the short story project


Lacy Jackson

My Year with Walden

Walden Pond is a wild refuge, haunted by a rich assortment of flora and fauna. Along with the few dirt beaches, nestled within the Walden’s steep embankments, are branch protected, narrow stone steps leading to the dark waters edge. No expensive condos or tacky McMansions with their three car garages, manicured lawns and chlorinated pools surround Walden. Instead there is the lush, varied greens of white pines, red oaks, hemlocks, birches, swamp maples and black cherrys, haunted by tree frogs, grackles, bull frogs, kingfishers, assorted types of turtles, great blue herons, spring peepers, raccoons, foxes scarlet tanagers, chipmunks, peregrine falcons, buffleheads and loons, to name just a few.
Walden has its own rich and silent language; it speaks to photographers, naturalists, painters, and hikers in their languages. I’m a swimmer, and Walden speaks to me in mine.
In summer, Walden is pandemonium with crying babies and dirty diapers, errant beach balls bouncing off tanning backs, towels trampled by careless feet, radios blaring, and chirping cell phones. I escape this madness by swimming far and fast all over the pond. I never know what I might experience on a lengthy summer swim; a red-tailed hawk drifting on wind currents as I back stroke along; a near collision with a snapper with a head the size of my fist; flirtatious fish nibbling on my calf while taking a rest.
Though the pond is closed after dark, a full moon swim on a steamy August night is a delight. The moon smiles down at me as it lights up the pond in soft, surreal light. I float on my back staring up at the stars and moon, breathing in that eerie nighttime stillness while reveling in the feel of the cool, velvety water against my naked body. There is no time, there is only now!
Come fall, with that bright, crisp, deep blue sky with nary a cloud, the crowds at Walden slowly thin out. The air is cooler, but the water temperature drops slowly, leaving the water comfortable until mid October. This is the most delicious time to swim; the view from the middle of the pond is stunning the leaves changing from their verdant summer greens to their autumnal brights. As fall progresses, my neoprene, cold water, swim gear slowing starts to cover my skin. By my last swim of the season, sometime as late as December, I’m covered with it. Over my bathing suit, is my neoprene wetsuit, my bathing cap is topped with a neoprene hood, neoprene booties are worn over knee high stockings, for easier removal, Vaseline applied to protect the exposed skin of my neck and face and lastly, my long, tight neoprene “opera” gloves. I know I look a sight but who is there to care?
When Walden disappears under piles of snow and its waters turn into a thick blanket of black ice, I enjoy the pleasure of winter activities closer to home and, sadly, retreat to an indoor pool.
Come early spring, I wander back to Walden to check the condition of the ice. I have set my first day for a swim to be when all the ice has melted, and the weak spring sun hangs tough in the sky. These conditions can occur anytime between early March to mid-April. Then, once again donned in neoprene and Vaseline I enter the frigid water. I use the step by step method, slowly acclimating, until finally, I’m off on my first swim. The water is ice cream headache cold but it is crystal clear and once swimming, exhilarating. My senses are excited by the bracing water, I relish the vibrant shades of psychedelic spring green and the sweet scents of early flowering shrubs. Best of all, except for the few others who also enjoy braving the cold, some even without any neoprene, and the brave fishermen bundled and huddled on the shore, I have the pond to myself.
As the waters slowly warm, I peel off the neoprene piece by piece and swim farther and farther from shore. By the end of May, I’m swimming deep without neoprene, knowing that the madness of summer will soon follow, and another year has passed.

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