Tuesday, August 09, 2005

A day in the woods

Togetherness is a lovely thing, but so is alone time. It’s funny how it took me 29 years to really appreciate the whole “room of one’s own” concept, but now that I’ve picked up on it, I hold it close like my own version of Sue-Lynn’s secret in The Anything Box. It’s still hard for me to ask for alone time, but I’m better at it than I used to be. Maybe that’s because it took me a while to know who I am and recognize the need for time alone in order to stay grounded in myself. Good lord, I sound like a self-help book.

Anyway, today I spent the afternoon at Walden Pond and it was glorious. Except when exactly did the Parks Service decide to turn the pond into a police state? The main parking lot was closed and instead of letting us swimmers park near the high school and walk across Rt. 2, the park rangers were staked out near all the trailheads to keep people away from the pond. Seething, I hugged my beach bag and managed to slip past a guy on a horse. When I got to the pond, I realized why the rangers are being all militant. The water level is so high that there are virtually no beach areas outside the main bathing beach. As I picked my way down the pond path, I came across enclaves of beachgoers up in the woods, camped out on towels and folding chairs as if the loam had magically turned to sand. Luckily, I managed to find a little rocky spot that wasn’t mobbed with screaming 8-year olds. I put my stuff down and hopped in the water.

Walden’s a special spot for a lot of people. There’s something meditative and calming about the place that goes above and beyond what you normally find in a pond. Maybe all that transcendentalism leached into the ground back when Thoreau built his little cabin. Maybe it’s just one of those places that holds you in thrall for no apparent reason. I’ve been going there since I was tiny. My parents would take my brother and me down to Little Cove for the day when we were little, so we could splash around and give them ten minutes of peace to read their books. The distance between one side of the cove and the other always seemed so far, and the water seemed so deep. I used to do loopdiloops in the water and imagine I was a nyad (because I was a dork even as a small child), basking in the way the sunlight refracted in the pondy greenness. Glenn and I used to go there on the way home from work to do distance swims from shore to shore. But no matter who I shared it with, Walden always felt like my own place in a way that I’m sure a lot of people feel.

So Walden was a perfect place to go and be by myself today. I swam back and forth between the edge of Little Cove and the far side of the bank a couple of times, looking at the sky and letting the water hold me up. It’s a kettle pond, so by August the water has soaked up enough warmth that it feels like a heated pool. The last time I went swimming for real was at the public pool on Sepulveda in LA, although we did a bunch of paddling between the dock and the float up in Ossipee last month. It felt great to just let go and not have to think about anything or anyone.

After I swam, I sat on a rock with my legs dangling into the water and read for a while. The clouds came in later in the afternoon, so I drove into Concord center and got a snack at one of the cafes. Then I wandered through the Concord Bookshop and picked up the new Harry Potter and Thisbe Nissen’s latest book. My arms and legs were weighted down with that wonderful post-swim sleepiness, and I felt whole and centered. I think I needed to know that I could still have days like today. Like a good yoga practice, it renewed my faith.

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