When I turn on the ignition in my car it is 69 degrees on a grey day in Lexington. Eight miles later the sun is streaming down from a blue sky patched with white cotton ball clouds. The temperature readout on my dashboard registers 72 degrees.
I am exhausted and could just as easily have taken to the couch as the car but here I am at Walden. I unlatch the door inviting in some fresh air and close my eyes for a few minutes.
The sun is still strong when I open them.
The water feels chilly but I don’t allow myself to focus on it. Instead I enjoy its long slender strands like dark, perfectly horizontal pencil lines that stream past me to my left and to my right. The water is so calm moving through it is almost as relaxing as napping. I focus on the sky, that perfect shade of summer blue arching over and beyond the green of the forest. This to my left and to my right. Just as my body is poised on the surface of this pond, so some unfathomable equilibrium is being reset within it. By the time I reach Thoreau Cove I am beginning to think this swim is one in an episode of quiet contemplations. I make a slight curve toward Ice Fort Cove and the wind picks up.
I had not noticed there had been much of a breeze until I made this directional change. The water surface which I tend to watch closely had become slightly choppy, but only so that smooth glassy sheen at the beginning of my swim had been transformed into a dappled pattern of circular troughs and tiny crests. I had not had to amend my stroke noticeably to account for the swell. Now all that changes.
Suddenly I find myself both looking into the sun and swimming across the direction of the wind and waves. As I raise my head to breathe I see through the wind swept spray tiny fragments of light. I cannot quite make out clearly what it is I see, but I imagine a small boat full of refugees, standing shoulder to shoulder on the deck, the lights, a strand of lanterns hanging above them. Are they trying to make for safe harbor? How ridiculous, I tell myself. Am I hallucinating? I’m in the middle of Walden. Boat people, refugees? Here? But the vision keeps appearing to my right every time I raise my head.
I swim on, determined to swim past the point the light will play its tricks on me. I turn, swimming across the neck of Ice Fort Cove, feeling more and more like I myself am a boat in a harbor, pointing my bow into the wind, taking the waves full on. My stroke slows but somehow my body manages to rise up against the power of the waves so I almost swim above not through them. Each limb is achingly heavy and moving like lead, one arm pawing one after the other, my legs slowly steering from behind. I am moving so slowly I feel life itself has stalled but I am also feeling such stamina my power and strength is overriding all else. Instead of heading back out toward the center of the pond as I would usually do, I decide to follow the line of the southern shore, staying about one hundred meters out: A old boat steaming along against the wind and waves. I am in no hurry. It is late on a Saturday and the afternoon sun has settled into the sky.
My mind wanders back to earlier in the day. How I had eyed that thick blanket of cloud, wanting to make it an excuse for heading back to the couch, except for the little voice inside my head that had encouraged me to make the most of the opportunity to get to the pond. How when arrived and I had turned off the car ignition and taken a short nap. How the sun had shown up. How the power in me had exploded out of nowhere to meet the demands of the wind and waves and how it still is, this vessel which amazes me as it sails closer and closer to the main beach, crossing now from the southern side of the pond into the middle and making a straight line for the beach house.
Seldom do I manage to swim the whole length of the pond without losing my rhythm and beginning to flail. But today I seem to be getting stronger and stronger, spurred on by the choppy water belting against my body. And the benefit of this struggle is that I am entirely living and feeling it. It is consuming my mind and body that I am wholly sensing the now of it, something I have been struggling to do in my life lately. To my left is the blue of the sky with its wisps of windswept cloud, and to my right the same, only the clouds are misshapen into other odd formations. I watch first one oddly formed cloud and then the other and then sweep my eyes over the forest green before I am engulfed by the rising swell of water. On the next stroke I watch my browned arm rise above my body as it pulls me up into the reach of the sky. A moment later I feel myself fall back into the arms of the water before the rise of the other browned arm takes its cue. The constant rise and fall as I steer my course for home, the space between the two orange painted buoys signifying my exit onto the beach.
When I pull my body forward for that final time and flip over to see where I have been the water appears surprisingly calm, as if the battle I have been waging with the waves has been staged inside my head, not on the watery playing fields of Walden. I emerge fully from the water and stand on the beach and turn to look out over the pond.
Perhaps it has… I think, smiling as I walk off to find my towel.