Feelings and Friendships out of the Pond


I have been trying to put words to these feelings for weeks … and as I glide or gasp or just plain focus on my breath, sometime distracted by the glistening jews of light dancing on the water’s surface in the middle of the pond, or thoughts bobbing though my mind of the water temperature; …yes, it is still warm, warmer than the air… then why am i sensing goose bumps on my thighs???… I plan all the things I will note down when I am dripping back on the main beach; but never do. So the words have never come. And the weeks roll on. And now the end is here.
Tomorrow is Labor Day and today Walden is weeping chilly tears in preparation.

Why do words not come? Because swimming has been uniformly wonderful, finding that power of propulsion that moves me through not only water but the pain of some unknown shoulder strain, which one part of me argues you should be resting this, to which the other responds, soon enough, soon enough … it will be a short season this year. The water is cooling prematurely and I am not tolerating the cold as well as I have in the past…
But there is another reason I am feeling the end so acutely this year, and why when I wrap up in my towel around me after my swim, I forget all about those images and sensations from the middle of the pond. There are feelings and friendships out of the pond too which have sustained me this season.

I am standing with my back to the pond, the sun is fierce upon it, a feeling that I have always found nurturing, and is especially comforting now as I am dripping wet. The head lifeguard tells me this is his last day. It is still a week before Labor Day. He, like most of the life guards is a college student, and is returning to school. “Though maybe I’ll come back next weekend,” he adds.
“I’m going to miss you guys,” I reply.


I first started leaving my gear in front of the lifeguard table because of the sun. Anywhere I could find a tiny patch of warmth to stand in after swimming on a cool day, or anywhere where I could leave my gear in the shade, but be close to where I could move into the sun when I finished swimming on a hot day. And that happened to be the stone steps in front of the bath house. Pretty soon I got to talking to the lifeguards…

If today, a cool wet day were mid season the lifeguards might be sitting around their table chatting and telling jokes. There would be very few people on the beach today… they also be practicing drills, preparing for the emergencies and for routine safety checks… or they might be taking note of swimmers like me who venture out in less than great conditions…
Other days I have wandered out after my swim to bunch of red short and shirted young people standing around a young mother holding a toddler. She had just gone under and one of the guards, still dripping wet had sprinted across the sand as the call came in and plunged in to scoop her out. The toddler seems confused from the ordeal, but is medically unharmed. The mother both still holding the remnants of what might have been is relaxing with an enormous sense of gratitude which she pours over all the young guards surrounding her.
Another day I wander up and join a conversation about a recent incident. It has been a bad week, both with one life lost, a young man who could not swim going under late on a busy Sunday… after the lifeguards have finished their day’s work… and then early one morning … before the scheduled life guard start for the day, a man standing on the boat ramp with binoculars seeing an elderly man holding onto the ropes and flailing his arms in the air. The young man races along the sand is joined by an off duty policeman who is walking down onto the beach. He swims out to bring him in and commences CPR.


But it is the last incident that causes me to act. And again this unfortunate event happened outside lifeguard hours. When I heard about it, it prompted me to enroll in a free CPR course that my local town was offering. How would I feel if I was that policeman wandering down the ramp and I was suddenly called upon to help? Would I feel confident enough to do so? I want to know that I would be able to make a difference. That I would know what to do.


So tomorrow is Labor Day and it promises to be a busy day at the pond. It’s the last day of the season and the lifeguards will be packing up their gear and closing their doors for the winter. On Tuesday the ropes will come down, something I usually look forward to … having free range to swim in the pond again. But somehow this year it feels different. Something will be missing.
Someones will be missing.
My gear will stand alone in front of the bath house … unguarded.


The Best Kind of Gift.



I returned to Walden on Thanksgiving, this time accompanied by my daughter. It is the second year Kari and I have joined the many visitors who spend a part of Thanksgiving Day walking at Walden: a tradition that for us seems to have grown out of our common need to spend time in quiet comfort of nature since losing Kari’s twin sister Jesi.
…Thanksgiving is the first in the second year of ‘holidays’ we have to navigate since Jesi passed away in September 2014…

Yet unlike last year, neither Kari or I mentioned Jesi. I am sure we both thought about her though. For me, I can never visit Walden without thinking of Jesi, still seeing her smile at the place she sat on a rock munching an apple or tip toed in the shallow water calling out how cold it was or took photos of tree roots pushing their way through dirt and stones. Over the last year, however, Kari and I have evolved so that this visit, the focus was less on our sadness and more on us chatting about what is going on in life now. I feel very grateful that I have been able to develop such a close relationship with Kari, who is in her senior year of high school and applying for college and I listened to her excitedly informing me of her progress in compiling her applications. Occasionally I would jokingly change the subject, interjecting about how pretty the water looked when it was still and where it would be sheltered from the breeze today, impressing upon her my knowledge of the pond through my daily study of it during the swimming season.

But Kari’s company was not all I was grateful for at Walden. As we were walking along the shore on the south side of the pond a text came through on my phone. I had been thinking about my swimming buddy Cathy earlier in the day but it was at this moment that she texted wishing me a happy thanksgiving, mentioning how our swims during the fall were on the top of her gratitude list.

Cathy was right, Fall was a marvelous season of swimming this year, and I too am very grateful. Walden is a gift that we and many other open water swimmers share. The best kind of gift of all.


Swimming in November Waters


I feel both exhilaration and guilt as I wade through the crisp brown leaves, winding my way around the green canvas fence and past the replica of Thoreau’s cottage on the way to the pond. It’s November, and for four days this week the temperature has stretched into the 70’s. Wonderful… yet uncanny. The zen like patterns traced in the sand that were freshly imprinted the previous afternoon have been obliterated by a new crusting of leaves. I remember a few weeks back to a time when the leaves refused to fall, instead echoing their discontent with the wind as they clung to the limbs of trees they inhabited all summer. Now they have finally let go, twirling to the earth like graceful dancers or leaping and pirouetting across the dirt in their finale performance. They have let go, but I am not yet ready to.

Despite the warmer days and warm nights the water is not getting warmer. Every day at ‘the wall,’ the meeting place where open water swimmers gather to deck themselves in neoprene, (though some still sport bare skin), there are deliberations as to the current temperature of the water. Perhaps it is 55-56 degrees. All I know is for three days this week, despite the warm air, I register I am cold by the time I reach Sandy Point. Yet I do not turn until I have swum diagonally to the far shore, scalloping around it before retracing my strokes back toward the main beach.


On Wednesday the pond is as placid as glass. The sun gleams down on green blue water. I glide almost effortlessly in my neoprene, though my arms move slowly, weighted down by the cold I sense but did not feel.
On Friday the wind whips torrents of water, swallowing me up every time I raise my head to breathe, slapping my face left, then right. I wait, knowing that as I near Thoreau Cove I will eventually swim into calmer waters. I never do. The wind seems to come from every direction at once. When I do turn to swim back, the waters seem more fierce, more determined to swamp me. Every time I lift my head to look to the right, I see sky through the fractured lens of a wave only inches from and towering over me. But no matter how hard they try, the waves do not down me. I know there is a secret light hovering over me, as white and translucent as the sun masked by a strata of cloud. Ever since I learnt that Jesi swims with me, I am drawn back into the water, where I feel her spirit hovering over me.
Today the temperatures return to more normal levels for November. The wind pushes a backdrop of cloud across the sky, obliterating the blue, until in a mix of color the water and the sky turn to silver. Only a ribbon of green forest separates one from the other. As I crawl back to the shore in long heavy strokes, the lilt of the waves in rhythm with the swaying of my chest and hips, the sun inches along with me, rolling on her invisible tracks in the sky.

IMG_4705 (1)