Final Swim???

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I promised it would be before I set out for the pond … the water measuring under fifty degrees. So I tell the friends that I meet as I laboriously layer the neoprene, smear the vaseline on my neck, my cheeks and forehead, This is it.
The struggle into the third layer of gloves, instead of being part of the process, becomes cumbersome. I know I am mentally preparing: Enough Is Enough.

The cold penetrates everywhere within seconds: This is the voice in my head insidious as the cold used to be. It is instant, the moment I am immersed. I am scarcely submerging my face, only enough to blow bubbles and look out along the waterline. Already I feel the outline of my hands inside my three layers of gloves. I focus on the silver path of light across the water which leads toward the dazzling white ball in the sky. And I relax into the rolling rhythm as I sway from side to side. This is what brings me here and I am grateful for this ability I have nurtured. I am soothed into ignorance of the cold just as the audience on the beach is oblivious to me, a black clad figure in amongst the waves.
I doggedly make for Sandy Point, reminiscing about the season and summer rolling into falling into swimming. Remembering how I would glide powerfully toward Ice Fort Cove Point. Now, a point of ice myself, a point in icy water…
Suddenly my stroke changes. I speed up, first by design and then as if swept up by that magic I used to feel. I am captive to it, feeling (though unlikely) like I am zooming across the pond, heading to Ice Fort Cove. My breath snatched out of me by exhilaration. I know I must turn back. The cold…the cold that insidious voice cries. Without losing speed and rhythm I make a wide scoop and head for home.

I thought the wind would help my progress but the water looks amazingly calm and the waves refuse to carry me. This does not disturb me. It, like the man in the blue jacket walking along the shore that I try to keep pace with, is just an observation. My main focus is on the continued rhythm of my arms and breath. Occasionally I look ahead to see if the beach house is really getting any closer. It does not seem to be. I check in with my limbs. My left arm is starting to feel numb.
By the time I near the beach my arm is numb from my fingers to my shoulder but, regardless, I continue to raise it above and pull it down over my head and through the water. I glance behind me to my right to see what I have been missing. The big ball of light in the sky is the spark of a firework: a sparkler spitting and spluttering silver shafts of light.
This is my last view of Walden from water level before I turn and rise up into the sun warmed air.
And I think; If this is the last for the year, it is magnificent…

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date of swim: November 25.

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An Unscheduled Mid-November Swim

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I felt the outline of my arms, first the left arm and then the right, in its thin nylon shirt. They rose in turn above the water, into the force of the wind, each making a stroke to push my body forward. They were pins and needle cold and nothing seemed to warm them, not the movement, not even letting them fall into the water, warmer than the air… with its wind chill of 30 degrees… Perhaps only the act of not focusing on them, shifting my attention to my thighs instead, feeling the bulk of my quad muscles as they strained to propel me forward: Yet they too were icy cold. The short wetsuit I had borrowed…it did not protect my legs from the fifty-two degree water.

I had not meant to swim that day, but spotting Bill and Jim at the wall as I walked down the ramp and onto the beach, I called out… “Damn it, I knew I should have bought my wetsuit” And Bill replied “Here I have an extra. Borrow mine.” And so I had.

And now I was gliding along the water surface, not even noticing the waves whipped up by the wind, so inexplicably happy to be back in Walden swimming unencumbered by gloves and booties and layers of neoprene. It was as though it were early fall again.
After I took count of the various body parts that were screaming cold at me, my feet, my arms and my legs, I settled into the length of my stroke and the feeling of sliding along the girth of the pond. I watched the sun dance and sparkle on the water to my left and the deserted beach slide by me on my right. I belonged here. It was like coming home again. …But I knew I could not stay.

 

 

I was swimming past the end of Red Cross Beach when I realized the crescendo of voices that made up my neurological choir had quietened and instead had been replaced by some ancient wisdom which began to nag at me. I tried to ignore it but it became more and more insistent each time my arms rose out of the water and fell back into the unfeeling cold again. I knew that wisdom well… And had spent many years ignoring it.
What did prompt me to turn, though, was the realization that I was wearing someone else’s wetsuit, and Bill had been finishing his swim when I was entering the water. He would be changing by now and would be wanting it to take home and here I was feeling like a porpoise dancing among the waves. I turned my nose to the center of the pond and rolled my body in a long slow arc after it until I had done a half circle and was facing the main beach.

Suddenly I found myself surrounded by walls of glistening water and I, cradled between them. They were the purest blue I had even seen and begged to be embraced, or rather that I be embraced by them, so alluring as they rose up around me. Yet I knew I mustn’t succumb to them. As much as I was attempting to swim forward, they seemed to be holding me captive in their midst. I argued fruitlessly with them to let me pass, finding it harder to breathe, as though my lungs were being crushed from the pressure of the cold without. The shoreline was not moving and the beach house not getting any closer. And the feeling of being comfortably cold, confusing.

…But I had been here many times before, and the voice inside my head calming just kept saying ..Keep swimming…Keep on swimming. So I did.

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date of swim: Friday 17 November

Contemplation on Change and Acceptance

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When I swam across the pond on Sunday I knew I had lost that wonderful rhythm that had carried me through all those months of summer and fall. Finally the layer upon layer of neoprene necessary to keep out the cold; air, water and wind will do that. My limbs confined by the wrappings and trappings of a black shining skin; I am more fish like and less able to swim like one. But even as I emerged from the water onto the sandy beach not yet a frozen morsel of flesh I yearned for more. And it is now five days of rain and wind and clouds and damp and cold… and the only day I would have attempted to swim when the sun shone I was committed elsewhere: I have not been back to Walden since.

Now I sit in that limbo of not yet setting myself free of desire, and waiting and watching for the ficklties of November weather to grant me a moment to bid my season of swimming farewell. And as the days and the rain fall and the overnight temperatures plummet I know the chance to do so grows slimmer. And so the work of acceptance sets in.

 

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This morning the sun shines …but with her she brings a fierce and ferocious wind. I am missing Walden and the calm rhythm I create within her; even the excitement of working against the elemental forces of her water and wind whipped waves. And those moments when I have felt the angel wings of my daughter lift and carry me across her and I have yearned for that connection to remain, knowing like all things celestial that it is transitory, I have grown to accept…. Yet still

I sit and contemplate Walden and the months ahead. Each letter on this page loosens my grasp on her, my every breath, every body roll, every arm pull and flutter kick. I sit and watch the sun’s weak shadows dance across the carpet, the wind’s gusts tear the last of autumn from the tree tops and I remember Easter Sunday’s extraordinary warmth, and my first 10 second plunge into the pond. I remember her icy greeting. I remember late August shaking my head and commenting that it would be an early end to the season; the summer abruptly falling away even before the lifeguards left their post. And then my amazement and that of the ponding community when fall provided the best of the year for us.

Perhaps there is another plunge into the pond, perhaps not. But as I watch the leaves let go of their summer homes, it seems to me they possess a kind of grace and wisdom that I am searching for… allowing the winds to take charge of their fate and deliver them to their winter resting place.

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And then I remember that they will be back…as indeed will I.

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…

The Ponders: A Community Gather to Salute the Season.

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Somewhere between the layers of blue, perhaps only visible as a red cap bobbing in the waves, or a splash of arms rising and falling rhythmically, we come and go. Perhaps if the weather and schedule calls for it, we may even gather, wrapped in towels and dripping cold rivulets down white limbs, sunning shivery bodies and laughing how the weather has extended these last weeks of the season…how records have been broken… a date crossed and still a plunge taken in the low sixties temperature of the pond… how the degrees drop day by day, night by night…
Some struggle out of wetsuits, dragging their empty black limbs through soddy sand, some hardy enough to bear the cold still only in bathing suits. And many varieties of neoprene between: a diversity of age and experience. But all with a common love and purpose… the freedom of the open water, the magic of Walden.

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For years a growing population of ‘Ponders’ have been hanging out and hanging on, obsessed by swimming in the cooling waters…As the fall colors deepen and the falling leaves drop they become more visible, or at least their bags do, slouching on the stone wall at the main beach.

Thanks to Jim Callahan, a couple of weeks ago, it wasn’t only the bags that were seen slouching on the stone wall. A group of us got together after a Sunday swim and celebrated the season with conversation, tea cake and cookies. Although Jim is still braving the waters in his bathers and neoprene cap (and bound to for a few more weeks yet!) gathering names and growing an increasing list of ‘regulars,’ as we also refer to ourselves, I know there are many more. Just a week after our gathering I met a woman at the wall. As we pulled on our neoprene we exchanged thoughts on the water temperature. We happened to meet again after our swim and she invited me to join her group which met on Sunday mornings ‘during the season’.

And to think that a month or two ago I was mourning the end of the season, wondering what I would do for company when the lifeguards left!

Now we are our own lifeguards…We know each other’s gear, and watch out for each other. If the wind is whipping up strife in the pond it is an adventure. We embrace the challenge and excitedly exchange notes on it when we arrive safely back on the beach.
We leave with a sense of satisfaction and inner peace, and best of all … the promise of tomorrow…

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Just a note to end on ….
To the many many regular swimmers who I/we haven’t connected with, if you would like to be included in the next Salute to the Season Celebration, send a comment to this blog and I will see your contact details get to Jim!

Liz 🙂

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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The Unnatural State of Skating in the Pond.

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The silken threads of sunlight that poured forth that pathway from my sliding swimming self to the heavens where Jesi waits for me are still there on most days. They capture my attention down near the cove, when in the late afternoon sun weeks ago they told me Jesi was waiting at their heavenward end. But now I see them only for their beauty. For they seem to have emptied of that magic they once held. They still stretch to heaven, but Jesi must have moved on to other pursuits, for I no longer feel her pull. I no longer feel the yearning so strong to cross that sunlit bridge.
So I swim on, making my body curve following the lead of my arm, watching people meandering along the shore; the thing I avoided most when the magic of feeling Jesi was upon me. For any connection with humankind would instantly break the Jesi-spell.

Turning and stretching my stroke ahead of me, the water is liquid gel. A glass sheen I skate and skim along as if I truly belong. I am meant to be here. I do not remember ever feeling so connected to the water as this, as I age and my bones weaken, my joints groan, and I gasp for breath, stretching my lungs until they might burst. Yet here in this moment I belong and I rejoice in the joy of it.

I wonder how this is possible…how I could move in this unnatural human state? I feel like I have the wings of an angel or the fins of a dolphin. As if I am lifted by some unfathomable force. An extraordinary power that carries me so that I hover slightly higher above the water than is actually possible. I am carried for an instant and then lowered once more as if the power has gone out of me. Like the surge of a wave or a gust of wind lifting and gently allowing a leaf to fall. And on my own again, the wind ruffing the waves knocks the rhythm out of me and I return to the long struggle, bobbing and bouncing until I reach the main beach.

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