A Glimmer in the Sky

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Perhaps I ought to have known when I looked up from the puddles in the ice and saw the late afternoon sun peeking through the heavy weight of clouds that something unusual was about to happen …. those iridescent silver threads spun with gold sent forth across the puckered puddled pond… But I was in no mind to predict it. The past four weeks has sucked the strength out of me, my capacity to see beyond the very act of putting one foot in front of the other, my resilience finally beaten down. Two days before I had commented to a friend … you know that saying …what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger … this time I think it’s finally beaten me.
Falling on my face, bruising my ego and my knees, the abscessed root of a tooth after dental work causing a week of migraines, and then this past week yet another migraine, nausea and so ill I could do nothing for four days, all due to fasting for a medical procedure…

I had begun to wonder if my daughter in spirit had been required elsewhere in the celestial heavens and I had been left to manage as best as I humanly could. Which clearly, was not very well…

So here I was at Walden… head bent watching one foot as I placed it slowly in front of the other.

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I was hardy game to walk upon the ice. It was 50 degrees and dotted with visitors near and far. I did not feel I had the power of Jesus walking on water like I imagined they had. Even further toward the middle I could make out the tiny figures of the ice fishermen, a sure sign that Walden was a safe haven. Yet I desperately wanted a photo. But when I stared at myself in the puddles which nestled in her icy cover I seemed such a fragile figure. Could I risk it?

I stepped carefully onto the ice. with each step I made my way out to the puddles and slowly bent to take a photo. I did not stay long or go far. Just enough to feel a swell of terror and an inch of bravery return.
Back on the the squelchy sand I continued, lips zipped together, at a brisk pace around the pond. It felt so good to be moving; walking strong and powerful. Striding out on solid ground. I remembered the third anniversary of Jesi’s death on September 11 when I hid her prayer card in the grasses so she could watch over the pond. My heart warmed with my secret. Perhaps she was not gone from me even if this morning I had felt so low I let go of her entirely.

By the time I had walked half way around the pond I was considering turning back. I could see the south shore and track above the sand were icy. I had stopped to talk to a young couple who had confirmed this and also decided to turn back. Then my cell phone rang. The call sent me into a stress spiral. Immediately I finished the call I felt the muscles in my head tighten and grip at my temple. It was uncontrollable and the way migraines begin. I needed to breathe. BREATHE. I told myself.

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I turned around and watched with intent two younger women begin to climb the stairs to continue along the icy side of the path. I made a decision. I actually – consciously – thought – I’ll – follow – them. But my brain remained obsessed with anger and irritation at the phone call. I couldn’t shake it, no matter how much I tried to distract myself, focus on my breathing, breath into the tight muscles of my forehead … Nothing was working.
At first the path was easy… I began to wish for ice, for something to focus on, to concentrate on, to take my mind off the irritation I was feeling.

I didn’t have to wish for long …

The path soon deteriorated into a sheet of grey ice.

At first I was able to grab hold of the wire fence to pull myself along, or find a foothold of mossy ground or stone, however that soon became impossible. I managed to catch up to the younger women. They were chatting and laughing as they shuffled along the ice in their wellington boots.

“Boy, this is fun,” I called out.

We chatted about our choice of footwear. I was wearing hiking boots, which I had recently decided had less grip than my sneakers. I joked how I had left my yak traks were in the trunk of the car. One of the women (I later learnt they were sisters) told me she found micro spikes better than yak traks. Before long we were immersed in conversation. Everything from where do you live, to what do you do, how many and how old are your children until I was talking about Kari’s recent experience at Peterborough NH working as an admin assistant at the McDowell Artists Colony. One of the sisters knew of the colony because she had lived in Peterborough for many years before moving further north.

When you speak about McDowell, you notice an immediate shift in the energy of people familiar with it. For Andrea, her already deep dark eyes seemed to open wider to reveal what had already attracted me and totally engrossed me in her. I had been entranced by her soft spoken voice, the way she seemed to carefully choose each word before she uttered it. She was grounded and at peace, everything I wanted to be but was far from, especially at the moment I had attached myself to her and her sister Hillary. Hillary, on the other hand who continued on perhaps twenty feet ahead of us, every few minutes would let out a raucous laugh. She seemed so content and amused with the task of negotiating the difficulties of the icy path, even if it wasn’t humor that caused her outbursts, they landed on me with a light gaiety which lifted my mood.

We continued, Andrea and I deep in discussion, me lost in her deep dark eyes, and Hillary almost dancing with delight, slipping and sliding all the way along the south side of the pond path until we reached the boat ramp.

It was almost 4.30pm when we arrived back and the parking area was about to close for the evening. We hiked along the road toward it before saying our farewells. When we did, we hugged and Andrea slipped her business card into the palm of my hand. “Give this to your daughter if she is ever back in Peterborough,” she said. “Oh, I will,” I replied glancing down it.

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It wasn’t until hours later when I was recalling my experience to Kari that I realized what had happened. I suddenly stopped talking and stared off into space. Those eyes, those deep dark eyes… Were they Jesi’s eyes?

Once, three years ago, just after Jesi had passed away, her eyes had smiled at me out of the face of an unknown woman. A shaman had warned me this might happen. I thought about it a minute. Andrea’s eyes were not Jesi’s, but there was something there…

Perhaps Jesi had not taken off into some unknown realm of the celestial heavens after all. Perhaps this chance meeting was really meant to be…

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Walden’s Winter Coat

Walden is frozen …. It is December 29 and I open an email to find the three words staring at me …. a sad face emoticon following them. One of the group of twenty odd ‘Ponders’ reporting his findings back to those who have not visited lately.

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Actually, I am not surprised. Although two days earlier I had visited and had been. As I glanced across the pond from the ramp, carefully treading on the crunched up snow and ice so as not to slip, I saw her glazed-over stare at me. The divide between the movement of water and her dazed glassy stillness. It almost seemed like someone had drawn a line across her long axis, just the way I would divide her to swim from shore to shore only a few months back, turning half of her into winter and leaving half of her to contemplate becoming winter…

I did not return the following day, but that night time temperature plummeted into single digits, perhaps even scraped zero, so I knew the freeze would have taken her over further. And then Friday as I slowed my car when driving past, the line that zigged and zagged across her clearly delineated the two-phased-freeze… as if the line had been etched in ice with a knife.

When I did step onto the ice on Saturday, already a four inch thick layer had formed between the fine dusting of snow that covered it and the water beneath. Amazing that so quickly the pond had turned from a swimming hole (I know of a couple of my swimming friends had done Christmas day swims) to an ice skating rink! Little wonder no one was paying any attention to the lonely “unsafe ice” signs that stood upon the beach with the unopened emergency packs strapped to their poles. More of Walden’s visitors were walking on the pond than around it on the snowy Saturday afternoon!

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I stand on the ice remembering back to the time when I lay down and beat my fists on it, over ten years ago now. In those days I felt that somehow winter was my adversary and had robbed me of the thing I wanted most.. the swimming hole that pulled me through the tough times and gave me a sense of my strength and power. I still don’t enjoy winter and now am even less able physically to manage its extremes….

In some ways 2017 has also been a difficult year navigating financial difficulties and a re-triggering of those wounds from divorcing ten plus years ago, but on Friday, as I drove past and glanced at the frozen pond, the first thought that came to me was that Walden’s icy cover had not let me down by closing me out, but that her icing over was somehow  protecting her…. I smiled to myself as I turned and looked back toward the road.

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As the year comes to an end, I reflect on what a wonderful season of swimming I have had… perhaps the best swimming I remember… from those first icy dips over Easter weekend to the extended Fall when swimming was like skating across the pond.

I swam for more months than I have in years.

I hope the winter won’t be as extended as Fall, nor do I hope it is as extreme as it is now, but I am grateful for what Walden has given me this past year.

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And I know, that even though walking on her icy cover, or around her snowy shores, is neither as fulfilling or as easy on my spine as swimming is, it will pull me through the silence of winter as I quietly contemplate the Spring and Summer ahead.

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I wish you all a happy healthy and peaceful new year … and may you find your place of quiet contemplation as I have mine … ❤ Liz

 

Reminiscing About Swimming While Walking

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At first glance I did not find anything spectacular about Walden last Sunday afternoon … the ponds rippled surface shifting to and fro inside her boundary; the sand dimpled and ice peaked in parts, or sun blanched staring into the vastness above; the sun’s golden shine belying the frigid air.
I set out, my chin tucked as far into my coat as possible, around the shaded side of the pond. The crunch of my sneakers accompanied me as I picked my way across the preceding weeks forgotten snow and ice. The waves lipped the shore as I passed them and as I turned and looked back it seemed to me a paint brush had smeared the remnants of white paint across a back drop of pale blue.
I could feel the outline of my lips, like ice, the tiny peak at the middle of my upper lip rising to the point under my nose and an icicle dangling from it. As I walked further and further around the shaded curves of shoreline the breeze quieted the waves, leaving silence to wrap her frigid arms around me, broken only by the sound of my breath as it entered and left me.

 

I have not been to the pond much since the swimming season finished for me over three weeks ago. It seemed so long ago now. My body so much stiffer has taken on the weight of winter. It yearns for the freedom of water. But the cold seized a joint in my wrist cracking it open with pain. It made it impossible to do anything for over a week. My psyche wanted to swim but my body told me ‘enough.

But I still remember…

It was not the time I wrote to you about. It was the morning after I drove past the pond near my house and it grinned back at me with its icy stare, reflecting the wheels of my car as it sped down the road. It was the morning I watched the temperature rise into the fifties and the wind stir up the tree tops, pulling it back into the forties…. so that when I arrived at the pond with my wet suit I was having second thoughts. But Bill turned up while I was contemplating what to do, and then Jim texted he was coming and it became an adventure …. my final fling…

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I walked on, and reaching the sunny side of the pond, I was surprised to find a thin sheet of ice had started to form. The iced shoreline along Ice Fort Cove I had passed was predictable given it was on the south side, but Thoreau Cove I always thought of as sunnier and warmer. I stopped to photo it. When I continued on I was again reminded of that final fling …

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I had struggled to make my way onto the sand against the force of wind pushing me back up the ramp. Looking across the pond I had watched the white caps rise like beacons before they tumbled and dispersed into spray. I decided to walk around to start my swim out of the wind. Let the wind take me home, I thought. Fitting for what was to be my last swim.

 

As I was walking past Sandy Cove last Sunday I remembered entering the water there. I had tried not to think about the cold yet I remembered I had not put my face in the water immediately because of it. I swam about fifty yards with my head above water before I knew that the hyperextension of my neck, if I continued so, would leave me worse off than putting my face in. I told myself it wouldn’t be too cold…
I felt like a slug in jello that day. A patient slug suspended in a bath of jello. I knew this feeling and I knew how to appreciate it because it made me feel strangely strong, this challenge to the limits of my cold endurance. I inched my way along measuring my progress by watching the tree tops pass by me, shaking violently. That, until the water itself started to shake and shudder under and around me. Then I remember a feeling of joy overtake me. I suddenly became a machine in low gear laboring to make it to the top of an icy slope. The tougher, more slippery the terrain, the more effort I had to engage to reach forward and over the tops of the waves, the more powerful I felt. The waves were throwing me as if I were a wet rag, one moment I would be looking at the sky, the next through the bubble lens of water. Then a wall of water appeared an inch from my nose. I remembered my first reaction had been fear and a split second later the fear passed and I did what I knew I best… I kept swimming.

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I continued walking more quickly now and moved from the beach onto the path. Remembering the exhilaration I had felt made me impatient to reach the main beach. When I did I turned back and looked at the pond. The water seemed a deeper blue, its surface still shifting back and forth creating ripples along its girth. But there seemed to be something more. Walden seemed to be smiling.

 

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.

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…