Surprises in the Pond


It was quiet for a Friday evening, the layer of grey clouds and cool air tempting people to bars and malls after the workday week, not sand and sun and water play.

There is something beautiful about the desolation of the beach. A figure standing alone at the water’s edge wrapped in a jacket, his wide brimmed hat sitting square on a thick mop of hair. He stares over the still black water, watching. Two, three bags slouching on the stone wall, towels flung haphazardly over them. Owners no where to be seen. Further down the beach a figure huddled on the sand as if sheltering from something. No sun, no wind, not even rain. The air still, quiet and blameless.

I stagger out of the pond and look at my fingers. My nails are pale purple, a pretty shade I think, if I had painted them. The skin surrounding them is blanched white.
At the bottom of my bag I reach for my phone to check the time. I have been swimming for just over 40 minutes. The water felt warm, but to counter the low sixties degree day and lack of sun I have been wearing a short sleeve shirt to keep my neck and arms warm. I don’t feel cold at all. The color of my nails surprises me.

At first the shirt bothers me. It balloons around my upper back, trapping air as I swim. Perhaps it is the reason I feel I am swimming lopsidedly, like a boat that has taken in water and is listing terribly. I reach Sandy Point. I turn toward Ice Fort Cove. Despite my lean, I am swimming directly toward the targets I set myself. A thousand thoughts distract me as they weave their way into my mind and leave me as deftly as they enter; I never recall half of the seemingly important things that occur to me in the pond, but at the time they descend upon me urgently. Some, however, become marked forever in the waves and water as it flows through me. For instance: my daughter is always especially with me when I swim across the mouth of Thoreau Cove. That day in late September 2014 when I broke down swallowing swimming tears, realizing she was never coming back. She had passed away two weeks earlier from leukemia… And today, my heart swelling with love as the silent black ink of the pond suddenly churns and swells around me, remembering walking through the woods of Lincoln with my son, now a young man, showing him where I live. The small parcel of time spent together giving me such an enormous gift.

Now I am circling the cove and turning for my return voyage. The rhythm of my stroke changes and I find my power. I skim like a racing skiff along the water which gently laps my face. I wonder how long I can keep up this pace? There is nothing to watch and nothing to watch out for today, only the two tone grey sky and the grey chop of water which turns black ink as I swim from the wide deep bowl of the pond into the neck nearing the main beach. The engine of my stroke has waxed and waned by now but as the surface stills and the depth below lessens my body position adjusts magically to a new dynamic. My arms begin to churn so fast that my legs cannot keep up pace with them. I am straining such that I feel every muscle from my latissimus through to the deltoid attachment in my elbow rebel each time I reach my arm forward to grasp the water. Each arm, the pain repeated. But I cannot slow down the motion. My arms have taken on a force beyond my control and are circling so fast my legs lose their purpose. They give up their ineffectual kicking and float behind. I raise my head an inch higher to see how far I have to swim before I enter the open water swim shute between the buoys. I am lined up perfectly. I see two women on the beach directly ahead. Are they triathletes? I think of the days when I competed. My arms continue to churn as my breath steals air from beneath them. I feel like I am finishing a race. I wonder why my body has taken over and burst forth in such a manner. The memory in my aching muscles demanding this…



Redefining Walden

I don’t think I ever looked closely at a tree until fresh green buds were unfurling last spring. I remember looking up into the sky as I walked slowly along the dirt path bordering the Lexington Battlegreen, my little Shih Tzu dawdling behind me. Perhaps it was just that since Jesi passed I had been looking up more, no longer staring forlornly at my boots praying the infections and complications of her leukemia treatment might end. What ever it was, I suddenly realized how amazing the long fine branches that reached into the heavens were. Then it was the enormous trunks that astounded me. As I walked past them something resonated within me. Ever since I have been fascinated with trees. But when my therapist asked “Why don’t you look at the trees at Walden?” after I told her I didn’t find the trees there captivating, I replied “Because when I’m at Walden my eyes are always drawn toward the water.”

On Wednesday the sky was grey and the air temperature in the mid forties. I was sure I would see someone swimming so when I scanned the water surface, smooth and shiny as metal and saw no black arms circling, I was surprised.

I set off along the pond path to walk but it wasn’t long before I stopped. I had been thinking about Jesi, how one of the last times she visited Walden with me we had walked this very path. Then a kaleidoscope of her visits to Walden merged in my brain. There was the time she bought her camera, a Canon SLR she received for her birthday and while I watched, she took close up photos of plants squeezing out the crevices of rocks, or the texture of tree trunks. I was walking the same stretch of path where she had bent toward over her camera, sliding the lens around its orbit until it was perfectly in focus, before pressing her finger to release the shutter, click. I was only holding my i phone, though recently I have thought about “borrowing” Jesi’s camera. Suddenly I found myself bending a thick scaley tree trunk and tapping the screen, click.


Suddenly my walk was transformed. I no longer stared through the lattice webbing of branches, wishing my view of the pond was not obscured, I looked at the patterns they printed on the sky instead.



When I reached the corner of the pond where Thoreau built his cabin, I headed up through the thick bed of leaves and deep into the woods. I probably hadn’t been into Walden Woods since the swimming season had begun in May, definitely not since the leaves had been ushered to their death by the October winds. It was magical to be wading through them, listening to them crackle under my sneakers, to be feeling the stillness of the forest, I the only moving creature in it. I resolved to do this more often, now that I had broken the spell of the water and allowed myself to breathe in the life of the woods.
This is what I saw…



Diamonds in the Pond


Mark… For You

I waded out of the water and across the sand. The swim had been exhausting but I felt invigorated, unlike the weariness I had been feeling when I arrived. It was late afternoon and the sun was glinting like three large diamonds across the middle of the pond. They were perfectly lined up between where I was standing on the beach and Ice Fort Cove point. So dazzlingly bright I had turned and was standing with my back to the water.

Since the new swim regulations have been in effect at Walden there is a narrow stretch of sand where open water swimmers are asked to enter the water, so I often find other swimmers at the stone wall adjacent it. I found myself exchanging greetings with Mark. He was toweling his hair when we started chatting and he shared with me that the previous week he had finally made it all the way across to the other side. Despite his low key manner I sensed the pleasure this had given him. It’s always great to hear stories about what Walden gives to others in its community.

“Whenever I come here,” Mark continued “anything that’s bugging me seems to go away.”

I visualized the deep belly of Walden, our problems sinking into it and remaining submerged in the muddy floor. I thought of how I’d read that the largest lotus always rise out of the muddiest depths… I thought of how I experience not only a change in outlook from when I had start my swim to when I finish it, but the many times I had felt weak and overwhelmed and had thrown myself into the water, and how strong and powerful it had made me feel to surge forward into the waves as the wind pushed them into me. How I had faced some of the worst experiences I could remember, a horrendous divorce, the death of one of my children by swimming in Walden.
…When I am feeling overwhelmed by even the smallest things I immediately think about Walden and want to be in the middle of the pond…

Then Mark pointed out the sparkling diamonds extending across the middle of the pond as the sun lowered itself toward it and continued, saying what a magical place it was for him.

The previous day, after nine days of a migraine headache I had tentatively launched myself into Walden’s waters, at first feeling their cool caress against my skin and then worrying that as I swam and started to generate heat from the work I was doing, my head would rebel and I would have to turn and make for the shore. But even as I monitored it, the familiar thump stopped despite the regularity with which it had been beating for days and even when I struggled back up the beach after the swim, did not return. Not even when I strolled, not the leisurely stroll of an afternoon walk but a stroll due to the fact I was too tired to do otherwise, up the ramp and back to my car. Not even when I returned home to my sweet but noisy dog and the TV blaring. Not even when I sat down at my computer and caught up on email.

I didn’t tell Mark about the magic Walden had bestowed on me, but it had!