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.

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

Missing Walden

IMG_0981

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.

IMG_0980IMG_0984

Spring Rains Swell the Pond.

DSC_0024

Walden Pond from Ice Fort Cove Point, January 22 2016.

When I took this photo in January 2016 I could hardly have imagined it would lead me to this place. Standing on the point, the entry to Ice Fort Cove, perhaps I was thinking of the many times as I lifted my head above the water I drew an imaginary line between it and where my body was splashing through the surface of Walden. Perhaps I was wishing the winter be over so I could dive back into the water and feel that sense of freedom which accompanied being in the vastness of that mass.

Only that mass of water was shrinking…

For a while, she mask it, the snow creeping to the water’s edge to meet the ice. But in the months that followed the water seemed to become self conscious of the way she sprawled across the land. Urged by the scorch of the sun, the sand became as arid as a desert and the water retreated further and further into the deep bowl of the earth. So that in January 2017, when I trekked across the shore to Ice Fort Cove to photograph that same stump it was unmistakable.

_DSC0734

Walden from Ice Fort Cove point, January 16 2017.

I decided to investigate…
I researched precipitation totals (wunderground.com for Bedford Ma; KBED) grouping them into the following:

Jan-Apr 2016: 4.95 inches
May-Aug ’16: 4.83 inches
Sept-Dec ’16: 11.97 inches
Jan-Apr 2017: 11.69 inches

Over the last eight months we have had almost two and a half times more precipitation than we did in the first eight months for the period I researched!

 

Since January I have made numerous journeys around the shores of Walden. On some I have taken photos of the stump. Like so many of Walden’s visitors I am concerned for the continued low water levels of the pond, wondering when the water will swell enough to fully fill the space it once inhabited; wondering whether this is cyclical, as some suggest, or related to the changes occurring in global climatic conditions…

I cannot answer these questions… But I can say that little by little it seems all those grey days and the drenching rains we in Boston have experienced over the recent months are making a difference.

At least this is what my photos are telling me…

_DSC0160

Walden from Ice Fort Cove Point, March 18 2017.

IMG_0906

Walden from Ice Cove Fort Point, April 28 2017.

April Swimming

IMG_0903

I did not intend it when I pulled into the car park at Walden on the first of two near 80 degrees days. I intended to walk around the pond to take a photo of a particular stump I have been monitoring on the shoreline directly across from the main beach.
Ice Fort Cove is the point to which I swim during the summer and years ago I remember this stump being almost completely immersed in water. Over the past three or four years as the water level of the pond has decreased alarmingly, the stump has crept closer and closer to the shore so that over the past year the water has abandoned it completely. I have been taking series of photos of it since January 2016.* (The feature of a post to come). So when I wandered down the ramp to the sand that warm spring afternoon I was not thinking about swimming at all. I was wondering whether with the recent addition of more rain to April’s total, that stump had retreated to the water once more.

When I returned to the main beach after my walk I could not resist slipping off my shoes and wading into the water. It felt so warm compared to two weeks ago when I had taken that first dip over Easter.
As I sat on the stone wall waiting to meet a friend I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. If I raced home and grabbed my swimsuit I could come back and go for a quick swim and still be on time for my next commitment. I sat on the warm stones basking in the afternoon sun, the idea expanding like a flower unfolding in my brain.

At first I was only contemplating another plunge, a few quick strokes, flip over on my back and swimming back to shore. But after talking to my friend, a fellow swimmer about to do his third swim for the season, like the idea itself, I started visualizing more. The defining factor would be time.

When I arrived back at Walden in my swimsuit I had just enough time for a 10 minute swim, and without a wetsuit in the 57 degree water I figured that would be plenty….

All the variables of my situation were streaming through my mind …. I had not been swimming more than twice since early March … My body was not acclimatized to cold water …. I am not carrying much natural insulation …. Last year’s shoulder injury is still nagging on occasions …. It’s impossible to tell (initially) one immerses in cold water how it is affecting the body. It is a cumulative effect in any case …. Would my limbs cramp up or in the least not propel me forward? …. The thoughts raced faster and faster and the only way to test them was to put on my neoprene cap, my goggles and gloves and head for the water’s edge. Which is exactly what I did.

It was cold. I felt it run down every rib to my abdomen. I felt it on the back of my neck. I felt the soles of my feet etched in cold. After I had swum out a little I felt my hamstrings tighten as if they had only just realized they were working under the duress of the cold. I willed them to keep working anyway. My arms, in and out of the water felt uniformly … cold … Even the sun’s warmth could not penetrate it. But as I continued to swim the cold ceased to bother me. Its clutch on my psyche lessened and I wanted to go on. I knew better. One can get into trouble if one goes beyond what can be tolerated. I reminded myself I am acclimatizing. I turned at my assigned point and headed back to shore.

The following day, another 80 degree day, I did it again. And it came together better. I swam a little further and it felt a little less jarring on my body; the cold, the familiar but unaccustomed stroke. Then the weather turned. The clouds rolled in, the wind picked up a bitter chill from the north, and the rain came down. And I don’t know when it will be 80 degrees again.

Testing the Waters of Walden

As I wander through the trees listening to the spring birds singing, watching the buds finally unfold their wings into the grey of this morning… as I wrap my jacket around me, cosy my neck under my scarf and lower my gaze to see the seeds inch through the moist earth, I think back a few days to Sunday…The sunshine and warmth that filled the air with the hope of summer…   And I remember…

I had spent the morning trying to convince myself that a dip to “test the water” would not do too much damage to my fragile neurological system. I had been suffering from migraine headaches which, since the flu had struck almost a month before had consumed most of my conscious thought…. So much so that last week I actually decided focusing on them, albeit to try to assess the triggers and so avoid them, was becoming unhealthy in itself. Perhaps if I ignored them they would leave me alone.
But they continued to return when I woke each morning; if only as a sense of tightening in my brow, or a slight twinge over one temple, soon to expand their territory to consume my whole forehead or creep from the base of my skull like bony fingers under my scalp, sending a current of electrical energy at random or giving me the sensation of the butt of a gun slowly turning over and over inside my head…
But since one of my “go to” treatments to relieve the pain is an ice pack, perhaps with the Easter Sunday temperatures in the 80’s, a dunk in the pond might help…

So I happened along toward the parking lot of Walden just after 2.30pm and was dismayed to find it closed until 4pm due to the parking having reached capacity.
I wondered if when I returned at 4, would I stand fast to my plan, and dunk myself into the water? And what my head would think of it?

IMG_0773

I arrived at the gate a few minutes before 4pm, one of the first cars to be let through. The sky had clouded and although I had been hoping for the return of the sun it seemed the wind was getting fiercer and the clouds disguising the sun even further. I walked down the ramp toward the water. The temperature noticeably dropped a few degrees.
No one was swimming on the main beach. There were a few kids wadding in the shallows and a handful of adults lying on the sand in bikinis.
I took to the wooded path heading for Sandy Point, still wrestling with the idea of plunging in. The wind was gusting so strongly it pushed me along. I wished I’d bought my sweatshirt. Habit, or the reluctance to leave now that I had gotten this far, kept me walking forward.

IMG_0775

By the time I reached Sandy Point the sun had returned. An older man was stripping down to his bathers, also deliberating about going for a plunge. I felt courage rouse within me. I slipped my shorts down over my hips and pulled my t shirt over my head. The sun’s warmth caressed my bare skin. Following my fellow bather’s lead I made my way down to the water’s edge and gingerly placed one foot and then the other in, so only my feet were under water. It was devilishly cold.
Next time I tried I got in as far as my shins. I stood there, trying not to focus on the burning cold of my lower legs, the searing pain in my feet until it became to much and I scurried back to dry land, trying not to injure my numbing feet on the stones as I hobbled over them. The next time I got in as far as my knees. And perhaps my exit was a tiny bit more graceful. Then, determined I was going to make it, I got right out of the water, stood breathing deeply for a few moments taking my time while watching the distant shoreline, a canoe passing by, the fishermen engrossed in waiting for a tug on their lines, groups of Sunday strollers wandering along the sand, a lean young man laying out a yoga mat and beginning sun salutations. Then, acting before I thought too deeply about it, I boldly walked into the water raised my arms together and splash! In I went.

What I remember next was curious. Certainly the cold. But some sort of memory of being immersed in cold water kicked in. I ignored the shock of it all. I almost rejoiced in the familiarity of it …for a moment anyway… I glided for a few strokes, flipped over to my back and stroked parallel to the shoreline. The back of my neck soothed, rejoicing as the cold water caressed it, cooling my frazzled nervous system. Then as my brain caught up with my memory it registered my general state of cold. I turned onto my stomach and toward the shore and hastily made for the shallow water. When I pulled myself up to stand my body was so cold it was on fire. My skin was burning. I looked down at my arms expecting to see them glowing like red embers but they were their same pale brown. I felt amazing. So amazing I repeated my plunge not once, but twice that summery Sunday afternoon.

IMG_0778

Now wandering among the trees with my jacket tight around me to keep out to cold morning air, I wonder when another day like Sunday will come my way. I wonder about the new treatment I have found to gain relief from migraine pain too…

Spring at Walden

IMG_0648

IMG_0676

Spring launched today and Walden vibrated with her energy as a relaxed crowd of visitors sprawled along the sand, strung like beads around the perimeter of the pond. With them they bought volleyballs, soccer balls, ping pong, frisbees, fishing rods, bikes or just their sneakers, jettisoned so bare feet could test the water, still too cold for swimmers…

Yet when I left the main beach and meandered around to the far side of the pond, the crowd and carnival atmosphere thinned. It was replaced instead by the silent endeavor of a figure clad in black, deftly stepping in the ankle deep water of Ice Fort Cove. He was looking for stones to build his cairns.
I stopped to talk to the young man and learnt that apart from needing a stone with three points on which it could balance, the main skills required were patience and perseverance. “And perhaps a steady hand,” I added.

IMG_0671

I was surprised when the young man told me without any animosity that often the cairns he built were knocked over purposely, “because you wouldn’t want one of those rocks to land on your foot, would you…” he explained. I wondered why I would be a target for one landing on me if I was minding my own business and just walking by, but that was not the point.
What I was really astonished by was what I thought to be the Buddhist attitude of this young man.
After taking all this time and effort to build these structures, he seemed perfectly fine with the notion that they would be destroyed.
Thanking him for his time I continued on my walk deciding there was more than patience, perseverance and a steady hand to the building of cairns. The secret lay centered inside the psyche of the builder himself.

IMG_0673