Swimming in Good Company

Even Thoreau seems to be swimming in Wednesday's downpour

Even Thoreau seems to be swimming in Wednesday’s downpour

It’s the last day of September and the first thing I am aware of when I wake is that I don’t hear rain. Strange, I think, given all the weather apps on my phone (all three of them; yes, I admit to being obsessed by the temperature, sunlight, wind strength at this time of year) state 100% chance of rain.
I get out of bed and peer through the open window. The road is wet and moisture seems to hang in the air.

By the time I am downstairs and standing at the front door the rain is descending like a curtain at the end of a play. It confirms what I had already suspected. I won’t be swimming today.

Hours later I sit looking out of the window of a coffee shop. The rain is still pouring out of the sky, unrelenting in its attempt to quench the parched earth. The nights have been cool, dipping into the 40’s for weeks. The water in Walden is beginning to feel cold and even swimming does not warm me until I have swum the length and almost back across the long axis of the pond. With each cold night, with each cool sunless day there is the knowledge that swimming in Walden is drawing to an end for the season. After today the temperatures are expected to plummet but the tropical storm which has bought today’s downpours also bring warm air, so when the rain stops and the pavement dries I head for Walden.

When I pull into the parking lot there are probably less than a dozen cars scattered about. I am fossicking in my trunk for my swimsuit and towel when I hear a voice behind me. I turn around to see a woman standing with the trunk of her car open pulling out a wetsuit. “Hey Martha,” I respond, recognizing her as another of Walden’s ‘regulars’. “We must have had the same idea!”
Before she has the chance to reply a figure approaches from the other direction. I turn around to see Frank standing next to me. Frank is tall and his summer tan has not yet faded. “Stephanie’s on her way.” And then in a more subdued voice, “Her sister passed away yesterday.” We are still standing chatting when through the trees I recognize  a car driving into the parking lot. “Looks like Cathy’s here too.”

Just after Cathy joins us Stephanie arrives. We exchange greetings and condolences and head off across the road to the pond.

The breeze is blowing on shore. There have been vague warnings of thunder in the area but the sky looks light and clear. Stephanie and Frank walk around in the direction of Red Cross Beach. Martha and Cathy and I go in off the main beach. We have an implicit agreement to swim close to shore in weather like this.

The water is cooler than it felt the previous day. Even a one degree drop at this time of year makes a difference. The wind, buffeting waves in my face as I lift it to breathe, magnifies this. I glance to both sides and up into the sky watching for threads of flashing light. As the rhythm takes over and I reach Thoreau Cove the water calms and I become so absorbed in the rocking motion of my body that I forget what may lie beyond. Instead of turning back as I had planned to, I continue around the shoreline to Ice Fort Cove. On the way I see another swimmer clambering over the rocks. Strange, I think to myself. It doesn’t dawn on me that thunder or lightning might be causing his speedy exit from the water. I am so immersed in the rhythm of my movement I am totally oblivious. At Ice Fort Cove I make myself turn and swim back along the shoreline. The swimmer has gone.

By the time I am half way back the rain has started. Fine pricks of water hitting the wind churned surface. Everything; water, sky, my head is grey and dull and moving. When I scoop my feet under me to stand in the shallow water the rain is thumping down on my back, my head, my face, as if all the grey has fallen upon me like a sodden curtain.

There is a woman standing on the beach in her bathing suit. I stagger out of the water, mumble something about not worrying about standing in the rain and wander up to talk to her. She tells me it has been thundering for a while.

We’re still talking when Cathy arrives back at the beach, followed my another swimmer I do not recognize. A minute later Frank and Stephanie come scuttling along the dirt path above the beach. We gather our dripping bags of belongings and head back to the car park. It crosses my mind that Martha, whom I had seen when I was swimming back around Thoreau Cove, is still in the pond. Cathy is saying “We need to look after each other when it is like this.”


I am the last to leave the parking lot. The rain is still descending in sheets. As I am closing the trunk of my car I hear a voice behind me. “You still here?” it says. I turn and there is Martha packing the last of her stuff in her van. “Yes,” I reply. “I took my time. I’m glad to see you got back ok though.”


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