January 20: A damp grey afternoon. I am at Walden. I need time to contemplate and nature provides it for me. I have escaped the frayed commentary of politics and society to a vision of land and sky and ‘sea’. I do not plan my visit, though deep in my subconscious I have known I will be at Walden today.
Even before I reach the beach I meet a friend. We walk together along the sand. The water is grey. The ice, only just, insipid with its attempt to cling to existence in the unusually warm January days, appears fragile. The sky is uniform grey. Unexceptional on this exceptional day.
“I want see something beautiful,” I tell my friend almost before we have set off for our walk.
Before long we see a girl walking a dog along the beach and decide to alert her to the fact that dogs are not allowed at Walden. The dog is playful and I greet him with my hand extended for him to sniff. His long barrel body wags to the rhythm of his tail. He starts digging in the sand as we exchange greetings and inform his walker of the “No Pets” rule. “Perhaps you might walk him in the woods,” my friend suggests. She seems not to hear, or not to heed his warning for when she sets off she continues along the beach, the dog waving his tail happily as he disappears into the distance. Perhaps the lack of visitors or the bleak grey cold is keeping the rangers off the beach today. Perhaps they are preoccupied with other pursuits.
We continue our walk. My friend tells me about falling through the ice: How one does not feel the cold initially. How one’s clothes, trapping pockets of air inside its layers, help keep one afloat. I learn how to successfully climb back up on the ice. (I have always wondered about this, knowing the sharpness of ice and thinking how difficult it might be to climb onto a ‘shelf’.)
“It’s exactly what I didn’t do,” my friend tells me. He explains how the ice one has already walked on is ‘safe’ and that which is in front, that one instinctively wants to clammer up onto, is not. “So the way to get out of the water is to turn around and climb back onto the ice you have just walked over” he explains. I imagine myself in this situation, turning my back on the way forward and consciously choosing to go back. The last thing I would want to do in the circumstance.
The following day I am reminded again of the conversation with my friend. I am standing amongst 175,000 people on the Boston Common at the Women’s March when I see this.
Now I understand why I felt like I did about the ice.