Summer Weather, Swimming and Dreaming at Walden Pond.

IMG_1008

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?

IMG_0997

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.

img_8121

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.

img_8162

 

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?

img_8163

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

IMG_7582

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.

IMG_7583

The Power of the Wind.

IMG_7464

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.

IMG_7466

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.

IMG_7493
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

IMG_7240

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.

IMG_7236

The Art of Open Water Swimming

“live each season as it passes” H.D. Thoreau

As I passed the green canvas hastily strung over the cyclone fence my eyes fell upon the italicized quote from Thoreau’s Walden… “Live each season as it passes…” It was printed beneath a picture of Walden Pond on one of the banners disguising the beginnings of the construction of Walden’s new Visitors Center. I was still thinking about the quote, wondering when I would let go of my need to swim, as if summer had not ended months ago, and accept the fact we are well into Fall, when I stepped off the stone stairs onto the sand. I knew had become fanatical, obsessed by the need to swim almost every day, so that my body acclimatized to the constant temperature decrease, when I saw Cathy. She was standing at “the wall.” Before I could say a word she looked up and smiled, “We’re going to have to let go of this soon you know.”
“Yeah, I was just thinking the same thing,” I replied.

The air temperature must have been in the mid fifties. The sun was shining though it seemed pale and the blue sky had a washed out feeling to it. It seemed as though fine strands of cotton wool had been stretched across it until they were almost thread bare. “I don’t know about the ‘almost 60 degrees’ ” I continued, remembering I had heard the water temperature had been gauged as such a few days earlier. “It seems more like 58 to me, and falling daily.”

Cathy pulled a jar of Aquafor out of her bag. Her neoprene cap lay next to it on the wall.
“You should start whenever you’re ready. It’ll take me forever,” I told her. There were silk socks, two pairs, ear plugs and nose clips to keep out the cold, a bathing cap and over it a neoprene cap, Aquafor for my lips and hands, silk gloves on top….the list of items to keep warm seemed to grow every day. It took longer to get ready and change after swimming than to swim itself. If it hadn’t been that the rhythm of the right, left and the rolling of the hips along the axis of the spine felt so soothing, I might give it up. I thought about all this as I walked down to the water’s edge wondering if it would be today that I would stop enjoying it.

But it wasn’t. And in any case, I told myself, I would quit after three swims which just weren’t fun anymore.

I meandered back up the beach, feeling a sense of calm and accomplishment while assessing how cold my hands were. It was the major problem I and many other swimmers faced, and for me, cold hands were accompanied by weakness to the extent that I struggled to hook my index finger under my wetsuit cuff and find an angle which gave me enough power to pull at my silk glove. I grabbed at it futilely, two perhaps three times cursing under my breath at how ridiculous it was, while simultaneously worrying I would not be able to press down the electronic key to unlock my car. Getting out of my wet gear and into warm dry clothes was so important.

Cathy was already on the beach and eager to get up to the car park to change. We had a ritual on sunny days like this. Park in the most secluded but sunny area of the car park and change, our gear organized out of the trunk of the car. It was warmer than the dingy cement bathroom block at the far end of the car park.

While Fall swimming is by far my favorite for many reasons, as Fall edges in on winter, the art of open water swimming becomes something which starts before you even get into the water and ends with a thermos of hot tea afterwards. But for the 30 minutes of tranquility, rolling from left to right and listening to the rhythm of my breath, when the water is a deeper reflection of the sky and the trees a mirage of color every time I turn my head, it’s worth it.

Fall swimming is my favorite for a number of reasons

Fall swimming is my favorite for a number of reasons

And it’s not over for the year just yet.