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Blog: Walden Pond, Massachusetts

The Recreated Cabin / The Pond / Going for a Swim

“You know how to swim right James?!? I don’t wanna have to go and rescue no body today.”

These were the words shouted by Frank the Plumber who I’d met less than an hour before on the beach shores of Walden Pond, after he’d offered to lend me a spare set of swimming trunks so I could swim in the legendary Walden Pond, which was written in detail about in David Thoreau’s book Walden.

It was also what I was worried might be the last words I’d hear as I quickly realized that swimming in a pond in a state park with no life guard on duty, may not have been the greatest idea ever. It was also the phrase I heard as I struggled to remember ‘how do you doggie paddle again?…oh, shit… that’s not it…’

The Recreated Cabin

The visitor’s center and recreated cabin next to said visitor’s center is fantastic. They do a great job of outlining the cultural significance of Walden and the impact that the American Transcendentalists had on America literature. Pulling out the just the right number of quotes, mixed with funny displays of historical artifacts.

And on top of that they had a massive table sized topographical map model that I’m confident would have easily impressed my brother, and perhaps have been an even bigger highlight of his own trip. “The attention to detail!” I could hear him say as I look at it in all it’s glory. Well done Walden.

The cabin recreation was a fun experience for me because of having just spent the three day silent meditation retreat two weeks earlier in West Virginia. It was funny to be sizing up the difference between his ‘model’ cabin and my ‘model’ of cabin. “I see you have a nice wood burning stove Mr. Thoreau… oh and an elevated bed huh? That’s a nice luxury to have…”

The original cabin is long gone at another site but the recreation stays true to size I’m told, and the blueprints for it I’m told are built by boy scout groups around the country every year. The model is simple, and once this is pointed out to me I feel that my accomplishment of a Pine Wood Derby car may not be as significant as I once thought it was.

The Pond

The walk around the pond is about as serene as anything you’ll find in a state park surrounded by a now urban center of Massachusetts. I showed up on the same day as both a school group, and two Asian tour groups. For some reason I keep visiting sites at the same time as tour groups from Asia. I’m starting to wonder if they’re my secret ‘spirit animal’.

I walk half way around the pond and find a bit of a cove to walk down the rocks at. I clear off some dirt from a large rock and sit down to mediate. The sun is high in the sky and shimmering off the lake like diamonds.

I see a man nearby in a swim suit walking out of the water coming to shore. He’s built a makeshift rock bench by the beach and is working to adjust it. I go over to introduce myself and joke with him about how I didn’t know that you could swim in Walden Pond or I would have thought to bring a pair of trunks myself before coming. Not really. This is a lie. There’s no way in hell I would have planned to swim in Walden Pond even if I knew that you COULD swim in Walden Pond.

Frank is an open and friendly guy originally from Illinois, another midwesterner. He’s been in the area for about twenty years and is a plumber by trade these days. Also works with horses and helps raise them. He tells me his mission in life is to help as many people as he can. It’s only later that I find out that he’s in his later fifties, and he’s suffering from a rare eye disease which is slowly destroying his vision. He tells me this will most likely be his last year at the pond because it’s getting to not be safe for him to go swimming here.

After talking for a bit he looks at me says. ‘Hey! You know what. I got an extra set of swim trunks if you want. An old timer who used to come here all the time used to bring a couple extra pairs for anyone he met so that anyone who wanted to go for a swim in Walden Pond could have the opportunity.’

I thank Frank for his kind offer but decline.

He tells me to think about it and that if I change me mind to just let him know.

He jumps back into the walk and away Frank goes.

I sit back on my rock in the warm sun and laugh to myself about how carefree Frank and guys like him are. Guys who just jump into lakes in ponds in state parks without lifeguards and go for a swim like it’s some type of neighborhood swimming hole.

I smile. I meditate. And then I know what I have to do….

Going for a Swim

Once Frank gets back to shore I slowly walk up to him with a slight smile on my face and looking side to side like I’m embarrassed to ask or something.

“So I’ve done some meditation while you were swimming….”

“You want to go for a swim don’t you.” he smiles.

“And I’ve done some thinking…”

“You want to go for a swim don’t you” his smile gets bigger.

“And I just want to reiterate that I’m NOT the type of guy that would normally do this… and have never done anything like this…. And it’s probably not a great idea…”

“I’LL GO GET THE TRUNKS! You can change over here behind these bushes!”

And that’s how I got tricked into swimming in Walden Pond.

The water was relatively cold. But once I was in I quickly adjusted. Another month and this wouldn’t be happen. Well, it wouldn’t be happening without a trip to the friendly local ER for hypothermia.

The rocks on the bottom of the pond where round but rough. Fish swam by as I waded into the water. I’m strangely reminded of an attempt to swim in my grandfather’s swimming hole down on the farm in Princeton Indiana. That attempt didn’t go well. I was to much of a city boy to get over my fears of swimming in dirty non-chlorinated water.

I walk/float out into the water and look back at the shore at Frank and another friend I made while waiting for him to get back to shore. They start shouting encouragement to me yelling ‘Way to go James!’ This was not on the original travel schedule for the day.

…it was at this point that I start to flail in the water and be reminded ‘oh wait… how do you swim again?’ The difficulty for me being two folder. One, I don’t want to lose a contact lens in the water. And two, I don’t want to get water in my ears because I tubes in my ear, and getting an ear infection on the road doesn’t sound fun.

I ultimate settle for wading neck deep through the pond going around to the cove that was directly down below where David Thoreau’s hut had been.

I lean back. My hand touches the bottom of the pond. The water is warmer here. And I lay weightless in the water looking at the trees and sky around me.

The tour groups have all left at this point. It’s just me and handful of locals hanging out at the local park/swimming hole. A handful of other locals go swimming by, but other than that, it’s just me, the water and the sounds of a few birds.

Back On Shore

I ended up spending the rest of the day on the beach with Frank. We talk about life, god and the effects of getting old.

Two girls have decided to take the plunge as well at this point and are swim across the length of the lake on their excursion into the water. Frank tells me about how his vision is going and asks with a smile ‘I can hear em laughing!…they any cute?’.

It was a bizarre happenstance running into Frank and the other locals who I had the pleasure of meeting.

It was laying on the beach enjoying the sun that I start to reflect on the big topics of life. I try the best I can to be mindful of the moment and remember the lessons the Buddhist monks tried to impart on me.

Whether I’m doing mindfulness correctly or not, I’m digging this moment.

I thank Frank for all his kindness. Give him one of my business cards, and let him know I’ve got to start heading north for the night. Portland Maine awaits…

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