Reflections in Walden Pond

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Like the traffic lining both sides of route 126 before Walden’s allotted re-opening time, the line of cars slowly crawling toward the heavy wooden gate, I dodge two heads bobbing, one to my right, one on my left, the tanned faces and pulled back hair appearing and disappearing amongst the crests and caves of waves. Like my arm out flung, waving at my DCR buddy as I inch my car slowly past the entrance to the boat ramp, another obstacle appears, a boy on a board rearing up and disappearing somewhere ahead of me. I squint, not able to make out what it is at first. The blue board resembles the head of a whale, but no that’s impossible I tell myself. This is Walden. Soon enough I get to the ‘in’ gate. Soon enough I glide past my whale boy, his mother trailing after him, no doubt watching for swimmers like me who might topple him off his board.

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Now I am finally out in the open water of Walden. Away from the crowds, who, with their coolers and beach chairs and umbrellas have come, the second shift for summer’s Sunday, to spend the afternoon looking out over the pond. Side by side we parked under the solar canopies, I doned my swimsuit while they pulled their bags and towels out of overstuffed trunks and together we headed for the beach. Now I am surging through the choppy water, the strength I feel perhaps not translated into speed, but I am light and free and that is what matters.

My thoughts turn to dogs.
I spend a lot of time thinking about dogs these days. The dogs at the rescue who need homes and who need skilled handling to offset the behavior issues that land them homeless and stressed out in shelter environments. I’m learning how to do this… but not as fast as I want to. I’m in the middle of the bowl of Walden Pond thinking about all this. The water has flattened out though the surface is still dimpled. As I skim along I look up at the sky. Perfect blue with white wisks of cotton wool cloud. Both to my right and my left. This is my magical place and the fact that my stroke has settled into a rhythm that is so easy and relaxed that is feels almost like I could do this forever makes me believe in the magic. So I ask the sky and the power of the universe and my deceased daughter who I know resides with me in Walden to help me get over my fears and be that better dog handler that I dream of being. Then as I swim on the water changes from dimpled green to a state of stillness such that the surface turns satin green. I look ahead. I am almost at the shore and two figures stand and watch me as I approach. They turn away and continue their walk as I make a turn in the opposite direction and swim across the mouth of the cove. I have made contact with humanity and the magic disappears. But my swim is only half had and the rhythm remains.

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Walden’s Water Temperatures Teasing Thoughts…

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Even in late June there have been days when I reach into the water and my brain registers how much warmer it is than the air. And there are the days, like today when the water feels cool in comparison. Plunging in, I adjust my stoke so that I tolerate the moment of impact of body and water. I skim along the interchange of these two worlds, … fueled by a summer breeze or a sterner wind throwing waves at my face or mostly by my own determination and resolve. I am away, imagining that I am, if not in reality, swimming gracefully through the turbulence.

I steer a path straight across the middle of the pond. It seems there is no one out here, but I am long past worrying about being alone. I am the waves and the wind and the ribbons of sand my eye glances toward as I turn slightly to the right and then to the left, my head keeping pace with my breath. I watch the clouds, grateful that today they break their monotony and allow glimpses of blue to appear as if patched behind them. White and thicker grey smears also appear and threaten to snatch the sun away. But I am not caring, the momentum of my body is drawing me forward so that I become wrapped up inside my own rhythm, rejoicing in the freedom of this effortless challenge.
As I near the cove on the far shore I begin to make out clumps of colored mushrooms on the sand. They turn out to be people lying under umbrellas or wading in the shallows. I glide past them, my stroke easy. I imagine them saying ….look how strong and powerful that woman is… surging like a fish through the water… she looks so at home there. Then immediately I wonder what they really think, or if they even notice, so absorbed in their own merriment, just as I am in mine.

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As I swim into the cove the temperature of the water increases, not just a couple of degrees, and not so I just register the increase at the beginning of the pull… sometimes the surface of the water will be warm but as the depth changes the temperature decreases. Not today. It is as if my whole body is entering a warm bath. I have a migraine and don’t want my head to get hot but the water seems to be getting warmer and warmer. Then I start to dread swimming out of the cove as I am way down the far end of the pond and will have to swim all the way back through the colder water. The transition will be jarring. So now I am dreading both the heat and the cold simultaneously. I laugh as I exhale a mass of bubbles. Two days ago the Renauds Disease in my middle finger rendered it numb on the return swim. It turned white and the blood didn’t flow back into the nail bed for over an hour. I keep stroking at the leisurely pace I entered the cove at, determined not to let stress get the better of me. What else is there to do? The water is still feeling like a warm bath… Why add worry to the mix.

I follow the shoreline around until I come to the bottom of the pond and my familiar turning point. By now I have eased out of the bath and forgotten my fears, focusing instead on the stump, a marker I have been watching over the past weeks as it appears to have become more and more submerged, an indication that the water level in Walden is slowly increasing. Then I turn and once again become that powerful swimmer absorbed in nothing but the stroke and the imaginings of all those onlookers. They who observe me gliding through the water heading straight back through the middle of the pond… Heading for the beach house and home.

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A Thousand Meandering Thoughts in the Pond

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A thousand different thoughts and feelings as the waves swipe me one after the other a million times over. Today, in just a bathing suit after only a week ago feeling the chill creep under my wetsuit I amazingly still manage to lie across the surface as if I am being held by some miracle. I thank God for the power and strength to do this as I winde myself more and more into the face of the wind pushing at me. I feel peculiar, like a rat on a water treadmill stroking with all my might, going no where. I modify my direction so I am swimming across the face of the waves and it is even more bizarre. Suddenly all the world seems to be pushing against me, forbidding my getting to the shore I have in my mind to swim toward. I pass another swimmer and watch him turn his head to watch me. I sense his curiosity at the sight of this lone body pushing and simultaneously being pulled.

Swimming in open water is such an explosive psychic experience.

Somehow I find a rhythm and my body falls into a synchronicity I do not own on land between the back ache and the neck pain and the tired feet. My arms take on a tempo of their own and my breath takes her cue from them. I relax into joy. This is the moment I long for and it lasts and lasts like laughter, the kind that leaves your sides aching though and through, and if I think too deeply, move one muscle out of its context, even raise an eyebrow higher than before realizing the distance from me to shore is still a long way off and I am tiring, it might vanish as quickly as it established itself. Now I feel like that miracle and again I thank God and any other being who watches over me, a tiny speck of insignificance in this mass of wonder and water tumbling over and over and I begin to believe I belong in the water: a dolphin perhaps…?

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Appreciating the Sun and Swimming

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Once, when I was a kid growing up in Australia, I thought the sun was just one of those ‘things’ that was just part of daily life. Sure, we had winter and it rained… even in summer, but memories of my childhood predominantly are basked in sunshine and the radiant warmth of the sun. And happiness for me was always wandering amongst the trees, down dirt tracks into the gullies and across streams in the Australian bush.

I’ve lived in Boston for seventeen years now and the phrase that I was introduced to … “if you don’t like the weather wait minute and it will change” is not new to me. Yet lately I find I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting…

On Thursday I left my apartment and drove down the country lane from Lincoln center under a canopy of tall green leafy trees. The sun was glinting through the foliage from a royal blue sky far above me. Inside my body I could feel the energy of hope bursting forth, almost as if spring was beginning anew. I was on my way to Walden to swim, but the two and a half mile drive through the woods in the sunshine, watching the shadows dance on my windshield and bonnet of my car was for the moment prize enough. How I had been missing the sun!…More than I ever remembered during the whole time I have lived in Boston.
The parking lot was already populated with cars. … Thursday, late morning, no surprise as most of Boston I have spoken to have been feeling similarly about the weather here lately. (Yes, we have more than made up for last year’s drought, …and secretly, I am hoping we do not continue to do so all summer.) Standing at the trunk of my car I luxuriated in the deceptive warmth. Grabbing my shortie wetsuit and long sleeve shirt I decided I wouldn’t possibly need a sweater to put on after my swim. But before I had even walked as far as the roadway stopping to chat to fellow swimmers returning from the pond … “the water’s colder than it was last week” …. “there’s a brisk wind up this morning” …. I returned to my car to retrieve it, wishing I had bought more protective gear with me. I have been feeling the water chilly lately and my last swim, five days earlier, albeit without sun, was unpleasantly cool. But doggedly I have refused to go backwards (as I see it) and put on a full wetsuit. It is spring after all, not fall. The water should be warming, not cooling.

There are no should’s anymore.

When I did glide into the water and almost immediately the balance between left and right took over, I let myself be guided by the rhythm in me. The cold that I registered faded somewhere inside my psyche. Life was perfect and I understood again and again why I miss this (and immediately started making plans as to how to get to Walden for that next swim, through my schedule has made that impossible as yet) … For me nothing compares to the sight of the emerald blue water glistening with sun sparkles dancing on its surface, girted by the tonal variation of the early summer forest green foliage, all tied together under an arc of unending blue sky. And perhaps it is all heightened by the slight discomfort of the shiver of cold up my spine, along the top of my feet and the back of my neck, the effect it has on my perceptions and the knowledge that my body is not designed to endure what my psyche yearns for.

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Today, right now, the sky has clouded. The grey has returned. They tell me showers again.
I have learnt that the sun is not a ‘given’ but a ‘gift.’ And to appreciate it every moment, in and out of the water it shines its powerful and loving warmth on me. And when another opportunity for me to be in the water during moments of sunshine occur I know it will mean more to me than I would have ever imagined…

Along the Shoreline …

Now that summer has unofficially begun and the swimming season is officially underway I want to share some photos showing the transformation of Walden from wilderness to public recreation area.

 

 

Despite the still cool water (only a degree or two above 60) and the less than desirably cool air temperature (not touching 70) the beach was beginning to brim by the time I finished my swim this afternoon. It was still pretty easy to navigate a path through the water  without colliding though.

Yes… Despite the weather, the season begins!

 

 

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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Missing Walden

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I drove past Walden a few days ago. I was on my way home from the post office. My dog was sitting quietly in the back seat, her eyelids dreamily closing as she was lulled by the motion of the car. I didn’t stop but I did slow down to steal a glance at the pond. My gut tightened and a short gasp unexpectedly escaped from my throat. Before I had driven two hundred yards down the road a tear had started to form in the corner of my eye. I have been missing Walden and I didn’t even realize it.
The weather in Boston has been unseasonably cold and the sun has hardly made enough of an appearance to encourage me to make time to schedule a visit. One glance at the tranquil pool of green blue water and I immediately wanted to be sitting on the sand, my head in my hands and I would have been crying
I would have been crying, I repeated to myself.

I have not been back to Walden since my early season dips into the pond a couple of weeks ago. Each day I check to see updates on the weather and it seems impossible. Last week the overnight temperatures dipped into the 30’s. Surely unseasonable for May! “It’s more like April weather” a friend replies when I remark how happy I am to see that the newly planted grass seed is slowly making its way through the soil, “and the sky has patches of blue… and we did see the sun for a little bit this morning,” I add trying to make the most of the predominantly grey days lately.
I am not alone then in my frustration over the slow arrival of spring.

In a couple of weeks the ropes and floaters will appear on the main beach at Walden. And over the Memorial Day weekend they will take their place standing sentinel in the water off the main shore and Red Cross Beach.
Each fall I vow I will start swimming early so I can enjoy the freedom of swimming without the ropes wherever I please, which usually means in the springtime, close to shore where open water swimming is banned once the ‘season’ begins. But this year the vagaries of the weather have not made it possible.
So I am left stealing a glance from the drivers seat of my car, wishing and wondering when the weather will do us all the turn we wait for and deliver the warmth of a spring day lit with sunshine, heralded by a chorus of birdsong.

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