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

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…

April Swimming

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I did not intend it when I pulled into the car park at Walden on the first of two near 80 degrees days. I intended to walk around the pond to take a photo of a particular stump I have been monitoring on the shoreline directly across from the main beach.
Ice Fort Cove is the point to which I swim during the summer and years ago I remember this stump being almost completely immersed in water. Over the past three or four years as the water level of the pond has decreased alarmingly, the stump has crept closer and closer to the shore so that over the past year the water has abandoned it completely. I have been taking series of photos of it since January 2016.* (The feature of a post to come). So when I wandered down the ramp to the sand that warm spring afternoon I was not thinking about swimming at all. I was wondering whether with the recent addition of more rain to April’s total, that stump had retreated to the water once more.

When I returned to the main beach after my walk I could not resist slipping off my shoes and wading into the water. It felt so warm compared to two weeks ago when I had taken that first dip over Easter.
As I sat on the stone wall waiting to meet a friend I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. If I raced home and grabbed my swimsuit I could come back and go for a quick swim and still be on time for my next commitment. I sat on the warm stones basking in the afternoon sun, the idea expanding like a flower unfolding in my brain.

At first I was only contemplating another plunge, a few quick strokes, flip over on my back and swimming back to shore. But after talking to my friend, a fellow swimmer about to do his third swim for the season, like the idea itself, I started visualizing more. The defining factor would be time.

When I arrived back at Walden in my swimsuit I had just enough time for a 10 minute swim, and without a wetsuit in the 57 degree water I figured that would be plenty….

All the variables of my situation were streaming through my mind …. I had not been swimming more than twice since early March … My body was not acclimatized to cold water …. I am not carrying much natural insulation …. Last year’s shoulder injury is still nagging on occasions …. It’s impossible to tell (initially) one immerses in cold water how it is affecting the body. It is a cumulative effect in any case …. Would my limbs cramp up or in the least not propel me forward? …. The thoughts raced faster and faster and the only way to test them was to put on my neoprene cap, my goggles and gloves and head for the water’s edge. Which is exactly what I did.

It was cold. I felt it run down every rib to my abdomen. I felt it on the back of my neck. I felt the soles of my feet etched in cold. After I had swum out a little I felt my hamstrings tighten as if they had only just realized they were working under the duress of the cold. I willed them to keep working anyway. My arms, in and out of the water felt uniformly … cold … Even the sun’s warmth could not penetrate it. But as I continued to swim the cold ceased to bother me. Its clutch on my psyche lessened and I wanted to go on. I knew better. One can get into trouble if one goes beyond what can be tolerated. I reminded myself I am acclimatizing. I turned at my assigned point and headed back to shore.

The following day, another 80 degree day, I did it again. And it came together better. I swam a little further and it felt a little less jarring on my body; the cold, the familiar but unaccustomed stroke. Then the weather turned. The clouds rolled in, the wind picked up a bitter chill from the north, and the rain came down. And I don’t know when it will be 80 degrees again.

Skiing and Swimming Walden Style

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A week ago Walden was covered in snow and ice. I had a wonderful Sunday afternoon cross country skiing with a friend through Walden Woods. We stopped to take photos of the sun sparkling through the trees or to discuss which of the myriad of criss crossing tracks we should follow. And at the end of our outing, following the ridge on the southern shore of the pond back to the main road, I looked out over the pond, which had been water until three days before.
“It usually freezes over by the end of the first week of January,” I remarked, remember all the years I had been coming to Walden, and the year, thirteen years ago, when I had been swimming until the ice took the water away.

But by the time I visited Walden again on Friday, the ice was all but gone.
When I walked down onto the sand I bumped into a swimming buddy who had just finished his icy dip! Mike had walked around to Red Cross Beach so he could avoid the wind, swum across the pond to avoid the ice. “It can cut you up pretty bad,” we exchanged thoughts on the matter. “And you can’t see it when you are swimming either.” I added, (having had the misfortune to have collided more than once with the sharp edge of the ice back in 2004). Mike had swum back to the beach on the other side of a large segment of ice that divided the pond in two parts.
I was impressed. Mike wasn’t “blue” and he was making complete sense. Even in November I would sometimes get so cold I couldn’t “get my mouth around my words” properly.

This morning, Sunday, I went back to Walden again. It was a chilly walk, especially along the shaded shore. When I was finishing my walk I found an unoccupied chair and swimming gear on the wall, the gathering place for all the swimmers in season. A small crowd had gathered at the far end of Red Cross Beach. Instantly I knew why. I strained my eyes and sure enough, a tiny black head in the water, watching where he was going arms rotating. It had to be Mike. And he had an audience.

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Tuesday at Walden

 

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This is what I remember.
It was a day where the world wore red and blue. Sky and worn out autumn leaves turned from green to orange to yellow before finally settling red.
Even the water couldn’t make up her mind, reflecting the richness of heaven’s blue and earth’s russet red leaves deep inside her.
It was a day where friends gathered on the beach to celebrate the unusual warmth in the November air. Air which was soon to be replaced by a bleak grey morning following the sun’s downing and rising again.

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It was a day when the pond was so still that I hardly dared to make a mark in her as I clumsily glided through her cold caverns. As I watched to my right the light dance on golden sand and to my left streak in thin dark lines racing back and forth across the water surface – constant motion going nowhere.

 

What I remember is cold. My back, despite the windless day and the warmth of the sun. So as I swim further and further into the middle of the pond I am engulfed by it.
What I remember is the lack of rhythm in me. Is this how it will end? I ask myself. This last swim. An anticlimax after all the strength I have poured into this water, gliding and sliding through Walden these past months. No great epiphany to hold me through the raw sleet of winter? I go on, not ready to give up on it yet.
I remember cold. My hands. My head. It starts to ache. It is surely over for me now. Brain freeze. I pray it is transitory and will lift when I lift my head out of the cold. I lift my head now.

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This is what I see. A fringe of deep rich red, the reflection of the last of the autumnal trees curling around the shoreline. I am watching it unfurl as I edge closer and closer. Cold. So far from shore. The beach house blazing white in light beckoning me home. I know I can make it home.
I trust I can make it home.

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Reflections in Fluid Thought.

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During these last weeks, these last days that I will venture into the cold waters of Walden I become obsessed. At once I feel the frenetic urge to avoid the cold, especially as I sneak one lazy foot out from under the bedcovers after the other, but as I move more into the morning, my cup of coffee waking me and my day beginning to take shape and plan, I start to feel the edge of desire and need to find solace from the rattle of traffic and appointments. It is then that thought of Walden’s soothing company becomes a salve for my soul.

That is why despite the chill I find myself again nearing Thoreau Cove on the cloudy but warm Wednesday afternoon last week. That, plus the experience that my heightened senses gift me as my body calms and focuses inward as I swim.

The water is placid today. And the sun’s momentary disappearance behind the increasing patches of cloud give it a steely silver grey tone. It rolls off my body like a spearhead. I become engrossed in watching it every turn of my head, wanting to stroke its smooth sheen surface. I want to paint this scene and have it with me all winter, the fading fall colors of the trees, the showering sparkles of light that spray off my rising arms as I turn, that spearhead of water rising above me.
The swim back to the main beach is always a challenge. It seems longer than the outward journey and once I leave the protection of the cove there is little distraction in the choppiness of the water that absorbs my mind like cove does, until I swim adjacent to the sandy expanse of Red Cross beach. There a rhythm takes hold and I am transformed into a metronomic machine. I become the observer and the actor.

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As my head turns to the unfaltering rhythm of my stroke I see to my left, on the sand a group of walkers marching two by two down the length of the beach. To my right, the willowy reflections of the trees bend weeping into the still waters below the sun, a ball of fiery silver sparkles shooting branches of light in all directions. To my left, the last of the walkers, straggling and the now deserted sand, deep wet yellow. Right again and the shimmer of tree tenticles reaching out to touch me. And me, the cold, knifing into my bones. And the rhythm of my hands and my feet beating water. Breathing.