Circling the Sky

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For days I’ve watched the grey unfurl as I’ve swum closer… into the sky; sometimes to reveal splintered rain splattering around me, sometimes to peel back enough layers so the blue beyond can peek through from behind rolls of off-white cloud.

But today the sky almost stretched her pale force of blue from the northern tree tips to the southern shore, and the air almost felt like summer once more.

I put a lighter shirt over my bathing suit, (I’ve given up any thought for now that there will be a time when it will just be the bathing suit) and walked along the sand to the far end of Red Cross Beach.

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Each time I stretch my body flat into the water I am home. The water, its tiny curls circling down my flesh covered ribs, denudes my sense of shirt and suit. I slide through it, the water, though the wind has whipped the surface into peaks that, for an instant, stand like stiff cream before they resume their place in the infinity of the pond. From the shore I have seen the sleek sheen of the far basin, a temptation to make for the place where the breeze has not ruffled the surface… but it seems to take forever to find it when I am immersed and churning arm over arm toward it.

Finally, when the rhythm in me changes I know I am there. It is as though I have landed up-on the water deck, no longer struggling in-under it, my feet flapping and kicking to keep me afloat. Now, as I look to the left, and then to the right, gently rolling jade waves like slow moving sea creatures recede toward the shoreline. I begin to feel a litheness. I imagine I am a dolphin playing. I weave to and fro making slight turns in the water, all the time watching the scenery of the shore circling around me as I do. 

Suddenly I feel an incredible lift, adrenaline bursting forth. I am in the middle of the pond watching the world turning around me. In the middle of this enormous expanse of water watching the world turning around me. Gently flowing circles of forested green girthed by sand. I lift my body a little more each time I circle my arms into the sky, until they take on a momentum of their own. A momentum of their own, arms circling the sky, until they take my body home.  

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Pollen on the Pond

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Not Yet Hooked…

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The next time I saw her after my “not yet hooked” comment about swimming she grinned and reminded me of it. Then she added “I think I am.” She was just heading back to her car, her wetsuit over her arm, a snail-like trail of water dripping after her. I was just heading to the beach, my bag of neoprene slung over my shoulder. 

I’m not going to get hooked yet. I was adamant though I did not tell Cathy this. I thought the words silently to myself as I gazed through the woods and out over the pond. Walking down the ramp I watched the sun glow on its surface. I was just going for a swim because after a day of walking dogs I would be good to plunge into the cool water and feel it massage my tired feet as I glided horizontally across the surface. It looked so peaceful. 

The alternative was going home and feeling the full weight of the exhaustion I was. 

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The water was still chilly. Much cooler than I remembered it for mid May, and even though I had only swum a handful of times since those frozen swims of late November the nerves feeding my upper back and arms, my lower back and thighs knew how to shape my body in water. I felt so at home. Like I belonged here already. I moved through the tranquil glass surface of the pond without resistance. And when I turned in a wide scoop, making sure I went no further that Sandy Point… no, I was not yet going to get hooked so that I felt the need to swim to the far end of the pond… it happened. 

I’m still trying to figure out exactly what causes it. Is it the way I turn? The roll? Or the kick? Do I change my rhythm? Whatever it is, it is still as infectious as it was six months ago when my icy digits chased me out of the pond. Only this time, the more I come, the less my fingers freeze, even on the occasional grey days when I stretch them into heaven before plunging them back into the mid 60’s water…

And my body is so accustomed to it…It is like I have been here forever…

And yet, as I stroke and slide and feel the power surge through me, I tell myself, I am not yet hooked.

Really…

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Still Life of the Pond

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I don’t realize how freeing it is until I jump off the stone wall and pick up my gear. It is only as I head off along the sand, making my way around the bend in the shoreline that I am able to appreciate my decision. With a new season of swimming there is no habit, no ritual to be adhered to. I am in no hurry. The sun is shining and the breeze, well perhaps it is the breeze that has encouraged me to head for Thoreau Cove…

I have swum only once since last November, a quick dip, twenty minutes from the main beach, inching my way along the right flank of the pond on the first of three unseasonal summer days this past week. A long sleeve neoprene shirt under my short wetsuit, gloves too large they slid off and filled with water with each stroke, and a neoprene cap. The water did not seem too cold, though I do remember feeling the icy tendrils encasing my bare thighs at first and quickly  deciding to ignore it. I had been walking dogs all day so my muscles and skin were warm when I plunged in.

Today I am feeling relaxed, exhausted even, and sitting on the wall only makes me realize it. If I don’t move I won’t want to go in at all. I am not yet ‘hooked’. I have navigated five months without swimming. I wondered even if I would have forgotten how! 

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So I pick myself up and head around to where I know the breeze will be less and the sun shine with the sensation of greater heat.

Yet still, when I sit on the broken tree trunk on the shore at Sandy Point I ponder the swim for a good while and distract myself talking to a fellow I meet who is busy capturing the beginnings of a tan.

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When I plunge in I feel the water outline my body like the thin line of a pencil drawing. Taking those first strokes the lines of pencil blur into a trail of waves. I have broken into the still life of the pond. I set my sight on Ice Fort Cove Point, which from the shore looked like an easy swim. And it is, at first, as my form from years and years of practice returns without thought. Yet by the time I near the cove my shoulders are aching with each over arm, the tiny mass of deltoid muscles a weak cry of complaint each time I ask them to raise my arms toward the sky… and in my chest I feel each rib stretch taunt the skin it covers as my lungs expand.

As I continue to swim into the cove, sweep around the shoreline and out into the open water I wonder how I will make it back… but know I have no choice. Then a familiar voice my head tells me to change my stroke technique; I am fatiguing more than necessary. The long hiatus from swimming has thrown me after all. I have returned to a former style, forgetting the practice I had perfected by the end of last season when I left the pond feeling like a skiff sailing across the waves.

Yet despite modifying the pull so that I begin it later when my arm is lower in the water, and rolling more from the hips, I don’t seem to be moving forward. Every time I come up to breath I seem to be at the same angle from the beach house on the distant shore and the point toward which I am heading never seems to be getting any closer. I am in a time warp, only it is some sort of a spacial warp. I am a water rat on a treadmill swimming over and under going nowhere.

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I know this feeling well from years and years of swimming in Walden. I also know the mind games that the cold water can play. I kept my eyes on my goal and breathe in and out relaxing into the journey ahead, knowing I will make it, even though my perception tells me otherwise.  

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Earth Day at Walden

Earth Day and finally Spring arrives. It wafts through the air, winding down the sun warmed path. 

 

I pull into the gates. The DCR ranger is on duty once more, collecting money as cars file in. I stop to ask, “Is Buddy here?” “Two weeks,” he replies. 

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My muscles and bones stir with the memory of past trips to Walden. The anticipation of water, its swirling circling caressing my skin. It will be weeks until I am able to enjoy it. The water temperature is not yet 50 degrees: today I wear a sweater, jeans and sneakers. “I’m not swimming yet,” I confess as I glance behind and see the cars lined up waiting. “I’ve just come to walk and to watch…”

Laughter flows down the ramp to picnic on the sand. I sit on the stone wall eating my lunch, watching. The wind, tussling the leaves and drying my sandwich bread. Rippling tiny marks of pencil on the pond. Dancing silver threads.

 

I walk. Last week, only the water babbled back. Today I can hardly hear her chatter under the chuckles of dancing voices parading along the sand. 

A bald eagle soars overhead averting eyes to the heavens. Soars and dives, competing with the fishermen for their dinner. 

Yet they too let their rods go for the sight of the bird…

The blue sky as unimaginable as she.

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And back to the earth, sand cake dams redirect the banks of Walden as kids and adults rejoice in tee shirts and shorts and sunshine. Making circles in the sand to remember this day.   

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The Stillness of Water

On Friday I seek silence … and in early April the soft snow dampens the earth and soil, quelling the sound of bird and voice … 

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But quickly dissolves into sand

and on Sunday the silence with it…

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The snow is faded into the ground, the sun is bleaching the clouds away, and I, walking along the beach pass a young boy hollering at his dad who asks,

“Are you in acting class now?”

Yet the boy is only thrashing his frustration at his parent’s playful teasing…

 

I keep walking even as the young voice echoes inside me … away and away from the humdrum of human noise

Remembering the silence I seek.

 

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What I want is to listen for the water tinkling as it winks upon the shore

What I want is to feel the sound of sand crunching under my sneaker sole

The wind push past my face

Or rub my hood against my hair

Or rustle at my coat sleeve as I swing my arm, as if asking me a favor…

 

I want to hear the birds, confused as to whether spring is here or winter will return again

The bugs burping out of their winter homes…

 

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I walk and watch two fishermen, take photos, wishing I was on a boat, in the middle of the pond, watching the stillness of water all around…

I wave and ask them how the the fishing goes…

“Two” they say…

“Enough for dinner?”…. I give them a thumbs up. 

We chat, (they like my accent, they say) and I wonder if they have read the latest scientific research that shows that swimmers, peeing in Walden Pond are killing their dinner. ***

I wish them well and we part as friends…

Walk on, to the silence of the wind

Around the shoreline to the beach and watch the sun shed her color in the surface of the pond.

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*** to read about the article dated 4/5/18 go to

The Boston Globe … Stop Peeing in Walden Pond

Wandering Around Walden

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She never knew this place
Had never been here
But somehow
I think she knows it now…

 

They don’t allow dogs here… though that doesn’t mean I never see them… even this morning, a small black faced thing. Not a Shih Tzu like she was, but similar…
I keep my mouth shut, half jealous of the young couple cuddling their pup.

She left me to be with Jesi four days ago now. Yet I know she is still with me.
I feel her, just as I feel Jesi with me at times when I need her most.

Even as I close my eyes, she sits watching me as she would…she, on the other side of the glass door of our apartment, me in my chair
…yet, in my dream, neither of us are outside in the cold.
She is sitting on the carpet, warm and cosy.
I am comforted.
I know what this means.

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Today I celebrate Kari and Jesi’s birthday.
I call Kari on the phone and hear about her plans for her special day. For Jesi…
I put a post on her Facebook page.
“I sent you an early gift for your birthday Jesi…”

 

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So I wander around Walden; my thoughts in confusion.

Jesi, her birthday…trying to focus on who she would have been at 20 had she lived till today ….Would I have called her at school just as I had Kari to wish her a happy birthday? …..Would she have been here, walking around Walden or at the vet’s office on Tuesday holding my hand as we said good bye to Mimi?

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I haven’t walked the full circuit around the pond in weeks, months now…not wanting to be away from my little love that long when I needed to be caring for her.
I’m not sure I want the luxury now.
Perhaps standing on the main beach as I have many times, or walking just a little of the shoreline would have been enough…

In the silent stillness as Walden’s great strength and love holds me up….

She holds me still
While I stand here
Realizing that all that is precious
Crumbles and fades
As we all must…

And that is the way of it
In acceptance
Of being human.

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…