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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On Thanksgiving Day.

On Thanksgiving Morning I walk the sandy bank that skirts the pond. I am alone. I have come for a time of quiet reflection.

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A stick, reflected in Walden.

Today I am beyond the want of swimming. I begin my journey by rejoicing in the endeavors of a friend. I see him, bare skinned, broad shouldered and still tanned from summer, leaning against the wall. I hasten to say hello. He did not bring his wetsuit today so it will be a quick swim he tells me. “But normally I am fine with layers and a hood, though I take the hood off the way back to get that “buzz”” he confides in me. I applaud his ability to tolerate the cold that has chased me out of Walden some weeks ago. With his mention of the “buzz”, memories stir inside and a smile spreads from my face down to my heart. I too know that buzz and the magical ways it shapes my thoughts. For a moment I reach for it as my eyes scan the grey mass of water in front of me.
When I leave him to continue on my walk down the beach I am still beaming inside. I turn and look back to watch him plunge in, capturing the splash he creates amongst the reflections of coated onlookers on the sand.

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The splash, amongst the reflections of coated onlookers.

I continue to walk in silence, reflecting what Walden is today. Occasionally I am passed by other walkers chatting. I smile. Occasionally a smile returns which penetrates deep inside. Another lone walker, an older woman, sitting on a rock contemplating the pond. Her smiles stays with me as I continue along my way. A family group who appear from over the railway tracks and the trail from Fairhaven Bay, their small dog wandering down to the pond edge. I stop to talk to the “dad” about dogs and life in Lincoln where they live. They have walked from their home on the bay. And another family at the main beach who ask if I will take their photo. I recognize their accents as Australian and we begin talking about being expatriates and what it would be like returning to live in Sydney.
Suddenly my walk has become more than I imagined; a smorgasbord of reflections beyond the banks of Walden.

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Beyond the banks of Walden

And of course there is always Jesi. I could never come here without reflecting on all the wonderful times I shared with Jesi here.

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Jesi, aged 16. Her last visit to Walden on May 11 2014.

A Different Orientation

These past two weeks I have been arriving at the pond earlier; the beach often almost deserted. I cherish this quiet start to my day. The unhurried ambience of the water before the wind picks up. Some days the pond has been as still as a mirror. Then for the past two, again she has tossed me and rocked me in her arms.

But back to the beach. I have a new routine before I even get my toes wet. All summer I have been doing PT on my shoulders. Last week my PT gave me shoulder stretches to do, lying on my towel, before I swim.
Oh no my first thought on hearing her instructions. Lying down and doing stretches!!! It wasn’t what everyone would think that bothered me. Swimmers ought to stretch out their shoulders to prevent injuries. (perhaps that’s why I’m in PT!) It was more the doing them lying down. Still, I am sick of the nagging pain, and my neck (yes, we have been through the neck stretch routine too) is feeling better. So why not!
I grabbed an extra towel, and went to the pond a little earlier to compensate for the extra time needed… and made a discovery.

It’s actually pretty cool to view Walden from ground level while circling my arm around my shoulder joint. I followed my arm first above the water line, then above the tree line as it cloaked the pond from south to north (and when circling in the other direction, north to south) and then above the trees as they towered above me. And it was meditative. It loosened my mind as well as my shoulder.
I tried to capture it on my i phone, but as you see …. that part was not so successful.

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But what was, was my swimming. Even though it was a little hard to want to get up and get in the water; lying there looking at Walden from a different perspective, becoming part of the morning that was beginning, when I eventually did, my stroke felt so relaxed, and my breath and body roll so rhythmic, I felt as if I truly belonged in the water.

Coming Home

 

I like these kinds of days. Those when the sun shines not too brightly out of a blanched sky and the sand bares its tanned dimples to the heavens. There is hardly a breeze, which I appreciate as the air is neither hot nor cold but it is the atmosphere of peace which draws me most.

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It is late afternoon by the time I decide to come. My bathing suit is pulled up and hidden under jeans and an old grey hoodie is bunched over the bulge it makes at my waist. It is probably the late April sun blazing through my car windows as I crawl up interstate 95 which decides me. There I am lulled into a sense of summer despite my car thermometer only registering 57 degrees. Or perhaps it is the act of half changing which has propelled me. I know that if I actually make the turn onto route 2 and then route 126 and into the parking lot I will have to swim.
The previous day, sunnier and warmer, I avoided coming. It is difficult to walk the pond path without wanting to swim, especially if I happen to see anyone else in the water. A hangover from my competitive days. But once I am there and my wetsuit on, there is never any way out but in.

Of the handful of people on the sand, I bump into a swimming friend, a tough Hungarian woman who swims without a wetsuit far later into the fall and earlier in the spring than I do. She tells me the water temperature is 53 degrees “not any warmer than it was the previous week.”
“Oh,” I think, saying nothing. I had hoped it would be a little more pleasant, remembering my feet were cold all the way back along the side of the pond when I swam a week ago.

When I finally disengage from talking and enter the water I don’t wait to register the cold before I plunge in. I find that initial “hit” a little like women after childbirth forget the pains of labor. What I do remember however, is that by the time I have struggled down the side of the pond to Sandy Point, more a beach than a point given the water level is low for yet another season, I am not feeling the cold as much as I would have imagined.

Instead of doing a sharp turn back toward the main beach, I venture out toward the center, heading across toward Ice Fort Cove Point. I remember all the swims last season when I followed this route. I remember how I always associate Jesi’s presence with this particular area. I remember that as much as I am engrossed in the rhythm of the side to side roll, I still need to swim back.

When I bring my head up to check where I am going I look up to the sky. And for just a moment the sun winks at me and I feel like I have finally come home.

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Love Transcends All

I’m sitting in the woods above the pond. It is a hot sticky Tuesday. The breeze which drifts among the leaves masks the truth of the midday sun. I don’t often sit in the woods. More often than not I put my swim bag on the stone wall at the edge of the beach and walk down to the water with my cap goggles and nose clip and wade in. I stand thigh deep in the water planning my swim though sometimes I am not even sure where the swim will take me until I launch into it. Then arriving back at the beach I retrieve my flip flops and take the least sandy route back up the beach to the car park.

But not today. Today I exchange my swim bag for another, smaller purple-with-gold sack. In it I carry some smooth white river stones (and a few other assorted stones I have collected,) some water proof markers, a small painted wood angel cuddling a cat, some post-it notes and a pen. My angel has long blonde hair, slightly curly and her wings are fine threads of wire artfully bent in the shape of those of a butterfly.

I hike across the beach toward the boat ramp intending to walk into the woods on the more secluded side of the pond. When I come to the entrance to the trail I deviate. There is a small dirt track that leads above it to the top of the ridge. It is steep and the earth, a deep red brown reminds me of that in central Australia. I do not go far. I climb the slope to where the woods thin, revealing more luscious red soil. Then I survey the clumps of trees and mosses and crisp brown leaves looking for a suitable spot. Finally I decide on a small grove where the trunks of three moss covered trees emerge out of a bed of dead fir needles.

I plan to dig. I set to work with my small silver spoon clearing the pine needles and the soil below. This soil is soft. It is also darker in color and it is not long before I have a small hole, big enough to fit a post-it note. I have decided to write a message to place and the bottom of my memorial. Friday, (September 11) is the first anniversary of the death of my teenage daughter and for three days leading up to it I will visit this small secret space to honor her memory.

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After I poke my message into the corners of the hole I place some of the stones over it, carefully choosing the flattest and whitest of them until I have a small mound of stones. I drape the green velvet that the angel was wrapped inside around my completed memorial and leave her watching over it. Then I stand up to survey my work.

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It is late, so I make a note of how to find this place the following day. In doing so, it strikes me I have unwittingly constructed it close to one of the many paths that seem to lead along the ridge. I wonder what I will find when I return. My therapist’s voice in my head reminds me of the possibility of animal visitors overnight.

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The following day after my morning swim I make my way into the woods once more. The sun is casting welcome shade in the dappled shape of the tree trunks and leafy branches on the forest floor. It is not difficult to locate my memorial but I am dismayed when I find my fairy glen destroyed and my angel strewn amongst the leaves.

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I set to work looking for the various stones, trying to recall the most important pieces, all the time wondering what or who would have done this given the small note remained untarnished lying on the earth beside the demolished grave. Once I am cradling alI the pieces I decide to move to a more secluded place, amongst untrodden leaves, again making for a place nestled between two moss covered tree trunks.
This time my memorial is wedged more deeply into the earth. I add to it the prayer card with Jesi’s smiling and playful grin, her depiction of herself as an angel. When I finish I almost completely cover it with dead crisp leaves.

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On the third day the sky threatens rain as I make my way into the woods above Walden. The silence which I carry within feels enormous. It is tinged with anticipation and hope and reverence for this daily pilgrimage. Although my small memorial is camouflaged I have taken note of how to locate it and my eyes come easily to rest on the upper edge of the small card that is Jesi’s angel. Making my way up to it I unearth the untouched shrine. Today I make another small addition. I place the plastic bracelet I bought last year when I visited the 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero which I have been wearing this week in honor of our 9/11. It broke when I was stretching it over my wrist this morning. I also place three stones above it which I print in colored marker the words
…Love…Transcends…All.

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Then I dig out a bowl of muesli I packed to eat after my morning swim. As I sit next to Jesi, her face shining up at me I feel at peace. A strange contented peace as my eyes rove over the woods and toward the pond. It starts to rain and although the sky had warned me I did not bring a waterproof jacket. I wrap my towel closer around me and huddle down under it. The rain falls heavier and Jesi’s face is obscured by droplets. I put my bowl of cereal away and focus on saying farewell to my memorial as the rain increases in intensity. Eventually I head back onto the trail and down the steep decline, my towel now drenched.

It is not until I am driving away from Walden, peering through the thick spray of droplets on my windscreen that I think back and realize the contentment, the peace I felt sitting next to Jesi’s memorial was not all. There was a certain presence lingering in the air around me, gently reminding me that as alone I feel missing her, she is never far away. I just have to be still and silent and I can access her love anytime.