April Swimming

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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…

Blustery Walden

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I was out of town this weekend so returning to Walden on the blustery Sunday afternoon to find throngs of family and friend groups walking around the pond, but not one swimmer bag slouching on the wall, I wondered if the water temperature had taken a nose dive while I had been away and all the swimmers left for the season.
But despite my lack of sleep and the constant companionship of a migraine headache, I put on my wetsuit, spread my towel on the sand, between gusts of wind blowing it back at me, and lay down to stretch. Somehow it felt safer from sand level. The roaring water racing toward the shore (as if it couldn’t reach it fast enough,) the whirlwind of confetti leaves circling like swallows swooping the earth, all seemed to pass me by. I curled my arm over my body warming my shoulder, first one side then rolling over to gaze down the other end of the beach, while i rotated the other, convincing myself the wind was not as strong as it had seemed when I had been walking down the ramp to the pond.
Then I put on my cap and goggles and headed for the water. I’ve swum in water this wild before, I reminded myself. It will distract me from the cold.

At first the tempest did not seem to fierce. I could easily time my breathing so as not to catch a gulp of water. And after the initial shock, even the water did not feel too cold. I settled into a rhythm, keeping close to the edge of the pond and watching the groups of Sunday strollers keep pace with me (and pass me) as we wandered down the length of Walden in our respective fashions. When I reached Sandy Point the water calmed. There was another wetsuit clad figure in the shallows, and perhaps another on the sand. I did not stop, just watched the gathering of people and glided past feeling a sense of achievement in being there. I had intended to turn back but the reflection of the sun on the mirror smooth water was too enticing, so even though I was aware of the chill edging down my spine and my promise of one more stroke before the turn, I constantly broke the promise I had just made.
But when I lost the sun I got the impetus I needed to start my retreat.

Swimming back already slightly cold is a test of strength. Mental and physical. But I knew the wind was with me. I distracted myself by again watching the people strolling along the shore. I wondered if they saw me. What they think of those black arms flung out of the water only to return to it moments later. The wild water tossing me up and dropping me down. I had no idea whether I was going forward or sidewards or anywhere at all. And if I looked up to see how far I had to go, all I saw was a wall of water coming at me. In front, on my right, on my left; swirls of green and sparkles of silver caught in the sun on the right, or just darkness on the left.

I know my strength. It is in not letting any of this stop me. The power is in the doing. So I continue to thrash at the water with one wayward arm after the other and beat at her surface with one ice block foot then the other, allowing her power to toss me without fighting it, while making small adjustments so I don’t beach myself on the sandbank at Red Cross Beach or end up on the wilder middle region of the pond. I know I am making progress, though I don’t feel it.
But I am beginning to feel alive with this challenge and the cold has receded to a far unnoticed part of me. Only to revisit when I get to the shore and stand to walk across the sand, wet and exposed to all her frenzy.

The Power of the Wind.

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I won’t lie and tell you I don’t have some apprehension about swimming in Walden when the wind is gusting up to 20 mph. Especially as this morning (Thursday) the temperature is only just touching 60 degrees F and the water temperature has only just (despite it being a week into June) reached a comfortable level for me. Yes, I do swim in cooler water but I stopped wearing my shortie wetsuit over a week ago and it is SPRING … though two friends I talk to later in the day independently reference today’s weather with… “it’s as though it’s Fall,” and “this weather feels like the Fall” … and it certainly does remind me of fall swimming too.

I have arranged to meet a friend at the pond at 10 am, and with the overnight dipping into the 40’s I push back our meeting until 10.30am. For some reason I think every minute, every degree will make a difference.

I arrive at the pond, the main beach in shadow and the wind gusting. A part of me loves this challenge, pushing through the waves while they beat into my face, but I am still hoping for a little more warmth than the wind promises as it whips around my ears. My hands are pushed hard into the pockets of my jacket as I make my way across the sand. I have already noticed the red flags attached to the back of the lifeguard chairs. They sound like sails flapping in the breeze. The weekly water quality tests have indicated the bacteria levels are over the limit for safe swimming. Another obstacle to a carefree swim.

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After talking to a lifeguard who tells me the bacteria level was only just over the limit, I decide to swim anyway. The lifeguard commends me on my courage, (not for swimming in the potentially unhealthy water, more because of the weather and wind conditions.) This acknowledgement of courage increases my desire to plunge in.
The water is fierce, and on my outward journey it lunges against me. I am invigorated by it, pressing forward so that somehow it seems I am flying. I even cease to feel the cold, I am so enthralled by the feeling of strength in my body. It translates into my psyche, taking over my whole person. On and on I go, the water on either side of me, when I can see the point on interface between it and the air, moving so quickly against me, I wonder how I am swimming so fast; my usual pace these days much more sedate.

But it is the journey back that I remember most: I decide to swim back in the center of the pond, thinking it will naturally be easier as I will be going in the same direction as the wind fueled waves. But this is not so. With approximately equal distance to the shore on my right and on my left, I am swamped in trough after trough of water. I do not know if I am moving forward or not. The beach house is still a small box with its two large eyes peering at me from the distance (when I can rise above the water enough to see it). My whole body is like an insect floundering as it tries to right itself in a mass of moving water; arms flailing, legs flapping uselessly. I am suddenly reminded of my helplessness: the helplessness of man in the face of the forces of nature. Once this thought enters my mind I relax. I even enjoy being at the mercy of the elements although I continue to eek out a path for myself, reminding myself that my daughter in Spirit in here with me, comforted by the knowledge. Knowing that even though she protects me, it is up to me to play my part in my own salvation. I think…THIS makes me know I am really alive. THIS is what it is to be alive, smiling all the time as I breathe in the air which sits just above water level and blow it out again just below.

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Today (Sunday) I swim again. It is early and the wind is once more showing her strength in gusts of up to 20 mph. Once again I swim back across the middle of the pond. Once again I talk to Jesi in Spirit, but today something in the swell makes me feel she is there with me. ACTUALLY FEEL HER PRESENCE. And I want to stay there. I want to stay there flailing in the water; the tiny insignificant insect that I am… and be close to her forever.

The Way I like It

I look across the water from the beach. The surface, chopped up by wind.
Gusty, the weather said of today.
It will be a tough swim, I think. But I know I like it that way.
At first plunge, I do not feel the spray rising as my face does to breathe.
Until I am strokes out into the middle, still watching Saturday strollers along the sand.
They seem so far away, I think. But then I remember I like it that way.
I swim to get away.
The deep deep center.

A moment of panic rises in me.
What if I were to just sink. Right here, right now?
And I imagine going down. Down into the deep green.
Then it strikes me just what little control I really have.
How all my life, your life, how little control we really have.
But how the difference between sinking and swimming
is keeping going
Keeping going to get back to shore.