I adjusted my goggles, rinsing them for a second time before I set off. It was overcast and the pond surface was glass. I looked across it, a rich impenetrable green.
It was a week away from the start of the summer season but to my dismay the buoys were already bobbing gently in a line off the two main beaches. The sand on the far side of the main beach was strewn with colored ropes and small white floats. They resembled long strands of seaweed swept up by the tide.
Although high temperatures had bought enough visitors to the pond on Mother’s Day that the parking filled to capacity, today with its overcast skies and ten degree cooler temperatures left the sand mostly vacant. A few mothers watched over their children who were busily playing, tracing patterns in the sand with sticks, digging with shovels, splashing in the shallow water. Only a handful of swimmers, some in wetsuits and some in bathing costumes were standing in the water. I looked out across the surface but there was no sign of anyone swimming.
I stood hip deep in water, adjusting to the temperature I was told was 68 degrees. A woman carrying her wetsuit up the steps as I had come down told me it had cooled down. Not what I wanted to hear as I was in my “shortie wetsuit” for the first time. Another friend had already shed her wetsuit and was braving it in just her bathing suit. “We’re all so different,” I replied as she told me she had jettisoned the neoprene the previous Sunday. I knew I was trying to convince myself that I didn’t need to prove anything. This “letting go” of the ego and being happy with who I am and what I did is a life long process and some days I practice it better than others.
I set off down the right side of the pond following the curve of the pond floor around past Red Cross beach. Once the ropes went up and the lifeguards came, followed by the crowds, this area would be out of bound for open water swimming. I would adapt but I couldn’t help feeling a sense of loss for the freedom I had known swimming in Walden for years prior to the current regulations. I loved to swim out into the center of the pond and away from the crowds. There was something magical about it. But the loss of freedom… I also knew that not all open water swimmers felt as comfortable in the deep as I did, yet they were forced to swim far away from the shore unless they entered from the other end of the pond near Thoreau Cove and Sandy Point or swam down the more secluded side which dipped in and out of coves in an unhurried fashion.
I glided, disturbing the cool green gel around me and once fully immersed entered a totally different world. The sandy bottom was decorated with a patchwork of pebbles and stones. It disappeared over a ledge and suddenly the green below was deeper and darker than anything I had yet been peering into. For most of my journey down the north side of the pond, I could see nothing until I reached the shallow area off Sandy Point. Then there were the enormous stone cairns which seemed so close I could almost touch them as I pushed my arm beneath my body.
But this year, there seemed to be another underwater spectacle. There were dozens of enormous fish, perhaps almost a foot long, lurking in the shallows. I caught a clear glimpse of one which was striped down its length. I knew Walden was stocked with trout during the Spring but I had never seen so many large fish before. Were these monsters striped bass?
Just as I was swimming into Thoreau Cove watching one disappear out of view, his tail waving leisurely behind his undulating body, another peered up at me. As I swam over it, big round green eyes watched my black body sweep past him. I wondered what he had been thinking. I’d never been stared in the face by a fish before. I wondered if he thought I was intruding in his territory. Where would he retreat to when we humans came in droves and flocked into the water to take respite from the summer heat? Does he wish that we would go back to where we have been hiding all winter and leave him alone? With the spring and female fish guarding their eggs, am I intruding on their freedom just as I lament others intrude on mine?