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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Another Sunny Sunday

 

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the beach can be almost vacant even when the parking is almost full….due to the large expanse of sand

Arriving at Walden this morning reminded me of arriving at a concert at Tanglewood (the outdoor summer concert venue of the Boston Symphony Orchestra) some years ago. It wasn’t as I was lined up on Route 126 waiting to enter the car park, though at 8.10am I was a touch anxious that at that early hour the parking might already be ‘at capacity’ … please oh please may there be a space for me!!! … It was as I was scurrying through the lines of already parked cars with my bag over my shoulder, following the flow of picnic-makers and beach goers, all of us making our way to a common destination. It was as we wove our way through that last line of cars past the port-o-johns and into the wooded area which rounds the newly landscaped grounds of the visitors center that the thought came to me.

I glanced over toward the entrance of the park. Still a steady stream of cars, two abreast, dribbled along the road. My DCR buddy was too busy to notice as I stood for a moment, waving and calling out his name, too quietly for him to hear. I did not want to distract him from his task. I moved on in the flow of foot traffic making for the pond.

Across the road the show had begun. The chopped blue of the pond, this summer has been significant not only for its heat and humidity but also for its winds, speckled with faces and small craft. Even if the larger expanse of sand, left relic by the shrunken water levels, meant that while the car park was teeming with life, the beach might largely remain vacant. But the wall, the self acclaimed meeting point for open water swimmers was colorfully decorated with towels and bags. One can always tell which of the many populations of pond users are ‘in residence’ by observing the spread of possessions on the beach.

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the scene as I leave the pond this morning

When I glide into the water to begin my swim I immediately know why each morning I rise early and make my way to the pond. My anxious wait in the traffic on Route 126 and prayer that I will not be turned away is immediately replaced by a sense of tranquillity. As I begin the flow of breath and body I am reminded of the comment another of the DCR staff made to me the yesterday when I was walking back to my car. The parking was on the brink of closing and she was counting the remaining car spaces. She looked up from her walkie talkie and said, “This isn’t exactly the transcendental experience they promised when I took on the job.” I smiled and as I made my way back to my car, thinking how fortunate I was. The parking lot was now still and quiet of the sound of engines. Only the buzz of summer cicadas and birds chirping kept company with me as I changed for my drive home.

 

An addendum from last week’s post….a couple of days ago I wandered past Henry contemplating this…

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on my way back from the pond on the same day he was holding … yes… another cell phone … and wearing a base ball cap! I wasn’t fast enough to snap a pic … or to see which team he supports 😉

Confession of a Swim Fanatic

It’s Friday and I feel an urgency to go to the pond. Especially now the season has officially begun and the life guards have taken to their lookouts. I return countless times to the weather app on my phone, checking the temperature, the degree of sun, clouds, the possibility of rain.
It becomes an obsession I am not proud of, this need to swim.
It’s about freedom. I know that. It’s about strength. It’s about feeling like I have accomplished something, no matter how many other things I do not accomplish in my day due to this need I have. Yet it is also about rhythm and balance, that which the right and the left side of me achieve as I gently twist my limbs around the central core of my spine.

On Friday the need grips me even tighter. Not only do I check my phone for the weather but I also check my twitter feed. If it is too hot, if too many people have taken leave from work, if too many mothers have collected their children from school and said “Hey, let’s take a picnic and go to Walden to paddle in the water,” as I would sometimes do with my kids in years past, will I be able to get into Walden? And if not Friday, how then on Saturday or Sunday when the temperature touches ninety?*

It is so counterproductive: the stress I feel as I make for the pond. Yet once there, once I cross the road and walk down the ramp, once I lay eyes on the water, a backdrop to the leafy trees, once the water edges my skin, once I glide into it feeling like I am both flying and sailing, once I am rolling through gentle crests and listening to the rhythm of my breath, I understand why I am obsessed.
And I know I will continue to be.

* in the summer when the parking at Walden Pond reaches capacity the pond closes for 2-3 hours