fitness · swimming

Catherine dips her toes in

Saturday was one of those glorious New England spring days– sunny, warm (70F/21C) and beckoning. Everyone heard that call, as I saw folks out on foot, on bikes, in kayaks– anywhere under blue sky.

My friend Norah and I headed to one of our favorite places, Walden Pond in Concord, MA. Yes, that Walden Pond. The one where Thoreau hung out (even though he regularly walked back to town to do his laundry and get a free meal from friends).

Postcard image of Walden Pond in spring. It wasn't that green yesterday, but it will be soon.
Postcard image of Walden Pond in spring. It wasn’t quite that green yesterday, but will be soon.

I had gone to Walden that Monday, too. It was a Boston holiday– Patriots’ Day— so I went in the early afternoon. It was warmish (64/18) and a little overcast. The pond and the trees and the beach all looked more brown than green still; spring is slow to arrive here, but the turn is always sudden.

Throughout the pandemic, I’ve been cautious– wearing a mask all the time outside my house, curtailing my activities, engaging in social distancing, etc. One of the effects for me has been difficulty in leaving my house, even under conditions of safety, like walking or riding outside. It’s been hard. I bet many of you reading this know exactly what I’m talking about.

Now I’m fulling vaccinated– thank you, J&J! One and done, with pretty mild short-term side effects. It’s been two weeks since my shot, so I can venture out (mask on still, but that’s okay) with more security.

But, like very big boats (I’m not naming names here), I don’t turn on a dime.

That boat (you know the one), stuck. Kind of like me, although I don’t have any satellite images of me hanging out in my living room.

Out by the pond on my own last Monday, I was feeling anxious–an altogether too-familiar sensation from the past 12 months. It’s brought on two very unpleasant anxiety attacks, and I still fear a return of them. Wearing a mask and trying to focus on my breathing, I made my way to the beach and spied a large rock in the distance. Claiming it as my own, I sat down and continued breathing and looking around.

I’m reading Why We Swim by Bonnie Tsui, (stay tuned for future FIFI book club posts on this book), and have been intrigued by the properties of cold water. She interviews people who do long-distance cold-water swimming, and also does some herself.

In that moment, sitting on that rock, looking at that brownish water, I was struck by the urge to feel some cold water on my body. Shedding my shoes and socks and rolling up my pant legs, I ventured in. It was indeed cold. And it was a strong sensation. It took over my awareness, and the anxiety receded. I became much more interested in exploring that feeling of the water, and waded out as far as I had bare skin to accommodate it.

It was wonderful.

So I did the same thing yesterday, talking Norah into joining me. She dipped her toes in, which was enough for her. Norah has been outside, walking and biking, throughout the pandemic. I’ve joined her a bit, and she’s been a great help to me. She even drove us together (we’ve both been vaccinated–yay again!) to Walden.

But on Saturday, the water was calling me, not her.

I waded in, and again it felt cold, and again it felt great.

We talked about coming back for swimming soon. Norah is no stranger to swimming in bracing water, but it’s still a bit cold for her. However, I think I may need to venture further in, and soon. It’s feeling both symbolic and practical. I’ve always loved swimming, but haven’t made much time for it in recent years. For me it’s great exercise, and the combo of the water and sky always makes me feel at one with the world.

Add to all this the feelings I’m getting of joy in sensation. Healing, even. Respite from anxiety. Can I wash that angst right out of my hair? I think I’m going to find out. Will report back.

Readers, what is calling to you these days? Anything? Everything? Are you finding new paths to the outside world? Have you been keeping to those paths throughout the pandemic? I’d love to hear from you.