Kinship In and Out of the Pond

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In the middle of Walden Pond the monkey mind finally exhausts and I turn my head to look at the sky. I am reminded of the picture my daughter chose for the cover of her most recent musical composition, her first work for full symphony orchestra. She named it Kindred. The blue of the sky is pale and almost lost in the brilliant stark white glare of the summer sun. It reflects on the clouds causing them to appear blue grey, but it is difficult for me to get a proper look. For one I must keep to the rhythm of my breath and stroke, my head at the command of these two masters. And another, the jagged shards of light dazzle me as they fall and cause the water to dance with twinkles of silver. I would be forced to look away or be blinded.
I think of Jesi and immediately, just as I did when I first listened to Kari’s music. A sense of warmth and the overwhelming feeling I am being embraced engulf me. It is as if the water suddenly encompasses me entirely. This only lasts for a split second but it is unmistakable. It is not new to me. I know Jesi is here but I also feel as if all my kin are also right here with me in the middle of this pond as I continue my uninterrupted breath and blow and stroke and pull through the water. I feel calm and for a moment wonder if it is possible that this moment might stretch into forever. Then a voice in another part of my brain reminds me how strange that would be and by the next stroke the monkey in my head is back to jostling about from branch to branch.
But somewhere the idea of kindred has stuck.

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When I clamor back onto the beach I turn around to look at the sky. Toward the end of the swim when my shoulders start aching to the beat of each stroke and I tire of the nagging of my hip flexor, already screaming with every kick, I turn my focus back to the sky. I want to imprint the silver blue grey on my memory. I am curious how I can become so absorbed by it, trying to figure out why it looks so much more amazing from the water than the beach, but it is no use. It just does. So I take yet another photo trying to capture the intangible magic of it and wander off to retrieve my towel.

I have taken to leaving my gear near the lifesavers table this year, and have struck up such a friendship with the various lifeguards that as the summer season comes to an end it dawns on me I will miss them when they pack up their flags and their buoys and their boat, and store their floats in the beach house and lock the doors for the last time. This will be a new loss for me, the sense of friendship and kinship I have shared all season with these young people who come to Walden to patrol the beach and keep it safe for us to use. Ahh, I think, that’s why the monkey kept reminding me of kinship in the pond. It is here that I find it!
And it is true, the very next day when I arrive and greet one of my favorite lifeguards he offers to put my water bottle in the fridge for me while I swam.

“For you” he says, “Certainly. You’re one of the family!”

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to listen to Kari’s music go to Kindred

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Summer Weather, Swimming and Dreaming at Walden Pond.

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Last night I dreamt about my physical therapist.

Why are you telling me this, you ask?

With the weather suddenly launching Boston into summer this week; yesterday we registered the new record highest temperature of 95 degrees F for May, I have begun to swim in earnest. That means no more “in and outs” in only my bathing suit. No more “ten minute getting acclimatized to swimming again” the only protective neoprene being my bathing cap and gloves, which too large and full of the too cold water for this time of year swell and almost float off the ends of my hands…

Yesterday I did my first “real swim.” Making it down the length of the pond from the main beach, past Red Cross Beach and Sandy Point to where the wind which had been buffeting waves at my head for the first two thirds of the swim suddenly dropped and the water flattened. I could run my eye along its surface and watch the sun-like-twinkling-stars dance as I heaved and pulled my aching shoulder over and under my body… I knew I was moving forward only because the sky, an uninterrupted rich blue arced overhead and the two toned forest green which ran along the shore line left its trail on both sides of me as I edged my way onward. Then there was that welcome patch of warmer water as I neared the far end of the pond, and the con commit cold that I gritted my teeth against as I churned my arms harder to escape after I turned and moved away from the distant shore.

And the swim back.

Did I overdo it? That first swim? Heaving and pulling for over thirty minutes without a rest.

I have not seen my physical therapist since January.

Last year I spent the entire summer going to PT for my shoulder injury. For months I did this exercise and that. And then in January I got lazy, and I got discharged from PT. I knew what I should be doing so it was really up to me. But I wasn’t swimming so I wasn’t motivated. And maybe the childish part of me was rebelling because I still feel the memory of being chided for not doing my exercises. “That’s what happens in PT. If you don’t do your exercises, you get discharged,” the chiropractor I saw earlier this year told me when I relayed the story to him.

So now, back in the pond I remember my PT, enough that she visits me in my dreams. But she did not come in my dream to massage my aching muscles. She did not come to stretch out the tight bands of connective tissue in my upper arm. She presented me with a self evaluation and left me alone in a room to fill it out.

So I ask you now … What is the message there?

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Walden’s New Visitors Center Opens

On Tuesday the sun split a seam in the afternoon cloud cover to shed her warm September light on the large crowd gathered across the road from Walden Pond. It was there, dressed in better than beach going clothes, in better than hiking clothes, about a hundred people assembled to celebrate the opening of Walden’s New Visitor Center.

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Given the design of the Center it was appropriate that the opening be blessed with a break in what had promised to be a cloudy and possibly even wet day. With its ceiling to floor triple-paned glass windows overlooking a large deck and facing the south, the light and warmth flowed into the large auditorium. It is this natural lighting, and the cross ventilation from windows on both sides of the building that sleek armed ceiling fans will use as alternatives to electricity and air-conditioning (on all but the hottest days). But beyond what the building boasts with its design, it is also what lies within that will bring the visiting public closer to understanding the importance of Thoreau’s stewardship of the land.

And it is to this that two-thirds of the display in the auditorium will be dedicated.

Listening to the major speeches at the opening, both Leo Roy, the Commissioner of the DCR and Don Henley the Founder and Chairman of the Walden Woods Project, alluded to the work and wisdom of Henry David Thoreau. Don spoke of not only studying Thoreau’s work in its written form (and I admit, I haven’t read much of) but of experiencing the environment in which he lived and wrote. He spoke of how the interactive displays at the new center will allow visitors to get a fuller experience of Thoreau’s life at Walden from whence they can step outside to come to know it more fully.

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After I left the gathering, swimming across the middle of Walden, the pastel blue sky smudged with cotton white cloud reminded me of one of Thoreau’s quotes from the opening ceremony. “Heaven under our feet as well as over our head.”

What could be more this than Walden herself?

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In his address, Don Henley asked of the gathering, “Where is your Walden?” He was not only posing this question to the people gathered in front of him, but also posing it as a question that the interactive displays might ask of the thousands of school children that will see it in the years to come, as a means to stimulate their minds to think of the special place(s) in their lives.

 

As the sun warmed my skin on Tuesday afternoon, as the lazy silence of the water and the woods nurtured me, the road between me and the dissipating crowds receded into a distant murmuring and the peace and tranquility of Walden engulfed me, I stood on the beach:

Walden. You are my Walden. Here. Now. You Are.
And I am grateful.
I’m not sure how you Came to be. 
Or rather, How I Came to Be.
But I Am.
And I Am Glad.

And the sun laid her gentle hands on me
And stroked my skin with her light.

From Pond to Pool and Back Again

I travel twelve hours by car, and six back, through five days and nights before I swim again.

And it is not the green waters of Walden, warmed by the Boston sun, but the surprisingly cooler and aqua clear water of a fifty meter pool in Paoli Pennsylvania that breaks the longest fast in my feast of summer swimming.

Kari is now moved into her college dorm and Chris, a senior at Lehigh moved into his off campus housing. I am visiting a girlfriend in Malvern, west of Philadelphia.

What I notice first, after the delightful temperature of the water is that the habit I have adopted of raising my head to the right (despite breathing to the left) to enjoy the scenery in Walden causes me to swerve chaotically close to the lane dividers, those nasty plastic floats which leave quite a sting if one’s fingers or toes get entangled in them. I very quickly amend my stroke to ‘swimming pool style’, raising my head to the left only to breathe.
Having to turn each 50 meters does not bother me, and I set about counting laps, determined to swim a mile. This is approximately what I swim in Walden. I zone out. Also what I do in Walden. And although I watch the black line, generally attempting to stay to the right of it, as the laps progress I wander over to the left.
I have a bad habit, fostered by all the space at my disposal in Walden, of not looking up very regularly. In Walden I tend to rely on scanning the water surface for spray formed by swimmer’s arms breaking the surface, or to rely on sensing swirls of water stirred up by other bodies moving close to me. After I have done at least half a mile and am nearing the end of the pool, I look up to see three or four pairs of legs dangling below the water surface. I have no choice but to stop. A woman pops out in front of me.
“You’re swimming in the middle of the lane. Come swim with me,” she directs, pointing to the adjacent lane.
Quite startled I mumble an apology and duck under the lane divider, thinking of all the responses I could have, but didn’t make. I’m not used to lanes, I can’t remember when I swam in a pool last, I’m a pond swimmer… Instead I obediently follow her and continue swimming.

Apparently I’ve been swimming in the fast lane, happily allowing the women, now parked at the end of the pool, to pass me. Perhaps they have not been so happy!!!
Now in the medium paced lane, I amble on and finish my laps.

This morning I return to Walden. What is interesting, is that after only two sessions in the pool, I have to readjust back to my Walden swimming style. And it takes a few strokes to do so. To look both to my right and my left to admire the crisp blue morning.  Water, sand, trees. Water, sand, trees. They seem to slip by effortlessly.

Lessons From the Pond

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It’s been a gloomy week in and out of the pond.

There have been days I have dragged myself there with only the knowledge of experience that I would feel better if I swam. Today for instance, sitting in a sweater and long pants – the 10th of July, the middle of summer – feeling cold, feeling the unending ache of grief that seems to have eclipsed me lately.

Perhaps when one loses a daughter every other wound, and in this country this past week there have been too many lives lost to violence, too many wounds, are felt more deeply. Yet today, as I sat feeling cold, immobile and grieving…

In the heat of the frenzy days ago when the violence in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis and Dallas erupted, my initial reaction was not to freeze, but to race feverishly to Walden and lose myself to the news of what had been happening by swimming into the middle of the pond and taking refuge there.
Part of me felt guilty for being normal in such abnormal times but I just didn’t know what else to do. And Walden is my refuge.

And so today, again she saved me. If only from my own thoughts of gloom and loss. If only as she allowed me to remember that I can find a rhythm within me, (and indeed listen to it in my breath and the flutter of my feet), a courage to face my own demons and keep moving forward to the other side (of them), even if I sometimes feel I am sinking rather than swimming.

That the strength is not in doing what is easy, but in keeping doing what is not. Walden taught me how to do that.

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The Power of the Wind.

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I won’t lie and tell you I don’t have some apprehension about swimming in Walden when the wind is gusting up to 20 mph. Especially as this morning (Thursday) the temperature is only just touching 60 degrees F and the water temperature has only just (despite it being a week into June) reached a comfortable level for me. Yes, I do swim in cooler water but I stopped wearing my shortie wetsuit over a week ago and it is SPRING … though two friends I talk to later in the day independently reference today’s weather with… “it’s as though it’s Fall,” and “this weather feels like the Fall” … and it certainly does remind me of fall swimming too.

I have arranged to meet a friend at the pond at 10 am, and with the overnight dipping into the 40’s I push back our meeting until 10.30am. For some reason I think every minute, every degree will make a difference.

I arrive at the pond, the main beach in shadow and the wind gusting. A part of me loves this challenge, pushing through the waves while they beat into my face, but I am still hoping for a little more warmth than the wind promises as it whips around my ears. My hands are pushed hard into the pockets of my jacket as I make my way across the sand. I have already noticed the red flags attached to the back of the lifeguard chairs. They sound like sails flapping in the breeze. The weekly water quality tests have indicated the bacteria levels are over the limit for safe swimming. Another obstacle to a carefree swim.

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After talking to a lifeguard who tells me the bacteria level was only just over the limit, I decide to swim anyway. The lifeguard commends me on my courage, (not for swimming in the potentially unhealthy water, more because of the weather and wind conditions.) This acknowledgement of courage increases my desire to plunge in.
The water is fierce, and on my outward journey it lunges against me. I am invigorated by it, pressing forward so that somehow it seems I am flying. I even cease to feel the cold, I am so enthralled by the feeling of strength in my body. It translates into my psyche, taking over my whole person. On and on I go, the water on either side of me, when I can see the point on interface between it and the air, moving so quickly against me, I wonder how I am swimming so fast; my usual pace these days much more sedate.

But it is the journey back that I remember most: I decide to swim back in the center of the pond, thinking it will naturally be easier as I will be going in the same direction as the wind fueled waves. But this is not so. With approximately equal distance to the shore on my right and on my left, I am swamped in trough after trough of water. I do not know if I am moving forward or not. The beach house is still a small box with its two large eyes peering at me from the distance (when I can rise above the water enough to see it). My whole body is like an insect floundering as it tries to right itself in a mass of moving water; arms flailing, legs flapping uselessly. I am suddenly reminded of my helplessness: the helplessness of man in the face of the forces of nature. Once this thought enters my mind I relax. I even enjoy being at the mercy of the elements although I continue to eek out a path for myself, reminding myself that my daughter in Spirit in here with me, comforted by the knowledge. Knowing that even though she protects me, it is up to me to play my part in my own salvation. I think…THIS makes me know I am really alive. THIS is what it is to be alive, smiling all the time as I breathe in the air which sits just above water level and blow it out again just below.

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Today (Sunday) I swim again. It is early and the wind is once more showing her strength in gusts of up to 20 mph. Once again I swim back across the middle of the pond. Once again I talk to Jesi in Spirit, but today something in the swell makes me feel she is there with me. ACTUALLY FEEL HER PRESENCE. And I want to stay there. I want to stay there flailing in the water; the tiny insignificant insect that I am… and be close to her forever.

Back in the Swim

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My daughter Kari who took a dip in Walden yesterday….like mother, like daughter!

I had forgotten how good it feels to be in Walden: the power in my arms as I pull through the waves. Yet I do not realize the fullness of this until I have swum the length of the pond. Starting out along the shore to the right of the main beach I am immediately absorbed in the rhythm of my breath; pulling air in and releasing it into bubbles; in my body as it rolls left to right; and my arms, the slight pause as I bring my elbow up to the sky and the way I have learnt to allow my hand, once it reaches the water surface, to float down a foot or so until I begin to pull it back toward my side.

Feeling this I realize how much my life has drifted away from any rhythm, how far I have drifted away from anything wholesome. Living in perpetual panic while I finalize the movement of my physical possessions into a storage facility: what to keep, what to let go of; how to organize those treasures in order that I may locate them; a photo, a journal, a lamp that might light my way as I decide next where home will be…

I gradually drift a little further away from the shore. A little further into deeper water, seeing nothing when I gaze into it, only the endless potential of green. I focus on the rhythm my body has found when I swim. On my feet; they are cold… and so are my hands. I am glad for the warm day. The water is around 60 degrees while the air is in the high 70’s. Every time thoughts of boxes and packing enter the doorway of my mind I focus harder on the rhythm of my body, letting the breath conduct it as if my body is an orchestra. I make a wide slow turn at the bottom end of the pond. Suddenly the water is stirred up by a breeze I hadn’t even notice existed so now my face is rising to meet a swell which butts at my forehead. I had forgotten how much I needed this, this reminder of my strength, which for weeks now has been sapped by migraines and stress. I start reciting to myself “I don’t need these migraines. I don’t need these migraines” alternately with a request to Jesi (Spirit I am told can help us with anything, but we have to ask) to take them away.
But it isn’t just this: the feeling of power in my body to surge through the waves makes me feel positive about everything. Instead of feeling weighed down by the process of moving I suddenly feel I can tackle it. I can mange, no matter how challenging it is to let go of the memories and the space and the physical possessions which mark a life I lived when I had three children on earth, before Jesi went to Spirit.

So by the time I reach the main beach and rise up out of the water I have more energy than I did before I started… and I know I am now fully back and feeling good for it.

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