I had been wondering when would I venture into Walden’s tranquil or sometime wind rippled water again. I had seen figures, clad in black with flailing insect limbs thrown rhythmically over their sleek torsos, goggle eyes cruising the choppy surface. It must have been cold, I thought, watching their ungainly strides across the pond. Or was it just an excuse I gave myself for not feeling as adventurous as they were?
But on Monday the calendar, already turned into May and the thermometer climbing into the upper eighties, I no longer had an excuse. I scanned the car park looking for signs of wetsuits as I carried mine, its lifeless sleeves dangling from its doubled over body, its legs poised to stand on ankles as thin as sapling trunks. I flung my bag over my shoulder, jammed with what I thought I might need for this, my first swim of the season. I had no idea what the water temperature might be. I only knew that I would warm quickly once I clambered out after my swim and stood in the heat of the summer, the really only spring, sunshine.
A smile shaped my face as I recognized my friend’s car. Cathy was here. What more could I ask to get me over the anxieties of the unknown! I hastened my steps across the road and onto the ramped walkway, skipping down the stone steps and around the side of the rock wall onto the beach, only to find that Tom and Barbara were sitting in low beach chairs looking out over the pond. The gang was back. Walden’s community reassembling after a long harsh winter.
After swimming indoors for the first in a dozen winters, another excuse which had been keeping me out of Walden, doing stroke correction with a local masters group, I had finally progressed to a point I was enjoying freestyle, the feeling of gliding through the water with a long slow stroke, allowing my hands to drift downward before pulling them swiftly through the water. “Make it feel like you’re skating,” my coach had constantly been reminding me. I didn’t really want to go into the pond in a wetsuit and I couldn’t even contemplate wearing gloves. I would quickly slip back into the bad habits I had spent months conquering. Having my legs float in the wetsuit would be bad enough. I knew it would throw off the action of my kick but gloves…
I didn’t wear gloves, though I was cautious with the cold and wore a synthetic shirt and bike shorts under my wetsuit, as well as a neoprene cap over my regular bathing cap. I stood in the water greeting Cathy who arrived back after her swim and already I felt my feet beginning to chill. “High fifties” she told me, referring to the water temperature. “That reading was taken in the shallow water” she continued. We both knew that meant it was probably colder further out.“I’d better go before I get to cold,” I replied giving her a hug.
On my journey down the right side of the pond, the waves, pushed by the onshore wind washed into my face, making the grace which I was anticipating feeling a disjointed gasping for breath. But as I approached the point leading into Thoreau Cove the wind relinquished its push, the waters flattened out and the gliding began. Thoughts of turning back and making this enough for day one dissolved despite the fact the chill crept further inside my skin.
The return journey felt easier, possibly due to the fact the wind was now working with the waves as I sloshed through them, or perhaps it was just the sheer exhilaration that I was back in Walden after months of flip turning every 25 meters. Or perhaps it was a little of both.
Back on the beach Cathy was sitting in a chair waiting for me. Her face was turned to the sun and her eyes closed. “I wanted to wait for you to get back,” she told me as I wandered up to her, trying not to drip on her outstretched legs. “That’s so kind of you,” I replied, touched once more by her friendship.
When we said good bye in the car park to go to our respective ways I thought again how lucky I was to have found Walden and all it bought me. But most of all, I felt grateful for friends like Cathy.