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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Reflections in Walden Pond

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Like the traffic lining both sides of route 126 before Walden’s allotted re-opening time, the line of cars slowly crawling toward the heavy wooden gate, I dodge two heads bobbing, one to my right, one on my left, the tanned faces and pulled back hair appearing and disappearing amongst the crests and caves of waves. Like my arm out flung, waving at my DCR buddy as I inch my car slowly past the entrance to the boat ramp, another obstacle appears, a boy on a board rearing up and disappearing somewhere ahead of me. I squint, not able to make out what it is at first. The blue board resembles the head of a whale, but no that’s impossible I tell myself. This is Walden. Soon enough I get to the ‘in’ gate. Soon enough I glide past my whale boy, his mother trailing after him, no doubt watching for swimmers like me who might topple him off his board.

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Now I am finally out in the open water of Walden. Away from the crowds, who, with their coolers and beach chairs and umbrellas have come, the second shift for summer’s Sunday, to spend the afternoon looking out over the pond. Side by side we parked under the solar canopies, I doned my swimsuit while they pulled their bags and towels out of overstuffed trunks and together we headed for the beach. Now I am surging through the choppy water, the strength I feel perhaps not translated into speed, but I am light and free and that is what matters.

My thoughts turn to dogs.
I spend a lot of time thinking about dogs these days. The dogs at the rescue who need homes and who need skilled handling to offset the behavior issues that land them homeless and stressed out in shelter environments. I’m learning how to do this… but not as fast as I want to. I’m in the middle of the bowl of Walden Pond thinking about all this. The water has flattened out though the surface is still dimpled. As I skim along I look up at the sky. Perfect blue with white wisks of cotton wool cloud. Both to my right and my left. This is my magical place and the fact that my stroke has settled into a rhythm that is so easy and relaxed that is feels almost like I could do this forever makes me believe in the magic. So I ask the sky and the power of the universe and my deceased daughter who I know resides with me in Walden to help me get over my fears and be that better dog handler that I dream of being. Then as I swim on the water changes from dimpled green to a state of stillness such that the surface turns satin green. I look ahead. I am almost at the shore and two figures stand and watch me as I approach. They turn away and continue their walk as I make a turn in the opposite direction and swim across the mouth of the cove. I have made contact with humanity and the magic disappears. But my swim is only half had and the rhythm remains.

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Walden’s Water Temperatures Teasing Thoughts…

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Even in late June there have been days when I reach into the water and my brain registers how much warmer it is than the air. And there are the days, like today when the water feels cool in comparison. Plunging in, I adjust my stoke so that I tolerate the moment of impact of body and water. I skim along the interchange of these two worlds, … fueled by a summer breeze or a sterner wind throwing waves at my face or mostly by my own determination and resolve. I am away, imagining that I am, if not in reality, swimming gracefully through the turbulence.

I steer a path straight across the middle of the pond. It seems there is no one out here, but I am long past worrying about being alone. I am the waves and the wind and the ribbons of sand my eye glances toward as I turn slightly to the right and then to the left, my head keeping pace with my breath. I watch the clouds, grateful that today they break their monotony and allow glimpses of blue to appear as if patched behind them. White and thicker grey smears also appear and threaten to snatch the sun away. But I am not caring, the momentum of my body is drawing me forward so that I become wrapped up inside my own rhythm, rejoicing in the freedom of this effortless challenge.
As I near the cove on the far shore I begin to make out clumps of colored mushrooms on the sand. They turn out to be people lying under umbrellas or wading in the shallows. I glide past them, my stroke easy. I imagine them saying ….look how strong and powerful that woman is… surging like a fish through the water… she looks so at home there. Then immediately I wonder what they really think, or if they even notice, so absorbed in their own merriment, just as I am in mine.

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As I swim into the cove the temperature of the water increases, not just a couple of degrees, and not so I just register the increase at the beginning of the pull… sometimes the surface of the water will be warm but as the depth changes the temperature decreases. Not today. It is as if my whole body is entering a warm bath. I have a migraine and don’t want my head to get hot but the water seems to be getting warmer and warmer. Then I start to dread swimming out of the cove as I am way down the far end of the pond and will have to swim all the way back through the colder water. The transition will be jarring. So now I am dreading both the heat and the cold simultaneously. I laugh as I exhale a mass of bubbles. Two days ago the Renauds Disease in my middle finger rendered it numb on the return swim. It turned white and the blood didn’t flow back into the nail bed for over an hour. I keep stroking at the leisurely pace I entered the cove at, determined not to let stress get the better of me. What else is there to do? The water is still feeling like a warm bath… Why add worry to the mix.

I follow the shoreline around until I come to the bottom of the pond and my familiar turning point. By now I have eased out of the bath and forgotten my fears, focusing instead on the stump, a marker I have been watching over the past weeks as it appears to have become more and more submerged, an indication that the water level in Walden is slowly increasing. Then I turn and once again become that powerful swimmer absorbed in nothing but the stroke and the imaginings of all those onlookers. They who observe me gliding through the water heading straight back through the middle of the pond… Heading for the beach house and home.

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A Thousand Meandering Thoughts in the Pond

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A thousand different thoughts and feelings as the waves swipe me one after the other a million times over. Today, in just a bathing suit after only a week ago feeling the chill creep under my wetsuit I amazingly still manage to lie across the surface as if I am being held by some miracle. I thank God for the power and strength to do this as I winde myself more and more into the face of the wind pushing at me. I feel peculiar, like a rat on a water treadmill stroking with all my might, going no where. I modify my direction so I am swimming across the face of the waves and it is even more bizarre. Suddenly all the world seems to be pushing against me, forbidding my getting to the shore I have in my mind to swim toward. I pass another swimmer and watch him turn his head to watch me. I sense his curiosity at the sight of this lone body pushing and simultaneously being pulled.

Swimming in open water is such an explosive psychic experience.

Somehow I find a rhythm and my body falls into a synchronicity I do not own on land between the back ache and the neck pain and the tired feet. My arms take on a tempo of their own and my breath takes her cue from them. I relax into joy. This is the moment I long for and it lasts and lasts like laughter, the kind that leaves your sides aching though and through, and if I think too deeply, move one muscle out of its context, even raise an eyebrow higher than before realizing the distance from me to shore is still a long way off and I am tiring, it might vanish as quickly as it established itself. Now I feel like that miracle and again I thank God and any other being who watches over me, a tiny speck of insignificance in this mass of wonder and water tumbling over and over and I begin to believe I belong in the water: a dolphin perhaps…?

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Appreciating the Sun and Swimming

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Once, when I was a kid growing up in Australia, I thought the sun was just one of those ‘things’ that was just part of daily life. Sure, we had winter and it rained… even in summer, but memories of my childhood predominantly are basked in sunshine and the radiant warmth of the sun. And happiness for me was always wandering amongst the trees, down dirt tracks into the gullies and across streams in the Australian bush.

I’ve lived in Boston for seventeen years now and the phrase that I was introduced to … “if you don’t like the weather wait minute and it will change” is not new to me. Yet lately I find I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting…

On Thursday I left my apartment and drove down the country lane from Lincoln center under a canopy of tall green leafy trees. The sun was glinting through the foliage from a royal blue sky far above me. Inside my body I could feel the energy of hope bursting forth, almost as if spring was beginning anew. I was on my way to Walden to swim, but the two and a half mile drive through the woods in the sunshine, watching the shadows dance on my windshield and bonnet of my car was for the moment prize enough. How I had been missing the sun!…More than I ever remembered during the whole time I have lived in Boston.
The parking lot was already populated with cars. … Thursday, late morning, no surprise as most of Boston I have spoken to have been feeling similarly about the weather here lately. (Yes, we have more than made up for last year’s drought, …and secretly, I am hoping we do not continue to do so all summer.) Standing at the trunk of my car I luxuriated in the deceptive warmth. Grabbing my shortie wetsuit and long sleeve shirt I decided I wouldn’t possibly need a sweater to put on after my swim. But before I had even walked as far as the roadway stopping to chat to fellow swimmers returning from the pond … “the water’s colder than it was last week” …. “there’s a brisk wind up this morning” …. I returned to my car to retrieve it, wishing I had bought more protective gear with me. I have been feeling the water chilly lately and my last swim, five days earlier, albeit without sun, was unpleasantly cool. But doggedly I have refused to go backwards (as I see it) and put on a full wetsuit. It is spring after all, not fall. The water should be warming, not cooling.

There are no should’s anymore.

When I did glide into the water and almost immediately the balance between left and right took over, I let myself be guided by the rhythm in me. The cold that I registered faded somewhere inside my psyche. Life was perfect and I understood again and again why I miss this (and immediately started making plans as to how to get to Walden for that next swim, through my schedule has made that impossible as yet) … For me nothing compares to the sight of the emerald blue water glistening with sun sparkles dancing on its surface, girted by the tonal variation of the early summer forest green foliage, all tied together under an arc of unending blue sky. And perhaps it is all heightened by the slight discomfort of the shiver of cold up my spine, along the top of my feet and the back of my neck, the effect it has on my perceptions and the knowledge that my body is not designed to endure what my psyche yearns for.

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Today, right now, the sky has clouded. The grey has returned. They tell me showers again.
I have learnt that the sun is not a ‘given’ but a ‘gift.’ And to appreciate it every moment, in and out of the water it shines its powerful and loving warmth on me. And when another opportunity for me to be in the water during moments of sunshine occur I know it will mean more to me than I would have ever imagined…