I wade in among the parents and toddlers who dot the shallows of the main beach. The water is dark, the sun having retreated for the day, and so still I can see its dimpled surface. I also see a fine gold dusting of pollen across it. The ropes are up although it is not yet Memorial Day. They have been up since Wednesday, the first in a series of warm days, today being the hottest. It is just past 5.30 pm and still over 90 degrees. The water around my ankles is delightfully refreshing.
I have contemplated walking along the sand to the far end of the beach, the place where, once the lifeguards take up their positions on Monday, open water swimmers are required to start from, but be it fatigue or irritation that the preseason quiet and freedom I so love about swimming in the pond has already vanished, I disregard the niggling voice in my head and instead hear myself reciting “civil disobedience”, a phrase that Thoreau himself coined. I continue out until the water is up to my knees before plunging in. But before I do, I hear a megaphone’d voice from the lifeguard station at the bottom of the bathhouse. I scan the beach, not seeing any lifeguards, guilty of doing what I am about to do and glide onto the surface of the water. I am following in the wake of a young couple a little further out than I am.
In two strokes I am at the ropes and so I dive under, noticing the couple have also done so. I continue, getting back into the rhythm of my stroke. They are still ahead and I think, “Well, safety in numbers” and follow them. I know that if the lifeguards were here they would be blowing their whistles trying to attract our attention to tell us to get back inside the ropes.
I have never felt easy about “bucking the system”, a hangover from being bought up by an overbearing father, but as I swim, dodging three more recreational swimmers who are splashing around outside the ropes, I feel so exhilarated by the cool water and the rhythm of swimming I soon stop thinking about it and instead enjoy the feeling of spaciousness around me, and the fact that my goggles have not fogged up. I am completely content, my arms, free of neoprene sleeves for once, stroke above the water faster than I have remember them doing yesterday. I swim the length of the pond, happily edging out into the middle.
I needed this today. And I am grateful for stirring myself out of the doldrums I was feeling, a hangover from my morning cleaning the apartment I am relinquishing the lease on next week, to make my way here.
When I eventually arrive back at the main beach, ducking under the ropes and emerging like a mermaid out of the sea into the shallow water, I look around. There are still dozens of people milling around on the beach, paddling in the water and sitting on the sand. Yet despite this, I do not see anyone I recognize.
Back at the wall I gather my stuff together. Despite the plethora of faces, the community of regulars who so often would happen to appear and stop and chat before or after their swims, to discuss water temperature or how wonderful the swimming was or what they had done over the winter have scattered.
Some I may not see until the official season ends in September. Others, if I’m lucky, will turn up at the “new wall” half way between where I am standing now and the boat ramp, so we can connect. But something is lost for us when the crowds return and Walden takes on a different face.