Even as I turn out of the driveway I am imagining the rhythm of my body gliding through the water. Yet it is not until later in the day that I speed along Route 2 toward Walden.
On Tuesday when I last swum the water temperature had fallen perhaps three degrees from the previous week. It was so cold some part of me buried deep in memory felt that instead of the calendar racing headlong toward summer, autumn was descending once more. I remember how the cold gnawed at my skin, wrapping itself close around my feet, infiltrating my cells. I remember wanting the sun to shine and the air to be another ten degrees warmer, butting eighty instead of barely reaching seventy. I remember testing my hand function, something that the cold coupled with Raynaud’s Disease make me acutely aware of. I tried to draw my pinky finger in toward my ring finger as I bought my arm overhead. The colder my hands got the less able I was to send the message from my brain to the nerves in my fingers. I also noticed I did not feel enough relief bringing my arm out of the water. I remember thinking… “Should I turn back or continue on to the end of the pond.”
I have trouble turning back, not finishing things that I start. Even as a runner stoping and turning around (running an out-and-back course) had been almost impossible. So even as I registered that I was cold, I continued on to the far end of the pond.
I remember wishing the wind, which had blustered it way through Boston during the past two days, would calm. But I got none of it, the clouds hung thick over the face of the sun, the wind pushed and pulled at the water leaving me swamped in the valleys it created, the cold encased me like a mummy… so that when I finally arrived back on the main beach and turned to look at where I had been, standing sent a chill through me as the water inside my wetsuit rushed out with my new gravity. And when I struggled back to my car to change, standing shivering in front of the trunk, I could hardly press the electronic key or pull at the ankles of my wetsuit enough to stretch them over my feet… or close my fingers around the zipper enough to fasten my jeans.
And the menacing clouds still did not relinquish their grip on the sun.
But today, the sky is a dusty pastel, white cauliflower like clouds outlined against an only-just blue sky.
When I get out of my car the air feels cool. I wonder how much the water has warmed over the last couple of days. Yet I am desperate to find that rhythm which only swimming can provide, so I head off to the beach. In my wetsuit the sun, holding the heat of the day in it, feels like a welcome home. I allow it to soothe me although I know it will make the transition into the water more extreme.
The water is warmer than Tuesday, but before I reach the other end I feel cooler than I would like. It is interesting, these minute changes in the temperature of the water; even one degree makes a difference. And the way the body registers temperature depends on so many things. Fatigue and hunger make one more susceptible to cold… and I know I am both.
When I am close to the shore beyond Thoreau Cove, I swim into a patch of warmer water. I do not want to leave it. I adjust quickly, or I quickly forget the comfort of the warmer water after I do. Thoughts drift in and out of my mind. I try not to grasp onto them but rather allow them the freedom they demand. As I turn my head from side to side I realize how calm the water is on both sides and how I can run my eyes across its surface and to the shoreline in the distance. Although I know the woods rise beyond it, for now the shore is my horizon. I think how horizontal has always appealed to me, how flat landscapes give me a sense of calm. I wonder whether this too adds to the calm I get from swimming in Walden.
I am thankful that my car, which doubles as my change room, (there are no available change rooms at Walden, the construction of the new visitors center leaving pre season swimmers and visitors with nothing but a row of porta-johns in one section of the car park), is bathed in filtered sunlight when I return to it. I dry off and put my clothes on sitting on the edge of the trunk. Then it becomes a picnic bench. I sit munching a sandwich and listening to the birds, warming in the late afternoon sun.
I am totally content; the combination of a challenging swim, the warmth of the sun, food, a stillness which embraces me inside and out and a view of the woods which extend beyond the car park.