A Glimmer in the Sky

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Perhaps I ought to have known when I looked up from the puddles in the ice and saw the late afternoon sun peeking through the heavy weight of clouds that something unusual was about to happen …. those iridescent silver threads spun with gold sent forth across the puckered puddled pond… But I was in no mind to predict it. The past four weeks has sucked the strength out of me, my capacity to see beyond the very act of putting one foot in front of the other, my resilience finally beaten down. Two days before I had commented to a friend … you know that saying …what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger … this time I think it’s finally beaten me.
Falling on my face, bruising my ego and my knees, the abscessed root of a tooth after dental work causing a week of migraines, and then this past week yet another migraine, nausea and so ill I could do nothing for four days, all due to fasting for a medical procedure…

I had begun to wonder if my daughter in spirit had been required elsewhere in the celestial heavens and I had been left to manage as best as I humanly could. Which clearly, was not very well…

So here I was at Walden… head bent watching one foot as I placed it slowly in front of the other.

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I was hardy game to walk upon the ice. It was 50 degrees and dotted with visitors near and far. I did not feel I had the power of Jesus walking on water like I imagined they had. Even further toward the middle I could make out the tiny figures of the ice fishermen, a sure sign that Walden was a safe haven. Yet I desperately wanted a photo. But when I stared at myself in the puddles which nestled in her icy cover I seemed such a fragile figure. Could I risk it?

I stepped carefully onto the ice. with each step I made my way out to the puddles and slowly bent to take a photo. I did not stay long or go far. Just enough to feel a swell of terror and an inch of bravery return.
Back on the the squelchy sand I continued, lips zipped together, at a brisk pace around the pond. It felt so good to be moving; walking strong and powerful. Striding out on solid ground. I remembered the third anniversary of Jesi’s death on September 11 when I hid her prayer card in the grasses so she could watch over the pond. My heart warmed with my secret. Perhaps she was not gone from me even if this morning I had felt so low I let go of her entirely.

By the time I had walked half way around the pond I was considering turning back. I could see the south shore and track above the sand were icy. I had stopped to talk to a young couple who had confirmed this and also decided to turn back. Then my cell phone rang. The call sent me into a stress spiral. Immediately I finished the call I felt the muscles in my head tighten and grip at my temple. It was uncontrollable and the way migraines begin. I needed to breathe. BREATHE. I told myself.

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I turned around and watched with intent two younger women begin to climb the stairs to continue along the icy side of the path. I made a decision. I actually – consciously – thought – I’ll – follow – them. But my brain remained obsessed with anger and irritation at the phone call. I couldn’t shake it, no matter how much I tried to distract myself, focus on my breathing, breath into the tight muscles of my forehead … Nothing was working.
At first the path was easy… I began to wish for ice, for something to focus on, to concentrate on, to take my mind off the irritation I was feeling.

I didn’t have to wish for long …

The path soon deteriorated into a sheet of grey ice.

At first I was able to grab hold of the wire fence to pull myself along, or find a foothold of mossy ground or stone, however that soon became impossible. I managed to catch up to the younger women. They were chatting and laughing as they shuffled along the ice in their wellington boots.

“Boy, this is fun,” I called out.

We chatted about our choice of footwear. I was wearing hiking boots, which I had recently decided had less grip than my sneakers. I joked how I had left my yak traks were in the trunk of the car. One of the women (I later learnt they were sisters) told me she found micro spikes better than yak traks. Before long we were immersed in conversation. Everything from where do you live, to what do you do, how many and how old are your children until I was talking about Kari’s recent experience at Peterborough NH working as an admin assistant at the McDowell Artists Colony. One of the sisters knew of the colony because she had lived in Peterborough for many years before moving further north.

When you speak about McDowell, you notice an immediate shift in the energy of people familiar with it. For Andrea, her already deep dark eyes seemed to open wider to reveal what had already attracted me and totally engrossed me in her. I had been entranced by her soft spoken voice, the way she seemed to carefully choose each word before she uttered it. She was grounded and at peace, everything I wanted to be but was far from, especially at the moment I had attached myself to her and her sister Hillary. Hillary, on the other hand who continued on perhaps twenty feet ahead of us, every few minutes would let out a raucous laugh. She seemed so content and amused with the task of negotiating the difficulties of the icy path, even if it wasn’t humor that caused her outbursts, they landed on me with a light gaiety which lifted my mood.

We continued, Andrea and I deep in discussion, me lost in her deep dark eyes, and Hillary almost dancing with delight, slipping and sliding all the way along the south side of the pond path until we reached the boat ramp.

It was almost 4.30pm when we arrived back and the parking area was about to close for the evening. We hiked along the road toward it before saying our farewells. When we did, we hugged and Andrea slipped her business card into the palm of my hand. “Give this to your daughter if she is ever back in Peterborough,” she said. “Oh, I will,” I replied glancing down it.

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It wasn’t until hours later when I was recalling my experience to Kari that I realized what had happened. I suddenly stopped talking and stared off into space. Those eyes, those deep dark eyes… Were they Jesi’s eyes?

Once, three years ago, just after Jesi had passed away, her eyes had smiled at me out of the face of an unknown woman. A shaman had warned me this might happen. I thought about it a minute. Andrea’s eyes were not Jesi’s, but there was something there…

Perhaps Jesi had not taken off into some unknown realm of the celestial heavens after all. Perhaps this chance meeting was really meant to be…

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Along the Shoreline …

Now that summer has unofficially begun and the swimming season is officially underway I want to share some photos showing the transformation of Walden from wilderness to public recreation area.

 

 

Despite the still cool water (only a degree or two above 60) and the less than desirably cool air temperature (not touching 70) the beach was beginning to brim by the time I finished my swim this afternoon. It was still pretty easy to navigate a path through the water  without colliding though.

Yes… Despite the weather, the season begins!

 

 

Getting Ready for the New Visitors Center

Watching the workmen struggling under one of the carefully shaped and smoothed tree trunks lying along the dirt walkway; it is to provide seating as visitors make their way from the DCR’s New Visitor Center to the pond I had to comment, “Wow, that’s some reversing job you guys did.” Behind them, wedged neatly between two trees and just to the right of the statue of Thoreau (outside the entrance of the replica of his house), was a small forklift. In its jaws, the tree trunk the men were working under, sweating in the heat and humidity of the summer morning while they twisted a metal base into place to elevate it. As I walked on I wished I had my phone with me to take a photo but I was hurrying off for my morning swim. When I returned and saw it and the other few “seats” all sitting on their metal bases I commented “Well, I see you got the forklift out then.”
“Piece of cake,” one of the guys answered.
“I wish I had been there to see it but I was in the middle of the pond.”
“I wish I’d been there,” he replied.
“Certainly was quieter than it was here I imagine.” It was only about 10 am yet already the pond was closed due to parking reaching capacity.
When I changed I did bring my phone back and take some photos, managing to capture the last of the work the men were doing. That is when the idea for this blog post germinated.

It’s a little under a month now until the New Visitors Center at Walden Pond is due to open and I thought I would share some photos. This morning I was wandering around the perimeter of the fence looking for the best angle to put my phone up to the cyclone wiring when I bumped into one of my DCR buddies. I mentioned to him I wanted to take some photos to put up on my blog. The landscaper happened to be walking by.
“Hey, can you let her in so she can take some photos?” he asked.
“Sure,” the landscaper replied, opening the cyclone fence and leading the way.
He proceeded to tell me the landscaping would be completed in a week. “only another hundred natives to be planted.” I already knew that the visitor center itself was scheduled to be completed by August 1.

Wandering around and looking at the amazing variety of plants it is easy to imagine that there are over a thousand natives here, including native and wild blueberries, (Yes, they are meant to be picked by visitors). What isn’t so easy for a novice like me to imagine is how anyone could plan all this, but then I guess that’s why I just swim across the pond and admire the work of others on the land, while others do the planning and layout and execution of it ….

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I can’t wait to see the finished visitors center and gardens … and not long now, (and the real bathrooms too!!!)

Crafting a Story on Water

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As the week draws to a close I find my sojourns in Walden become focused not only around swimming, but also around what to write about swimming, or at least what to write about my experiences in and out of the water. And today is no exception. So by the time the initial euphoria with which I have greeted the water subsides, and a plethora of thoughts have bombarded me, none of which seem worthy, here I am writing about challenges both in the water and on the page.

Yet all those thoughts do not go nowhere. Sometimes there are days of them stored up in my phone (if I remember after I get out of the water enough to note them down, and for this, a quiet uninterrupted walk back to the car and time to sit in the parking lot before I head to my next commitment is inordinately helpful). Alternately there needs to be enough rhythm in my body that I can repeat and rehearse the phrases which seem so delightful to me whilst I am swimming to remember them when I get out!
Needless to say, often they seem much paler when transcribed than they do when the magic of the pond initiates them.

In any case, here are a couple from this week:

All this week I have been fascinated by the sky.
Now that the curtain of cloud has lifted it has revealed far beyond it, the most amazing succession of blue-domed-days. For a number of years I have wondered why it is that the sky seems so far away in summer? If I stretched my arm out forever I still would never reach it. It is so far beyond the rich ribbon of green which surrounds the pond (now the foliage has all swelled to take up all space between the trucks of trees) that it is a stage backdrop to the play of life which performs under it.
I guess then, Shakespeare was right. “All the world’s a stage.”

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Today I am acutely aware of the sink like shape beneath me where water and earth meet. So much so that by the time I am half way between shore and shore, where I know the depth of water under me is greatest, I start to imagine I am being drawn into it as if all the water were going down some enormous plug hole and I am going with it. This thought takes hold (which is not very consoling) such that I do not know whether in actual fact I am no longer kicking along, but rather my legs and feet are submerged under the water. I even do a check to see which of these is an accurate assessment of the situation, by sensing whether my feet are making a splash and how loud it is.
It seems easier and easier to be obsessed these days with thoughts which could be terrifying if I didn’t keep a firm hold on them!

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Another of my growing obsessions (for more than just this week) has been the pain in my shoulders. Perhaps this self monitoring is smart, perhaps it serves just to distract me from being carefree and enjoying the immense beauty that surrounds me. For there is nothing better than the feeling of freedom I get from being in the middle of the pond. Yet I notice today that feeling only strikes me when I am on my return journey, facing the main beach (although I do not look up much to see it), not on the outward journey.
Obviously this has no correlation to my shoulder pain (my right a rotator cuff injury which has plagued me for years, my left a relatively new issue with the anterior deltoid, which today morphed into rhomboid pain) because I can get all the way “over” without it kicking in, it is the way back when I feel the best that I also feel the worst.
So to end with a Shakespeare quote again
“There’s the rub.”

 

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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Under Snow and Ice

The snow is falling in Boston. It has been falling since the darkness lifted from the earth this morning and it is almost time for the next darkness to come and it still falls. It is the biggest snow storm Boston has seen all winter, probably half a foot of snow fallen from the sky.

The sky is almost all drained of the tiny white balls now so the wind takes over, whipping it into the air so it may fall again. If I look out one window it is a whiteout. Another, I see a mist of small white streaks moving horizontally across my view.

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Yesterday I wondered if Walden was all water again. It was 55 degrees and the reservoirs and ponds I drove past, wishing all the while I had time to deviate down Route 2 and drive to Walden, were water. Today I sit in an airport lounge, waiting and watching an unending delay of planes file past the window. My daughter and I are flying to Cleveland for the night so she can attend an interview at Oberlin Conservatory tomorrow. At Walden I imagine the pond is a whiteout, lying somewhere under all that snow.

On Monday Walden was almost water. And that was before the temperature had climbed unseasonably high, pushing its way out of winter, making even the birds believe it was Spring. [If you have ever lived in the north east of the United States you will learn, as I have, the subtle influence of season on birdsong… it seems uncannily different as the weather finally warms.] Ever since I have lived here, it seems there has been birdsong all winter, despite the temperatures being more seasonal, less erratic … and Walden being predictably ice by the second week of January.

Perhaps this year, with more snow in the forecast for Boston, Walden will be ice by the second week of February.

Walden Memories On Christmas Day…

We arrived at Walden around noon. It was Christmas Day and the car park was vacant. The air was warm for late December. The clouds had been chasing the blue across the sky since I woke around 7 am. Now they stretched into thin wisps. It was the most sun Boston had seen for a week or more, and it was glorious. Kari my sixteen year old daughter was with me.
“I don’t want to stay too long,” she announced. “I always think of Jesi when I am here.”
I understood. I did too. It wasn’t that we were trying to forget Jesi. It was just it was our first Christmas since Kari’s twin had passed in early September. It was too sad and it was difficult enough on Christmas day.

Once on the sand Kari and I split up. We had planned to walk the beach in silence. I headed to the water’s edge. Drawn to it by something I didn’t quite understand. A voice inside me asked: Are you in the waves washing up on the shore? I stood staring at them. Nothing answered.

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I looked up. The sky still a deep powder blue with white cotton spread across it. Are you in the strands of cloud spread across the sky? I asked it. Nothing answered.

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I walked along the shore, watching the old trunks of trees rolling to and fro in the water. Are you in the soddy wood strayed from its roots? I asked. Nothing answered.

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I turned to look toward Kari. She had stopped walking and was now standing in the middle of the beach facing the water. Her legs were tensed as though they were clamped together. As I walked up to her I saw the look of concentration on her face. Her brow was deep with furrows. Not those of a sixteen year old, more like those of an eighty year old. I bent in toward her and kissed her forehead in the middle of those undulating waves of tension. Her face relaxed. I stepped in front of her and wrapped my arms around her tight. First one arm, then the other. We stood clasped together for some moments until I moved around to stand beside her, also looking out over the water, my arm linked in hers.

Then a strange thing happened. I bent down a few feet in front of her and pushed my index finger into the saturated sand. And I started writing. Jesi we miss you. We love you.

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Then I stood back up next to Kari and took her hand in mine. We stood there for some minutes until three tourists came toward us and asked a question. Where was Thoreau’s house? I didn’t want to talk, to answer the man. But I did. He wouldn’t understand. Kari remained silent. The man had red hair and a colorful scarf wrapped around his neck which was blowing in the gusty morning air. He looked over to where I pointed to show him the location of Thoreau’s house, the replica and the original site. Then he backed toward me, as though the wind was blowing him. Aware he was walking back into where I had written on the sand Iasked him not to tread on my message.  He looked startled and turned, bending and attempting to resurrect the final ‘u’.
“It’s ok, you don’t have to fix it,” I said in response. “I just don’t want you to tread on it.” He apologized, perplexed I imagine, and moved away.
Kari and I continued to stand and look at the message in the sand for quite sometime before we resumed walking. Then the idea came to me out of the wind.

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I returned to the car to find Jesi’s angel card which I carried with me always in and placed it in the sand next to Jesi’s name. I almost wasn’t going to leave it there. The laminated card would almost certainly end in the pond. But when I placed it there and asked Jesi what she wanted and she answered inside my head. It belonged at Walden, just as she had that last time she visited in May, just before she went back into hospital for her transplant. Standing in the water, on the wet sand in her bare feet, picking them up high like a stork as the cold water ran over them.

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When I walked up the ramp I knew that somehow the angel card would find its way into the heavens, carried by the winter breeze and not into the pond at all.