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.