I was out of town this weekend so returning to Walden on the blustery Sunday afternoon to find throngs of family and friend groups walking around the pond, but not one swimmer bag slouching on the wall, I wondered if the water temperature had taken a nose dive while I had been away and all the swimmers left for the season.
But despite my lack of sleep and the constant companionship of a migraine headache, I put on my wetsuit, spread my towel on the sand, between gusts of wind blowing it back at me, and lay down to stretch. Somehow it felt safer from sand level. The roaring water racing toward the shore (as if it couldn’t reach it fast enough,) the whirlwind of confetti leaves circling like swallows swooping the earth, all seemed to pass me by. I curled my arm over my body warming my shoulder, first one side then rolling over to gaze down the other end of the beach, while i rotated the other, convincing myself the wind was not as strong as it had seemed when I had been walking down the ramp to the pond.
Then I put on my cap and goggles and headed for the water. I’ve swum in water this wild before, I reminded myself. It will distract me from the cold.
At first the tempest did not seem to fierce. I could easily time my breathing so as not to catch a gulp of water. And after the initial shock, even the water did not feel too cold. I settled into a rhythm, keeping close to the edge of the pond and watching the groups of Sunday strollers keep pace with me (and pass me) as we wandered down the length of Walden in our respective fashions. When I reached Sandy Point the water calmed. There was another wetsuit clad figure in the shallows, and perhaps another on the sand. I did not stop, just watched the gathering of people and glided past feeling a sense of achievement in being there. I had intended to turn back but the reflection of the sun on the mirror smooth water was too enticing, so even though I was aware of the chill edging down my spine and my promise of one more stroke before the turn, I constantly broke the promise I had just made.
But when I lost the sun I got the impetus I needed to start my retreat.
Swimming back already slightly cold is a test of strength. Mental and physical. But I knew the wind was with me. I distracted myself by again watching the people strolling along the shore. I wondered if they saw me. What they think of those black arms flung out of the water only to return to it moments later. The wild water tossing me up and dropping me down. I had no idea whether I was going forward or sidewards or anywhere at all. And if I looked up to see how far I had to go, all I saw was a wall of water coming at me. In front, on my right, on my left; swirls of green and sparkles of silver caught in the sun on the right, or just darkness on the left.
I know my strength. It is in not letting any of this stop me. The power is in the doing. So I continue to thrash at the water with one wayward arm after the other and beat at her surface with one ice block foot then the other, allowing her power to toss me without fighting it, while making small adjustments so I don’t beach myself on the sandbank at Red Cross Beach or end up on the wilder middle region of the pond. I know I am making progress, though I don’t feel it.
But I am beginning to feel alive with this challenge and the cold has receded to a far unnoticed part of me. Only to revisit when I get to the shore and stand to walk across the sand, wet and exposed to all her frenzy.