Surprises in the Pond

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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…

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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…