Thoreau, whom I had read bathed in Walden each day all year long. His belief in the health giving properties of the pond. I just wanted to be rid of the niggling tickle, the scratchy throat, the raspy cough, the congested feeling in my nose. I could not determine whether it was allergies or a cold. And I didn’t want to make Jesi sick. Not this close to her bone marrow transplant.
It was a perfect day to begin the season of swimming.
It was the third day of above mid seventies temperatures, and the sun beat fiercely on my white van, reflecting its light. The windows wide open, I was already visualizing the water. How far should I swim? How much would the chronic fatigue and stress of cancer’s return into our home have limited my stamina and strength? What would it be like after the months of being without Walden, the muscle de-conditioning and disuse?
I had done nothing but walk since I gave Walden up in mid November, and even that had been haphazard and not really brisk enough to keep me fit.
I plunged in with gusto. For a long time the water did not penetrate my wetsuit, a factor indicating how much warmer it must have been than I expected. I did a quick check of my lungs. I was able to continue to breathe deeply and keep a regular rhythm, another indicator that the water was not too cold. I felt strong, not overly so, but enough that swimming was welcome change to my gravity prone body. My wetsuit helped, though I knew as I continued, this feeling would be replaced with one of muscle fatigue. It was my legs that tired first though usually they were the stronger of my limbs. My thighs began to feel the work of kicking.
I did not look up to see where I was going. Eyeballing the shore to my right was enough, except to check how far I had to go if I was going to make it to the point. It seemed like a long haul, but I still had reasonable reserves. There was the swim back to factor in. For a moment I remembered the swimmer who had not returned from his swim that late October day last season. One can never be too sure of oneself, but I knew my limits and I was close to the shore. I swam on. May as well go the whole way if I was going to aim for the point.
My hands and feet were getting cold. A not-so-old scar above some protruding veins on one hand throbbing. I tried to ignore it and presently I stopped noticing. I was watching the pond floor which became visible as I swam past Sandy Point. And the bodies scattered along the sand, bikinis, swim shorts. Frank would be there. I had seen his van in the parking lot. The regulars returning to Walden.
As I neared the far shore, just outside Thoreau Cove, I noticed the water had become warmer. It felt wonderful on my hands and feet and I enjoyed it for some strokes, aware that it would not last. When I did reach a colder current again, it felt more severe than it ever had. Against my forehead, as well as my hands and feet. Though once I became used to it, it ceased to bother me. I was more focused on my right shoulder. Never as strong and harboring some long term strain, it was aching now with every pull. This the penalty for not continuing with some gentle strength work over the winter. It would need a rest tomorrow.
The return swim did not seem as long as the way out. Perhaps it was that the waves that had been traveling into me on the swim out, really were pushing me home. I looked ahead, the beach house seemed so far away. But I knew the wind and the way it swept me up in the waves. I paced myself and took my time, no longer worried by cold hands, cold feet.
Then the feeling of exhilaration.
It often came, three quarter way down the pond, when I had swum enough, but was still far enough away from the beach to feel I had no incentive to reach for it. It was the waves swelling into and under my body, lifting me up. As if I was flying. It was the marathon that I was living, and I was practicing it again, here in the pond.