Every Day…

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Every Day the pond is a mirror that I crack, launching my body into her midst.
Every day now, she whispers more and colder claws down my spine. The breeze ruffling feather whisps of waves which chill me.
Every day she lures me into her depth until I am beyond the shoreline, arms flinging and white cap a flag bobbing in her swell.
I look out and see the point rising and falling ahead of me. Inching closer, then further, then closer again.
When I make my turn, that white cap becomes the bow of a boat heading across the waves; crash and splatter. My body the hull; waves butt and slap. Yet when I turn I become the fins of a dolphin slicing the waves with power and poise. And it is with grace and gratitude I find my way home.

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The Unnatural State of Skating in the Pond.

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The silken threads of sunlight that poured forth that pathway from my sliding swimming self to the heavens where Jesi waits for me are still there on most days. They capture my attention down near the cove, when in the late afternoon sun weeks ago they told me Jesi was waiting at their heavenward end. But now I see them only for their beauty. For they seem to have emptied of that magic they once held. They still stretch to heaven, but Jesi must have moved on to other pursuits, for I no longer feel her pull. I no longer feel the yearning so strong to cross that sunlit bridge.
So I swim on, making my body curve following the lead of my arm, watching people meandering along the shore; the thing I avoided most when the magic of feeling Jesi was upon me. For any connection with humankind would instantly break the Jesi-spell.

Turning and stretching my stroke ahead of me, the water is liquid gel. A glass sheen I skate and skim along as if I truly belong. I am meant to be here. I do not remember ever feeling so connected to the water as this, as I age and my bones weaken, my joints groan, and I gasp for breath, stretching my lungs until they might burst. Yet here in this moment I belong and I rejoice in the joy of it.

I wonder how this is possible…how I could move in this unnatural human state? I feel like I have the wings of an angel or the fins of a dolphin. As if I am lifted by some unfathomable force. An extraordinary power that carries me so that I hover slightly higher above the water than is actually possible. I am carried for an instant and then lowered once more as if the power has gone out of me. Like the surge of a wave or a gust of wind lifting and gently allowing a leaf to fall. And on my own again, the wind ruffing the waves knocks the rhythm out of me and I return to the long struggle, bobbing and bouncing until I reach the main beach.

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Reaching the Shore of a Home Far Away

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I tell the doctor I have stopped meditating. I say it not as a rebellion against taking care of myself, but as an indication of the extent to which the thumping in my head has disrupted my life. Sitting in silence and observing the thoughts wander through the throbbing caverns of my brain is not possible without magnifying the bounding pain. I become nothing but a pulsation of mindmatter.
So instead I take my mindmass into the pond. “I have been swimming a lot” I tell her.
I wonder if she is understands the connections I am making…

Long ago, when I first sat on a cushion, I believed it was to quieten the mind. These days I tend to observe instead where it takes me. Just as I do when I am making my way across the pond. A thousand thoughts topple headlong into the swirl, some to be gobbled up by the bubbles I expel, others drowned by my feet flipping them over and under as they flutter along. The mindmass of pain is muted by the rhythm of body and breath; the distraction of my surrounds. I drift along the surface of the world, my alligator eyes observing each side; the green forest until I reach the tranquil waters of the furtherest cove.
The morning following the third anniversary of Jesi’s passing I am gliding through the middle of the pond when I am over taken by an unexpected sensation. I feel a swelling in my chest, a knowing beyond all doubt that only I, only here in the middle of this deep body of water, can connect my three children, two on earth and one in heaven. And it can only happen through the pureness of the motherlove I hold in my heart for them. For it is the mother that bore them that has that ancient connection to her children. And in Walden I connect with Jesi, a place she loved as much as I. This moment of love bursts forth inside me as I continue to glide along the surface of the pond, uninterrupted in the rhythm of my stroke for some moments, until inevitably I am pulled by earth force back into the water I am negotiating. The cool I am immersed in becomes real. The sandy shore to one side, the forest necklace to the other. Uninterrupted I still slide on with alligator eyes above the water, peering into the deep dark emerald jewel I have been gifted. Further into the cove, almost magical, the sun peaks out from behind puffy white clouds, spreading her warmth on the velvety surface. I reach beneath me, a chill crawls up my arm, the changing water temperatures with the depth. Simultaneously I am gripped by some force I cannot know which pulls me into a mechanistic churning and breathing, the rhythm taking over. And as I watch the sun twinkle and sparkle she sends fine silver threads of silk, a hand spanning the forest to the water’s surface. The threads cast a spell enough that I have no will of my own. The sensation of Jesi’s presence is so strong, hovering somewhere at the end of those fine silk threads of sun splinters, somewhere far far up in the heavens… so strong I find myself calling urgently Jesi, come back.

It has been three years since Jesi left us and I will never give up wanting her back.

I am in the cove now and heading straight for land. A single figure walking on the bank breaks the spell. I sweep my arms in a circular turn as not to interrupt the rhythm and turn to make my way back to the only home I know.

Jesi, I know, inhabits another far away.

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Feelings and Friendships out of the Pond

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I have been trying to put words to these feelings for weeks … and as I glide or gasp or just plain focus on my breath, sometime distracted by the glistening jews of light dancing on the water’s surface in the middle of the pond, or thoughts bobbing though my mind of the water temperature; …yes, it is still warm, warmer than the air… then why am i sensing goose bumps on my thighs???… I plan all the things I will note down when I am dripping back on the main beach; but never do. So the words have never come. And the weeks roll on. And now the end is here.
Tomorrow is Labor Day and today Walden is weeping chilly tears in preparation.

Why do words not come? Because swimming has been uniformly wonderful, finding that power of propulsion that moves me through not only water but the pain of some unknown shoulder strain, which one part of me argues you should be resting this, to which the other responds, soon enough, soon enough … it will be a short season this year. The water is cooling prematurely and I am not tolerating the cold as well as I have in the past…
But there is another reason I am feeling the end so acutely this year, and why when I wrap up in my towel around me after my swim, I forget all about those images and sensations from the middle of the pond. There are feelings and friendships out of the pond too which have sustained me this season.

I am standing with my back to the pond, the sun is fierce upon it, a feeling that I have always found nurturing, and is especially comforting now as I am dripping wet. The head lifeguard tells me this is his last day. It is still a week before Labor Day. He, like most of the life guards is a college student, and is returning to school. “Though maybe I’ll come back next weekend,” he adds.
“I’m going to miss you guys,” I reply.

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I first started leaving my gear in front of the lifeguard table because of the sun. Anywhere I could find a tiny patch of warmth to stand in after swimming on a cool day, or anywhere where I could leave my gear in the shade, but be close to where I could move into the sun when I finished swimming on a hot day. And that happened to be the stone steps in front of the bath house. Pretty soon I got to talking to the lifeguards…

If today, a cool wet day were mid season the lifeguards might be sitting around their table chatting and telling jokes. There would be very few people on the beach today… they also be practicing drills, preparing for the emergencies and for routine safety checks… or they might be taking note of swimmers like me who venture out in less than great conditions…
Other days I have wandered out after my swim to bunch of red short and shirted young people standing around a young mother holding a toddler. She had just gone under and one of the guards, still dripping wet had sprinted across the sand as the call came in and plunged in to scoop her out. The toddler seems confused from the ordeal, but is medically unharmed. The mother both still holding the remnants of what might have been is relaxing with an enormous sense of gratitude which she pours over all the young guards surrounding her.
Another day I wander up and join a conversation about a recent incident. It has been a bad week, both with one life lost, a young man who could not swim going under late on a busy Sunday… after the lifeguards have finished their day’s work… and then early one morning … before the scheduled life guard start for the day, a man standing on the boat ramp with binoculars seeing an elderly man holding onto the ropes and flailing his arms in the air. The young man races along the sand is joined by an off duty policeman who is walking down onto the beach. He swims out to bring him in and commences CPR.

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But it is the last incident that causes me to act. And again this unfortunate event happened outside lifeguard hours. When I heard about it, it prompted me to enroll in a free CPR course that my local town was offering. How would I feel if I was that policeman wandering down the ramp and I was suddenly called upon to help? Would I feel confident enough to do so? I want to know that I would be able to make a difference. That I would know what to do.

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So tomorrow is Labor Day and it promises to be a busy day at the pond. It’s the last day of the season and the lifeguards will be packing up their gear and closing their doors for the winter. On Tuesday the ropes will come down, something I usually look forward to … having free range to swim in the pond again. But somehow this year it feels different. Something will be missing.
Someones will be missing.
My gear will stand alone in front of the bath house … unguarded.

Kinship In and Out of the Pond

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In the middle of Walden Pond the monkey mind finally exhausts and I turn my head to look at the sky. I am reminded of the picture my daughter chose for the cover of her most recent musical composition, her first work for full symphony orchestra. She named it Kindred. The blue of the sky is pale and almost lost in the brilliant stark white glare of the summer sun. It reflects on the clouds causing them to appear blue grey, but it is difficult for me to get a proper look. For one I must keep to the rhythm of my breath and stroke, my head at the command of these two masters. And another, the jagged shards of light dazzle me as they fall and cause the water to dance with twinkles of silver. I would be forced to look away or be blinded.
I think of Jesi and immediately, just as I did when I first listened to Kari’s music. A sense of warmth and the overwhelming feeling I am being embraced engulf me. It is as if the water suddenly encompasses me entirely. This only lasts for a split second but it is unmistakable. It is not new to me. I know Jesi is here but I also feel as if all my kin are also right here with me in the middle of this pond as I continue my uninterrupted breath and blow and stroke and pull through the water. I feel calm and for a moment wonder if it is possible that this moment might stretch into forever. Then a voice in another part of my brain reminds me how strange that would be and by the next stroke the monkey in my head is back to jostling about from branch to branch.
But somewhere the idea of kindred has stuck.

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When I clamor back onto the beach I turn around to look at the sky. Toward the end of the swim when my shoulders start aching to the beat of each stroke and I tire of the nagging of my hip flexor, already screaming with every kick, I turn my focus back to the sky. I want to imprint the silver blue grey on my memory. I am curious how I can become so absorbed by it, trying to figure out why it looks so much more amazing from the water than the beach, but it is no use. It just does. So I take yet another photo trying to capture the intangible magic of it and wander off to retrieve my towel.

I have taken to leaving my gear near the lifesavers table this year, and have struck up such a friendship with the various lifeguards that as the summer season comes to an end it dawns on me I will miss them when they pack up their flags and their buoys and their boat, and store their floats in the beach house and lock the doors for the last time. This will be a new loss for me, the sense of friendship and kinship I have shared all season with these young people who come to Walden to patrol the beach and keep it safe for us to use. Ahh, I think, that’s why the monkey kept reminding me of kinship in the pond. It is here that I find it!
And it is true, the very next day when I arrive and greet one of my favorite lifeguards he offers to put my water bottle in the fridge for me while I swam.

“For you” he says, “Certainly. You’re one of the family!”

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to listen to Kari’s music go to Kindred

Wholly Immersed in the Walden Experience.

When I turn on the ignition in my car it is 69 degrees on a grey day in Lexington. Eight miles later the sun is streaming down from a blue sky patched with white cotton ball clouds. The temperature readout on my dashboard registers 72 degrees.
I am exhausted and could just as easily have taken to the couch as the car but here I am at Walden. I unlatch the door inviting in some fresh air and close my eyes for a few minutes.
The sun is still strong when I open them.

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The water feels chilly but I don’t allow myself to focus on it. Instead I enjoy its long slender strands like dark, perfectly horizontal pencil lines that stream past me to my left and to my right. The water is so calm moving through it is almost as relaxing as napping. I focus on the sky, that perfect shade of summer blue arching over and beyond the green of the forest. This to my left and to my right. Just as my body is poised on the surface of this pond, so some unfathomable equilibrium is being reset within it. By the time I reach Thoreau Cove I am beginning to think this swim is one in an episode of quiet contemplations. I make a slight curve toward Ice Fort Cove and the wind picks up.
I had not noticed there had been much of a breeze until I made this directional change. The water surface which I tend to watch closely had become slightly choppy, but only so that smooth glassy sheen at the beginning of my swim had been transformed into a dappled pattern of circular troughs and tiny crests. I had not had to amend my stroke noticeably to account for the swell. Now all that changes.

Suddenly I find myself both looking into the sun and swimming across the direction of the wind and waves. As I raise my head to breathe I see through the wind swept spray tiny fragments of light. I cannot quite make out clearly what it is I see, but I imagine a small boat full of refugees, standing shoulder to shoulder on the deck, the lights, a strand of lanterns hanging above them. Are they trying to make for safe harbor? How ridiculous, I tell myself. Am I hallucinating? I’m in the middle of Walden. Boat people, refugees? Here? But the vision keeps appearing to my right every time I raise my head.
I swim on, determined to swim past the point the light will play its tricks on me. I turn, swimming across the neck of Ice Fort Cove, feeling more and more like I myself am a boat in a harbor, pointing my bow into the wind, taking the waves full on. My stroke slows but somehow my body manages to rise up against the power of the waves so I almost swim above not through them. Each limb is achingly heavy and moving like lead, one arm pawing one after the other, my legs slowly steering from behind. I am moving so slowly I feel life itself has stalled but I am also feeling such stamina my power and  strength is overriding all else. Instead of heading back out toward the center of the pond as I would usually do, I decide to follow the line of the southern shore, staying about one hundred meters out: A old boat steaming along against the wind and waves. I am in no hurry. It is late on a Saturday and the afternoon sun has settled into the sky.

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My mind wanders back to earlier in the day. How I had eyed that thick blanket of cloud, wanting to make it an excuse for heading back to the couch, except for the little voice inside my head that had encouraged me to make the most of the opportunity to get to the pond. How when arrived and I had turned off the car ignition and taken a short nap. How the sun had shown up. How the power in me had exploded out of nowhere to meet the demands of the wind and waves and how it still is, this vessel which amazes me as it sails closer and closer to the main beach, crossing now from the southern side of the pond into the middle and making a straight line for the beach house.

Seldom do I manage to swim the whole length of the pond without losing my rhythm and beginning to flail. But today I seem to be getting stronger and stronger, spurred on by the choppy water belting against my body. And the benefit of this struggle is that I am entirely living and feeling it. It is consuming my mind and body that I am wholly sensing the now of it, something I have been struggling to do in my life lately. To my left is the blue of the sky with its wisps of windswept cloud, and to my right the same, only the clouds are misshapen into other odd formations. I watch first one oddly formed cloud and then the other and then sweep my eyes over the forest green before I am engulfed by the rising swell of water. On the next stroke I watch my browned arm rise above my body as it pulls me up into the reach of the sky. A moment later I feel myself fall back into the arms of the water before the rise of the other browned arm takes its cue. The constant rise and fall as I steer my course for home, the space between the two orange painted buoys signifying my exit onto the beach.

When I pull my body forward for that final time and flip over to see where I have been the water appears surprisingly calm, as if the battle I have been waging with the waves has been staged inside my head, not on the watery playing fields of Walden. I emerge fully from the water and stand on the beach and turn to look out over the pond.

Perhaps it has… I think, smiling as I walk off to find my towel.

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Surprises in the Pond

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It was quiet for a Friday evening, the layer of grey clouds and cool air tempting people to bars and malls after the workday week, not sand and sun and water play.

There is something beautiful about the desolation of the beach. A figure standing alone at the water’s edge wrapped in a jacket, his wide brimmed hat sitting square on a thick mop of hair. He stares over the still black water, watching. Two, three bags slouching on the stone wall, towels flung haphazardly over them. Owners no where to be seen. Further down the beach a figure huddled on the sand as if sheltering from something. No sun, no wind, not even rain. The air still, quiet and blameless.

I stagger out of the pond and look at my fingers. My nails are pale purple, a pretty shade I think, if I had painted them. The skin surrounding them is blanched white.
At the bottom of my bag I reach for my phone to check the time. I have been swimming for just over 40 minutes. The water felt warm, but to counter the low sixties degree day and lack of sun I have been wearing a short sleeve shirt to keep my neck and arms warm. I don’t feel cold at all. The color of my nails surprises me.

At first the shirt bothers me. It balloons around my upper back, trapping air as I swim. Perhaps it is the reason I feel I am swimming lopsidedly, like a boat that has taken in water and is listing terribly. I reach Sandy Point. I turn toward Ice Fort Cove. Despite my lean, I am swimming directly toward the targets I set myself. A thousand thoughts distract me as they weave their way into my mind and leave me as deftly as they enter; I never recall half of the seemingly important things that occur to me in the pond, but at the time they descend upon me urgently. Some, however, become marked forever in the waves and water as it flows through me. For instance: my daughter is always especially with me when I swim across the mouth of Thoreau Cove. That day in late September 2014 when I broke down swallowing swimming tears, realizing she was never coming back. She had passed away two weeks earlier from leukemia… And today, my heart swelling with love as the silent black ink of the pond suddenly churns and swells around me, remembering walking through the woods of Lincoln with my son, now a young man, showing him where I live. The small parcel of time spent together giving me such an enormous gift.

Now I am circling the cove and turning for my return voyage. The rhythm of my stroke changes and I find my power. I skim like a racing skiff along the water which gently laps my face. I wonder how long I can keep up this pace? There is nothing to watch and nothing to watch out for today, only the two tone grey sky and the grey chop of water which turns black ink as I swim from the wide deep bowl of the pond into the neck nearing the main beach. The engine of my stroke has waxed and waned by now but as the surface stills and the depth below lessens my body position adjusts magically to a new dynamic. My arms begin to churn so fast that my legs cannot keep up pace with them. I am straining such that I feel every muscle from my latissimus through to the deltoid attachment in my elbow rebel each time I reach my arm forward to grasp the water. Each arm, the pain repeated. But I cannot slow down the motion. My arms have taken on a force beyond my control and are circling so fast my legs lose their purpose. They give up their ineffectual kicking and float behind. I raise my head an inch higher to see how far I have to swim before I enter the open water swim shute between the buoys. I am lined up perfectly. I see two women on the beach directly ahead. Are they triathletes? I think of the days when I competed. My arms continue to churn as my breath steals air from beneath them. I feel like I am finishing a race. I wonder why my body has taken over and burst forth in such a manner. The memory in my aching muscles demanding this…

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