Every Day…

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Every Day the pond is a mirror that I crack, launching my body into her midst.
Every day now, she whispers more and colder claws down my spine. The breeze ruffling feather whisps of waves which chill me.
Every day she lures me into her depth until I am beyond the shoreline, arms flinging and white cap a flag bobbing in her swell.
I look out and see the point rising and falling ahead of me. Inching closer, then further, then closer again.
When I make my turn, that white cap becomes the bow of a boat heading across the waves; crash and splatter. My body the hull; waves butt and slap. Yet when I turn I become the fins of a dolphin slicing the waves with power and poise. And it is with grace and gratitude I find my way home.

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Surprises in the Pond

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It was quiet for a Friday evening, the layer of grey clouds and cool air tempting people to bars and malls after the workday week, not sand and sun and water play.

There is something beautiful about the desolation of the beach. A figure standing alone at the water’s edge wrapped in a jacket, his wide brimmed hat sitting square on a thick mop of hair. He stares over the still black water, watching. Two, three bags slouching on the stone wall, towels flung haphazardly over them. Owners no where to be seen. Further down the beach a figure huddled on the sand as if sheltering from something. No sun, no wind, not even rain. The air still, quiet and blameless.

I stagger out of the pond and look at my fingers. My nails are pale purple, a pretty shade I think, if I had painted them. The skin surrounding them is blanched white.
At the bottom of my bag I reach for my phone to check the time. I have been swimming for just over 40 minutes. The water felt warm, but to counter the low sixties degree day and lack of sun I have been wearing a short sleeve shirt to keep my neck and arms warm. I don’t feel cold at all. The color of my nails surprises me.

At first the shirt bothers me. It balloons around my upper back, trapping air as I swim. Perhaps it is the reason I feel I am swimming lopsidedly, like a boat that has taken in water and is listing terribly. I reach Sandy Point. I turn toward Ice Fort Cove. Despite my lean, I am swimming directly toward the targets I set myself. A thousand thoughts distract me as they weave their way into my mind and leave me as deftly as they enter; I never recall half of the seemingly important things that occur to me in the pond, but at the time they descend upon me urgently. Some, however, become marked forever in the waves and water as it flows through me. For instance: my daughter is always especially with me when I swim across the mouth of Thoreau Cove. That day in late September 2014 when I broke down swallowing swimming tears, realizing she was never coming back. She had passed away two weeks earlier from leukemia… And today, my heart swelling with love as the silent black ink of the pond suddenly churns and swells around me, remembering walking through the woods of Lincoln with my son, now a young man, showing him where I live. The small parcel of time spent together giving me such an enormous gift.

Now I am circling the cove and turning for my return voyage. The rhythm of my stroke changes and I find my power. I skim like a racing skiff along the water which gently laps my face. I wonder how long I can keep up this pace? There is nothing to watch and nothing to watch out for today, only the two tone grey sky and the grey chop of water which turns black ink as I swim from the wide deep bowl of the pond into the neck nearing the main beach. The engine of my stroke has waxed and waned by now but as the surface stills and the depth below lessens my body position adjusts magically to a new dynamic. My arms begin to churn so fast that my legs cannot keep up pace with them. I am straining such that I feel every muscle from my latissimus through to the deltoid attachment in my elbow rebel each time I reach my arm forward to grasp the water. Each arm, the pain repeated. But I cannot slow down the motion. My arms have taken on a force beyond my control and are circling so fast my legs lose their purpose. They give up their ineffectual kicking and float behind. I raise my head an inch higher to see how far I have to swim before I enter the open water swim shute between the buoys. I am lined up perfectly. I see two women on the beach directly ahead. Are they triathletes? I think of the days when I competed. My arms continue to churn as my breath steals air from beneath them. I feel like I am finishing a race. I wonder why my body has taken over and burst forth in such a manner. The memory in my aching muscles demanding this…

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Appreciating the Sun and Swimming

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Once, when I was a kid growing up in Australia, I thought the sun was just one of those ‘things’ that was just part of daily life. Sure, we had winter and it rained… even in summer, but memories of my childhood predominantly are basked in sunshine and the radiant warmth of the sun. And happiness for me was always wandering amongst the trees, down dirt tracks into the gullies and across streams in the Australian bush.

I’ve lived in Boston for seventeen years now and the phrase that I was introduced to … “if you don’t like the weather wait minute and it will change” is not new to me. Yet lately I find I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting…

On Thursday I left my apartment and drove down the country lane from Lincoln center under a canopy of tall green leafy trees. The sun was glinting through the foliage from a royal blue sky far above me. Inside my body I could feel the energy of hope bursting forth, almost as if spring was beginning anew. I was on my way to Walden to swim, but the two and a half mile drive through the woods in the sunshine, watching the shadows dance on my windshield and bonnet of my car was for the moment prize enough. How I had been missing the sun!…More than I ever remembered during the whole time I have lived in Boston.
The parking lot was already populated with cars. … Thursday, late morning, no surprise as most of Boston I have spoken to have been feeling similarly about the weather here lately. (Yes, we have more than made up for last year’s drought, …and secretly, I am hoping we do not continue to do so all summer.) Standing at the trunk of my car I luxuriated in the deceptive warmth. Grabbing my shortie wetsuit and long sleeve shirt I decided I wouldn’t possibly need a sweater to put on after my swim. But before I had even walked as far as the roadway stopping to chat to fellow swimmers returning from the pond … “the water’s colder than it was last week” …. “there’s a brisk wind up this morning” …. I returned to my car to retrieve it, wishing I had bought more protective gear with me. I have been feeling the water chilly lately and my last swim, five days earlier, albeit without sun, was unpleasantly cool. But doggedly I have refused to go backwards (as I see it) and put on a full wetsuit. It is spring after all, not fall. The water should be warming, not cooling.

There are no should’s anymore.

When I did glide into the water and almost immediately the balance between left and right took over, I let myself be guided by the rhythm in me. The cold that I registered faded somewhere inside my psyche. Life was perfect and I understood again and again why I miss this (and immediately started making plans as to how to get to Walden for that next swim, through my schedule has made that impossible as yet) … For me nothing compares to the sight of the emerald blue water glistening with sun sparkles dancing on its surface, girted by the tonal variation of the early summer forest green foliage, all tied together under an arc of unending blue sky. And perhaps it is all heightened by the slight discomfort of the shiver of cold up my spine, along the top of my feet and the back of my neck, the effect it has on my perceptions and the knowledge that my body is not designed to endure what my psyche yearns for.

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Today, right now, the sky has clouded. The grey has returned. They tell me showers again.
I have learnt that the sun is not a ‘given’ but a ‘gift.’ And to appreciate it every moment, in and out of the water it shines its powerful and loving warmth on me. And when another opportunity for me to be in the water during moments of sunshine occur I know it will mean more to me than I would have ever imagined…

Swimming into my Future

 

IMG_7695Rhythm comes easily in the morning. As soon as my body slides between the warm sheets of water I know why I have struggled from my restless bed to come here. This is where I rest. This is the fixed point, the metronome in the shifting backdrop of my day.

August in moving under me like the wind blown water that butts my face. Next week my youngest child, one of two, now one, (her twin passed on almost two years ago) leaves for her freshman year in college. As of next week I will officially be … an empty nester.

I stream through the water as through nothing can stop me, as though it is effortless, this journey. I am weightless, suspended and supported by the sheer force of nature. By now I am in the deepest part of the pond. When I look around the shoreline has receded like the hairline on an aging face. Every time I raise my face to breathe the wind reminds me I play but a small part in this world. Below me the vague dark reaches of mud descend down as far as one hundred feet. Sometimes it feels that in those deepest parts of Walden I am being pulled, as if the water is dragging me downward, my legs succumbing to the power of Walden. It is only my lungs, expanded and full of air that keep me buoyant.
To my left, I come upon two kayakers, and for once I am pleased for the company. To my right a little further on, white arms rotating backwards. Another traveler on his journey. These distractions are good.

I shift my gaze toward my destination, the small cove where I circle the shore so I can look back at what I have achieved. It is there, that ahead of me I see shivers of light, like the struts of a ferris wheel, circling a crack where the sun peaks through the clouds in the overcast morning. And to my left, a smear of pastel blue with puffy white clouds pasted across it. The storms of the previous night have passed rolling back the curtain of grey to reveal what lies beyond.
Perhaps it is like that for me too, as my life shifts into its next phase. I guess as the journey continues, it will be revealed.

The Body and Soul of Walden

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This morning the paper reported a 32 year old man lay in a critical condition in a hospital bed after he had been discovered unconscious in Walden Pond late yesterday.

I pray for his body and soul and all those who love him.

I think this when I am 30 minutes into my swim, realizing I am equally as far from the shore on my right as I am from the shore on my left…
I am in the middle of this vast expanse of water and it stretches down into the earth a hundred feet below me while above me there is only grey.

It is uncanny how safe I feel, and suddenly how the exhilaration of where I am hits me. I feel a smile forming on my lips as I expel the air from my lungs. The water is flat around me so I hardly lift my head, only my mouth sipping air, clearing the water by less than an inch. I know it is imperative I stay with the rhythm of my stroke so I do not sip water instead of air.
I do not swim fast but for all of those 30 minutes I have felt the calm that comes with my body moving symmetrically around the central axis of my spine. I have heard of a psychological tool called EMDR which uses this rhythm to heal trauma and as I continue to move, my eyes exploring the endless water to either side of me, I know I am resetting my nervous system. I also know that the power of survival within me causes me to continue this rhythm, even as I think of this soul and what his last conscious moments may have been like; falling, increasing darkness, the fear of it all. I know that I cannot succumb to the fear that has sometimes grasp me when I have been in the middle of this enormous well of water; the times I feared for my daughter’s life when she was in hospital after her bone marrow transplant; the fear that she would be taken from me… (and she subsequently was, breathing her last breath while I stroked her face and whispered into her ear.)

So I think how fortunate I am to be buoyed up by the strength I find in Walden… that the freedom of being here calms and strengthens me and has taught me to find my power when I have felt weak and feeble standing on the earth. I think of Jesi and so, through the bubbles I blow I begin talking to her, knowing she hears my thoughts just as I know she is with me now, perhaps hovering unseen above me.

My fingers begin to feel cold. Especially the ring finger and pinkie on my left hand. I notice them, take notice of them, but keep going. Sometimes there is nothing to do but continue when adversity sets in. So I subsequently forget about the cold, all the time moving slowly toward the main beach, the beach house a beacon in the dull light of the afternoon.

By the time I reach the shore I am cold and I know I must change out of my swim suit and the short sleeve rash shirt I am wearing. But the cold is nothing really, not compared to the gift that Walden has bestowed on me. The gift of feeling powerful and strong.

This evening, I read that the 32 year old man who was found unconscious in Walden Pond late yesterday has passed away. That his soul left his body and is now free of pain.

I pray for his passing and soul and for all those who love him.

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Monitoring Temperature Change

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.

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But today, the sky is a dusty pastel, white cauliflower like clouds outlined against an only-just blue sky.

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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.

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On Open Water Swimming

The ropes are up. They wait for the crowds to arrive with their lifeguards who watch over them like shepherds do their sheep. But for now with the cooler weather when the temperature stretches into the long afternoon and still does not reach seventy, when the sun strains through striated clouds and still cannot make her face seen, the sand, the water lie still. And I, like a rebellious child stride along the beach front to wade in entering where next week the small outboard dingy will be moored and open water swimming will be banned.

When I look out, diagonally across from one end of the main beach to the other end of Red Cross beach, the buoys bob aimlessly, also waiting. Today I can swim alongside them, inside them and so I do. I scoop a path curving as the shoreline does and then straight down the right side of the pond. I am alone, except for one other swimmer. I do not think about the cold. Instead I am preoccupied with my stroke, stretching forward with one arm, letting it fall aimlessly through the first foot of water before I push through until I am turning slightly using the strength of my upper, my lower arm, my shoulder. I remember my coach telling me I should feel like I am skating and I do. Perfectly balanced and energized by my symmetry.

I decide I will swim further. I will scoop around the shoreline at the far end of the pond and along the “bottom” side until I reach Ice Fort Cove Point and then turn to swim back across the middle.

I swam across the middle on Sunday when the wind was against me but momentarily I have forgotten how tired I got. Until I do it again and it strikes me again in the middle of the pond that I am tired.

To my right the layers of grey cloud are finally letting go their grip upon the sky and beyond them a pale pastel blue appears. To my left the clouds still cling to the sky, layer upon layer of grey. When I look up ahead of me the beach house appears as a tiny matchbox. It is so far in the distance. I am losing the balanced rhythm I felt so comfortably before, I am losing the feeling of floating. Suddenly I wonder how it is I am held suspended on this mammoth body of water. How it is I do not just sink to the bottom. I think of the fact that my lungs are full of air, for as well as correcting my stroke in the pool this winter, the coach encouraged me to hold my breath instead of breathing in and blowing out. “Keep the air in your lungs,” he told me. “It will help you float.” But I feel like I am sinking.

To my right the shore looks far away. To my left, even further. I am sinking and I am tired, and somehow I wonder if it ever felt like this last year. How is it I do not remember feeling like I couldn’t make it? In all my swimming across the pond did I ever before feel this way? And if I did (as I am sure I must have) how did I make it back?

I think of Jesi. Jesi is always there somewhere inside me. I wonder whether I am more aware of the fragility of life since we lost her …. the ease with which it can slip away from one … Is this why I am so acutely aware of sinking now? Immediately I think that Jesi would protect me and while I believe this, I cannot rely on it and not also help myself. So I focus on my arms stretching over, floating down a foot and then pulling my body along the water. My legs, my feet kicking trying to find the balance I left somewhere back along the straight down to Thoreau Cove. And before I am aware of it, the matchbox beach house is no longer a match box, it is a single large sentinel looming out of the grassed hillside, keeping watch over the pond from beyond where the lifeguards have not yet taken up their posts.