Circling the Sky

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For days I’ve watched the grey unfurl as I’ve swum closer… into the sky; sometimes to reveal splintered rain splattering around me, sometimes to peel back enough layers so the blue beyond can peek through from behind rolls of off-white cloud.

But today the sky almost stretched her pale force of blue from the northern tree tips to the southern shore, and the air almost felt like summer once more.

I put a lighter shirt over my bathing suit, (I’ve given up any thought for now that there will be a time when it will just be the bathing suit) and walked along the sand to the far end of Red Cross Beach.

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Each time I stretch my body flat into the water I am home. The water, its tiny curls circling down my flesh covered ribs, denudes my sense of shirt and suit. I slide through it, the water, though the wind has whipped the surface into peaks that, for an instant, stand like stiff cream before they resume their place in the infinity of the pond. From the shore I have seen the sleek sheen of the far basin, a temptation to make for the place where the breeze has not ruffled the surface… but it seems to take forever to find it when I am immersed and churning arm over arm toward it.

Finally, when the rhythm in me changes I know I am there. It is as though I have landed up-on the water deck, no longer struggling in-under it, my feet flapping and kicking to keep me afloat. Now, as I look to the left, and then to the right, gently rolling jade waves like slow moving sea creatures recede toward the shoreline. I begin to feel a litheness. I imagine I am a dolphin playing. I weave to and fro making slight turns in the water, all the time watching the scenery of the shore circling around me as I do. 

Suddenly I feel an incredible lift, adrenaline bursting forth. I am in the middle of the pond watching the world turning around me. In the middle of this enormous expanse of water watching the world turning around me. Gently flowing circles of forested green girthed by sand. I lift my body a little more each time I circle my arms into the sky, until they take on a momentum of their own. A momentum of their own, arms circling the sky, until they take my body home.  

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Pollen on the Pond

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Still Life of the Pond

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I don’t realize how freeing it is until I jump off the stone wall and pick up my gear. It is only as I head off along the sand, making my way around the bend in the shoreline that I am able to appreciate my decision. With a new season of swimming there is no habit, no ritual to be adhered to. I am in no hurry. The sun is shining and the breeze, well perhaps it is the breeze that has encouraged me to head for Thoreau Cove…

I have swum only once since last November, a quick dip, twenty minutes from the main beach, inching my way along the right flank of the pond on the first of three unseasonal summer days this past week. A long sleeve neoprene shirt under my short wetsuit, gloves too large they slid off and filled with water with each stroke, and a neoprene cap. The water did not seem too cold, though I do remember feeling the icy tendrils encasing my bare thighs at first and quickly  deciding to ignore it. I had been walking dogs all day so my muscles and skin were warm when I plunged in.

Today I am feeling relaxed, exhausted even, and sitting on the wall only makes me realize it. If I don’t move I won’t want to go in at all. I am not yet ‘hooked’. I have navigated five months without swimming. I wondered even if I would have forgotten how! 

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So I pick myself up and head around to where I know the breeze will be less and the sun shine with the sensation of greater heat.

Yet still, when I sit on the broken tree trunk on the shore at Sandy Point I ponder the swim for a good while and distract myself talking to a fellow I meet who is busy capturing the beginnings of a tan.

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When I plunge in I feel the water outline my body like the thin line of a pencil drawing. Taking those first strokes the lines of pencil blur into a trail of waves. I have broken into the still life of the pond. I set my sight on Ice Fort Cove Point, which from the shore looked like an easy swim. And it is, at first, as my form from years and years of practice returns without thought. Yet by the time I near the cove my shoulders are aching with each over arm, the tiny mass of deltoid muscles a weak cry of complaint each time I ask them to raise my arms toward the sky… and in my chest I feel each rib stretch taunt the skin it covers as my lungs expand.

As I continue to swim into the cove, sweep around the shoreline and out into the open water I wonder how I will make it back… but know I have no choice. Then a familiar voice my head tells me to change my stroke technique; I am fatiguing more than necessary. The long hiatus from swimming has thrown me after all. I have returned to a former style, forgetting the practice I had perfected by the end of last season when I left the pond feeling like a skiff sailing across the waves.

Yet despite modifying the pull so that I begin it later when my arm is lower in the water, and rolling more from the hips, I don’t seem to be moving forward. Every time I come up to breath I seem to be at the same angle from the beach house on the distant shore and the point toward which I am heading never seems to be getting any closer. I am in a time warp, only it is some sort of a spacial warp. I am a water rat on a treadmill swimming over and under going nowhere.

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I know this feeling well from years and years of swimming in Walden. I also know the mind games that the cold water can play. I kept my eyes on my goal and breathe in and out relaxing into the journey ahead, knowing I will make it, even though my perception tells me otherwise.  

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The Ponders: A Community Gather to Salute the Season.

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Somewhere between the layers of blue, perhaps only visible as a red cap bobbing in the waves, or a splash of arms rising and falling rhythmically, we come and go. Perhaps if the weather and schedule calls for it, we may even gather, wrapped in towels and dripping cold rivulets down white limbs, sunning shivery bodies and laughing how the weather has extended these last weeks of the season…how records have been broken… a date crossed and still a plunge taken in the low sixties temperature of the pond… how the degrees drop day by day, night by night…
Some struggle out of wetsuits, dragging their empty black limbs through soddy sand, some hardy enough to bear the cold still only in bathing suits. And many varieties of neoprene between: a diversity of age and experience. But all with a common love and purpose… the freedom of the open water, the magic of Walden.

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For years a growing population of ‘Ponders’ have been hanging out and hanging on, obsessed by swimming in the cooling waters…As the fall colors deepen and the falling leaves drop they become more visible, or at least their bags do, slouching on the stone wall at the main beach.

Thanks to Jim Callahan, a couple of weeks ago, it wasn’t only the bags that were seen slouching on the stone wall. A group of us got together after a Sunday swim and celebrated the season with conversation, tea cake and cookies. Although Jim is still braving the waters in his bathers and neoprene cap (and bound to for a few more weeks yet!) gathering names and growing an increasing list of ‘regulars,’ as we also refer to ourselves, I know there are many more. Just a week after our gathering I met a woman at the wall. As we pulled on our neoprene we exchanged thoughts on the water temperature. We happened to meet again after our swim and she invited me to join her group which met on Sunday mornings ‘during the season’.

And to think that a month or two ago I was mourning the end of the season, wondering what I would do for company when the lifeguards left!

Now we are our own lifeguards…We know each other’s gear, and watch out for each other. If the wind is whipping up strife in the pond it is an adventure. We embrace the challenge and excitedly exchange notes on it when we arrive safely back on the beach.
We leave with a sense of satisfaction and inner peace, and best of all … the promise of tomorrow…

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Just a note to end on ….
To the many many regular swimmers who I/we haven’t connected with, if you would like to be included in the next Salute to the Season Celebration, send a comment to this blog and I will see your contact details get to Jim!

Liz 🙂

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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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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