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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So Let’s (not) Talk about Injuries

 

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I often wonder who it was who said to me “you can’t hurt yourself swimming.”

This week, as summer has come to full bloom under blue skies dotted with cauliflower clouds, it has been irresistible not to gaze up at them from the middle of the pond. I had not planned to swim for seven consecutive days given the nagging pain in my left deltoid, but each day the desire to be outside and doing something relaxing has taken hold, and with a fairly free schedule this week, time as well as the wonderful week of weather has afforded me the opportunity.

Today I stopped at the pond on my way to an acupuncture appointment. My acupuncturist uses a combination of his skills in PT and fine Japanese needles to pinpoint inflammation to target therapy.
Years ago my right shoulder, the rotator cuff, was giving me trouble. In those days I remember my longest swims in Walden would sometimes be an hour or more of circumnavigating the pond (and that was when it was larger and fuller than today) then perhaps doing a zig zag or two from one side to the other (I was also faster in those days) before finishing. Despite these marathon swims, my shoulder healed. For the last couple of seasons I haven’t had any problems with it at all. Yet now, given I am favoring it to “rest” my now compromised left (dominant) side, I am starting to feel twinges in it again. Not surprising really.

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As I set out from the main beach this afternoon I felt a strange twang on the underside of my left upper arm. The feeling I know too well from being a migraine sufferer. It is nerve pain resembles a wire shifting somewhere deep under my skin (with migraines in my head). This pain, however, only started a few days ago. It appeared, and the nagging pain where the deltoid muscle attaches to a ligament in my upper arm has simultaneously disappeared. “At least the pain is moving around and isn’t stuck” I exclaimed to a physical therapist in an initial evaluation on Wednesday.

I amended the length of my stroke and the pain eased. I relaxed a little more and the pain eased. I ignored it and focused instead on the sensation of gliding through the almost calm water and the pain almost became irrelevant. I focused fully on the rhythm my whole body was making; the singing of my breath, the rocking and rolling of my body, the calming effect of the sky, the clouds and the forest, and the pain did become irrelevant. I swam to one shore and circled over to the other. I scooped out a wide curve in one of the coves on the south side of the pond I have not yet been in this year, I watched the shore and people gathered in small groups on the sand as I passed. I very occasionally looked where I was going in case I collide with another swimmer. And when I felt that old injury on my right start nagging at me that it was time to turn back to the main beach I did a sharper circle down that end of the pond which always feels like home to me and I swam back to the main beach.

The Season Begins…and so

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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.

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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.

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Diamonds in the Pond

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Mark… For You

I waded out of the water and across the sand. The swim had been exhausting but I felt invigorated, unlike the weariness I had been feeling when I arrived. It was late afternoon and the sun was glinting like three large diamonds across the middle of the pond. They were perfectly lined up between where I was standing on the beach and Ice Fort Cove point. So dazzlingly bright I had turned and was standing with my back to the water.

Since the new swim regulations have been in effect at Walden there is a narrow stretch of sand where open water swimmers are asked to enter the water, so I often find other swimmers at the stone wall adjacent it. I found myself exchanging greetings with Mark. He was toweling his hair when we started chatting and he shared with me that the previous week he had finally made it all the way across to the other side. Despite his low key manner I sensed the pleasure this had given him. It’s always great to hear stories about what Walden gives to others in its community.

“Whenever I come here,” Mark continued “anything that’s bugging me seems to go away.”

I visualized the deep belly of Walden, our problems sinking into it and remaining submerged in the muddy floor. I thought of how I’d read that the largest lotus always rise out of the muddiest depths… I thought of how I experience not only a change in outlook from when I had start my swim to when I finish it, but the many times I had felt weak and overwhelmed and had thrown myself into the water, and how strong and powerful it had made me feel to surge forward into the waves as the wind pushed them into me. How I had faced some of the worst experiences I could remember, a horrendous divorce, the death of one of my children by swimming in Walden.
…When I am feeling overwhelmed by even the smallest things I immediately think about Walden and want to be in the middle of the pond…

Then Mark pointed out the sparkling diamonds extending across the middle of the pond as the sun lowered itself toward it and continued, saying what a magical place it was for him.

The previous day, after nine days of a migraine headache I had tentatively launched myself into Walden’s waters, at first feeling their cool caress against my skin and then worrying that as I swam and started to generate heat from the work I was doing, my head would rebel and I would have to turn and make for the shore. But even as I monitored it, the familiar thump stopped despite the regularity with which it had been beating for days and even when I struggled back up the beach after the swim, did not return. Not even when I strolled, not the leisurely stroll of an afternoon walk but a stroll due to the fact I was too tired to do otherwise, up the ramp and back to my car. Not even when I returned home to my sweet but noisy dog and the TV blaring. Not even when I sat down at my computer and caught up on email.

I didn’t tell Mark about the magic Walden had bestowed on me, but it had!

The Hole to the Sky

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The water is delicious, a string of fine beads caressing my body and limbs. For many moments after I fall into its arms I am paralyzed to anything but the sense of it against my skin.

I look up at the deep blue sky and its soft cotton clouds. Over the course of my swim I will watch them drift across the vast dome which stretches from beyond the trees on one side to beyond the trees on the other; beyond the pond, beyond all that I cannot see. I have never before noticed how far away the sky is. Not in winter when it hangs grey weight upon me, not last summer when I strained out of a hospital window even to see if it was blue, not even in the fall when I raced to the pond to gaze up at it from its midst, knowing that Jesi’s spirit had been released into it. That finally her suffering was over.

Suddenly I am struck by my own insignificance, a tiny particle of matter bobbing up and down on the small crests of blue water. A creature that, by the grace of some higher power I do not fully understand, is supported on a sea of bombarding molecules. I begin to wonder about it all: how we are all connected, tiny parts to the whole of the universe we inhabit, supporting… being supported by… but how, to be supported by these trillions of water molecules my physical body must be necessarily separate from them.
Yet I am also part of the vast universe surrounding me, encompassed under the enormous dome of sky.

A plane flies overhead, the gentle groan of its engine dwarfed by the groan of my breath. I imagine myself peering out of porthole windows down on the tiny particle of matter which is me. I think of what I might see if I was peering out at the sky from those porthole windows. I think of what I might look for that I don’t see.

What is there that I am not aware of…

Bubbles of breath fizzle in front of me, tickling my face as I glide through them. I yearn to be still, to quieten my body as it travels through space where sky meets sea, to find an entrance into the world that lies between these molecules. Years ago, I named the interface between these two worlds the “Universal Fine.” I wonder about it now, reaching each arm forward yet failing to find the portal.

I wonder what there is that I am not aware of?

There is so much that I do not understand and that Jesi’s passing from her physical body has rekindled in me a desire to know.

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As I reach Thoreau Cove the water has quietened. I swim in gleaming green velvet blue. The sound of giggling children from the shallow water, the stones on the sandy bottom move slowly beneath me. I think of Jesi and her presence surrounds me. I remember crying through my own bubbles one day in late September, almost a year ago, while swimming in this same spot.
I blink back tears inside my goggles now and stumble over my breath before I let go, looking up into the clouds, into that vast dome which seems to stretch forever.

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