Obsession

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I peer through the window, moving away from where the open pane lets the rawness of the fall morning chill my skin. I squint through the tree, almost devoid of leaves, and the canopy of apartment roofs mine is wedged between, trying to see what color the sky might be. Hoping for blue, praying for sun, sensing the grey. At least the chill in the air will seem less so if the sun shines her silver brilliance upon me.

As soon as I waken on any and every given day these are my first thoughts.

Even when I do leave my apartment, even later in the morning while I wait for the sun to reach its peak, the warmth to permeate all that it will, I am not sure what it will be like by the time I reach the pond. Yesterday the brightness of morning had all but fallen behind a curtain of cloud when finally, in wetsuit, extra neoprene shirt to stop the sneaking cold seep through tears in my wetsuit, a neoprene cap and gloves, googles, ear plugs, nose clips, -the dressing and undressing taking as much time and almost as much energy as the swimming these days- I was ready to wade in and launch myself without too much thought (though I would never, at that point turn back.) …. the sun refused to open for a second act. Today, the pond, still as a whisper, all brown and dark golden under the deep grey mess of sky… I couldn’t help but to raise my head higher than I ought trying to capture in my memory the silver lines I created in her surface watching autumn wither and die in her background. Then turning and like a knife slicing her in two as I boldly strode back through her middle.

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I know each day as I do this now is a day closer to that when my body will cry out in rebellion of the cold I immerse it in. It has not happened yet, remarkable for early November, (but then the Fall was markedly warmer than normal) but when the day comes that emerging from the pond the strength has gone from my hands and, too cold to pull off my gloves and struggle out of my wetsuit, the chilly air that meets me challenges me beyond my ability to recover…
I will have to make a decision…

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But for today … the feeling of grace and lightness and speed as I skim across the surface of the world is something that I cannot replicate anywhere else in my existence. And it causes me to become obsessed that I am beyond feeling the cold gnaw away at me.
So I make a promise to myself.
I will be back tomorrow…

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Wholly Immersed in the Walden Experience.

When I turn on the ignition in my car it is 69 degrees on a grey day in Lexington. Eight miles later the sun is streaming down from a blue sky patched with white cotton ball clouds. The temperature readout on my dashboard registers 72 degrees.
I am exhausted and could just as easily have taken to the couch as the car but here I am at Walden. I unlatch the door inviting in some fresh air and close my eyes for a few minutes.
The sun is still strong when I open them.

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The water feels chilly but I don’t allow myself to focus on it. Instead I enjoy its long slender strands like dark, perfectly horizontal pencil lines that stream past me to my left and to my right. The water is so calm moving through it is almost as relaxing as napping. I focus on the sky, that perfect shade of summer blue arching over and beyond the green of the forest. This to my left and to my right. Just as my body is poised on the surface of this pond, so some unfathomable equilibrium is being reset within it. By the time I reach Thoreau Cove I am beginning to think this swim is one in an episode of quiet contemplations. I make a slight curve toward Ice Fort Cove and the wind picks up.
I had not noticed there had been much of a breeze until I made this directional change. The water surface which I tend to watch closely had become slightly choppy, but only so that smooth glassy sheen at the beginning of my swim had been transformed into a dappled pattern of circular troughs and tiny crests. I had not had to amend my stroke noticeably to account for the swell. Now all that changes.

Suddenly I find myself both looking into the sun and swimming across the direction of the wind and waves. As I raise my head to breathe I see through the wind swept spray tiny fragments of light. I cannot quite make out clearly what it is I see, but I imagine a small boat full of refugees, standing shoulder to shoulder on the deck, the lights, a strand of lanterns hanging above them. Are they trying to make for safe harbor? How ridiculous, I tell myself. Am I hallucinating? I’m in the middle of Walden. Boat people, refugees? Here? But the vision keeps appearing to my right every time I raise my head.
I swim on, determined to swim past the point the light will play its tricks on me. I turn, swimming across the neck of Ice Fort Cove, feeling more and more like I myself am a boat in a harbor, pointing my bow into the wind, taking the waves full on. My stroke slows but somehow my body manages to rise up against the power of the waves so I almost swim above not through them. Each limb is achingly heavy and moving like lead, one arm pawing one after the other, my legs slowly steering from behind. I am moving so slowly I feel life itself has stalled but I am also feeling such stamina my power and  strength is overriding all else. Instead of heading back out toward the center of the pond as I would usually do, I decide to follow the line of the southern shore, staying about one hundred meters out: A old boat steaming along against the wind and waves. I am in no hurry. It is late on a Saturday and the afternoon sun has settled into the sky.

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My mind wanders back to earlier in the day. How I had eyed that thick blanket of cloud, wanting to make it an excuse for heading back to the couch, except for the little voice inside my head that had encouraged me to make the most of the opportunity to get to the pond. How when arrived and I had turned off the car ignition and taken a short nap. How the sun had shown up. How the power in me had exploded out of nowhere to meet the demands of the wind and waves and how it still is, this vessel which amazes me as it sails closer and closer to the main beach, crossing now from the southern side of the pond into the middle and making a straight line for the beach house.

Seldom do I manage to swim the whole length of the pond without losing my rhythm and beginning to flail. But today I seem to be getting stronger and stronger, spurred on by the choppy water belting against my body. And the benefit of this struggle is that I am entirely living and feeling it. It is consuming my mind and body that I am wholly sensing the now of it, something I have been struggling to do in my life lately. To my left is the blue of the sky with its wisps of windswept cloud, and to my right the same, only the clouds are misshapen into other odd formations. I watch first one oddly formed cloud and then the other and then sweep my eyes over the forest green before I am engulfed by the rising swell of water. On the next stroke I watch my browned arm rise above my body as it pulls me up into the reach of the sky. A moment later I feel myself fall back into the arms of the water before the rise of the other browned arm takes its cue. The constant rise and fall as I steer my course for home, the space between the two orange painted buoys signifying my exit onto the beach.

When I pull my body forward for that final time and flip over to see where I have been the water appears surprisingly calm, as if the battle I have been waging with the waves has been staged inside my head, not on the watery playing fields of Walden. I emerge fully from the water and stand on the beach and turn to look out over the pond.

Perhaps it has… I think, smiling as I walk off to find my towel.

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The Words of Walden

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This morning, this writing, the letters would not fit together on the page. I tried shaking them, pulling each word apart and shuffling the letters around, jamming them back together like puzzle pieces into a too-small-box.
I gave up, slammed the lid down on my computer and tossed it into the back of my car. Reversed the car out of the driveway and sped off down the road to Walden.

In the pond I had no power. My arms felt heavy as they heaved over my body. It moved like a slug through the water, thick and green. I kept at it, this thing called swimming. Because with some things it is right to not let go.
I felt like I was sinking. And despite the sun having surfaced from behind the clouds, I was cold. It is, after all, Fall. And the overnight temperatures are falling into the forties. I push myself to stay warm. Rotate my arms faster.

My mind wanders over the water. I wonder why I worry about the petty things like words falling from a page. I become completely immersed in the now. The sparkling silver streaks of light dancing on the water surface, the blue sky on my right, on my left, on my right again. I let go of the nagging voice of perfection that hounds me. I find my strength. I become light and free and the water holds me. I am no longer looking at, I have become part of this, the words and water and Walden.

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And back home at my computer the words come tumbling out, falling onto the page, as if they are meant to be.

A Different Orientation

These past two weeks I have been arriving at the pond earlier; the beach often almost deserted. I cherish this quiet start to my day. The unhurried ambience of the water before the wind picks up. Some days the pond has been as still as a mirror. Then for the past two, again she has tossed me and rocked me in her arms.

But back to the beach. I have a new routine before I even get my toes wet. All summer I have been doing PT on my shoulders. Last week my PT gave me shoulder stretches to do, lying on my towel, before I swim.
Oh no my first thought on hearing her instructions. Lying down and doing stretches!!! It wasn’t what everyone would think that bothered me. Swimmers ought to stretch out their shoulders to prevent injuries. (perhaps that’s why I’m in PT!) It was more the doing them lying down. Still, I am sick of the nagging pain, and my neck (yes, we have been through the neck stretch routine too) is feeling better. So why not!
I grabbed an extra towel, and went to the pond a little earlier to compensate for the extra time needed… and made a discovery.

It’s actually pretty cool to view Walden from ground level while circling my arm around my shoulder joint. I followed my arm first above the water line, then above the tree line as it cloaked the pond from south to north (and when circling in the other direction, north to south) and then above the trees as they towered above me. And it was meditative. It loosened my mind as well as my shoulder.
I tried to capture it on my i phone, but as you see …. that part was not so successful.

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But what was, was my swimming. Even though it was a little hard to want to get up and get in the water; lying there looking at Walden from a different perspective, becoming part of the morning that was beginning, when I eventually did, my stroke felt so relaxed, and my breath and body roll so rhythmic, I felt as if I truly belonged in the water.

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 😉

Coming Home

 

I like these kinds of days. Those when the sun shines not too brightly out of a blanched sky and the sand bares its tanned dimples to the heavens. There is hardly a breeze, which I appreciate as the air is neither hot nor cold but it is the atmosphere of peace which draws me most.

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It is late afternoon by the time I decide to come. My bathing suit is pulled up and hidden under jeans and an old grey hoodie is bunched over the bulge it makes at my waist. It is probably the late April sun blazing through my car windows as I crawl up interstate 95 which decides me. There I am lulled into a sense of summer despite my car thermometer only registering 57 degrees. Or perhaps it is the act of half changing which has propelled me. I know that if I actually make the turn onto route 2 and then route 126 and into the parking lot I will have to swim.
The previous day, sunnier and warmer, I avoided coming. It is difficult to walk the pond path without wanting to swim, especially if I happen to see anyone else in the water. A hangover from my competitive days. But once I am there and my wetsuit on, there is never any way out but in.

Of the handful of people on the sand, I bump into a swimming friend, a tough Hungarian woman who swims without a wetsuit far later into the fall and earlier in the spring than I do. She tells me the water temperature is 53 degrees “not any warmer than it was the previous week.”
“Oh,” I think, saying nothing. I had hoped it would be a little more pleasant, remembering my feet were cold all the way back along the side of the pond when I swam a week ago.

When I finally disengage from talking and enter the water I don’t wait to register the cold before I plunge in. I find that initial “hit” a little like women after childbirth forget the pains of labor. What I do remember however, is that by the time I have struggled down the side of the pond to Sandy Point, more a beach than a point given the water level is low for yet another season, I am not feeling the cold as much as I would have imagined.

Instead of doing a sharp turn back toward the main beach, I venture out toward the center, heading across toward Ice Fort Cove Point. I remember all the swims last season when I followed this route. I remember how I always associate Jesi’s presence with this particular area. I remember that as much as I am engrossed in the rhythm of the side to side roll, I still need to swim back.

When I bring my head up to check where I am going I look up to the sky. And for just a moment the sun winks at me and I feel like I have finally come home.

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Swimming in Walden: Risks and Benefits

It is mid week and a strange quiet hangs over the pond. The mid summer heat wave has dispersed, disappearing sometime between dusk and dawn and taken with it the humidity so thick it clung to my skin like a million arms wrapped around me. For the second day now I precede my swim with a walk along the pond path, turning away from the main beach and “the wall,” a name given to the place where open water swimmers gather to leave their towels and shoes. Instead I head toward Red Cross Beach, past where the triangular red flags hang from vacant lifeguard towers and onto the trail which points me in the direction of Thoreau’s cabin site.
In my hurry to get into the water I typically do not think to walk along the path and yesterday when the humidity was a heavy coat over me I wished I had bought my water bottle. Today I have and I eagerly sip from it despite the drop in temperature from hot to pleasant. I am beginning to enjoy walking to the point before Thoreau’s Cove and seeing a different view of Walden when I launch myself into her waters. And as I realize later as I retrace my steps and return to my car, I am beginning to like the community of Walden goers who frequent the small beach which I usually only see from a distance as I lift my head to breathe on my swim across the long axis of the pond.

It is the higher levels of the enterococcus bacteria which were detected when the weekly testing was carried out on Tuesday which encourage me to walk toward the more secluded side of the pond and the caution the DCR has issued which led to the main beaches being closed.

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I glide into the water today grateful I have come. Immediately I am soothed by the clear cool water and in my mind I begin to count, a meditation I adopt after speaking to a friend I stopped to talk to as I was walking to the point. I am aware of the risk yet as I swam from the main beach on Tuesday when we were all ignorant of it, I can only think that being away from the populated area of the pond the water must be cleaner here. It was probably after the heat and humidity of the holiday weekend for Independence Day when the beaches were crowded from 10 am through dusk that the bacteria levels rose.
Our use of the pond coupled with the weather conditions or alternatively extreme torrential downpours when the run off dumps debris into the pond.

As I muster my strength for the last aspect of my swim today I push against the waves as the wind pushes them into me. I turn out from Ice Fort Cove with the main beach and beach house a tiny beacon in front of me and laugh at the logic which bought me to the far end of the pond. That same water being pushed into my face from the main beaches as on Tuesday I waded into.

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