Immersion

The little plan took hold during some days of visiting throughout southern New England. Why not, I thought as the miles slid beneath our tires, use a few free hours in Concord to retrace favorite trails behind (west of) Walden and then rinse off the heat and dirt with an immersion. Once seeded, the idea grew to promise – because the 29th would be my birthday, it would be a present to self.

A few minutes past three, I set out from Bear Garden Hill, tracing the Sudbury on my right, headed for Fairhaven. Beech leaves spot the trail, their yellow light rising from the ground. Then up under the Fairhaven cliffs, their jutting rock still a surprise after all these years, and on toward the pond. From atop the westside bank, the greeny waters are flecked with gray from the changing sky – the recent infusion of summer air is giving way to fall’s return and the wind has shifted to the northeast. Walden’s water is, as Henry Thoreau proposed often, most beautiful.

Another day, another hour, but always beautiful water.

Another day, another hour, but always beautiful water.

Even though I made my immersion vow during an 80-degree day that begged for its cooling, and now the temperature would be hard pressed to nudge 70, I reaffirm my plan. To warm for it, I run on, rounding the pond, climbing over Emerson’s Cliff, checking on the beavers in the bog south of the pond and trailing on into the Lincoln woods. By the time I return to the pond, I’m hot, and I shuck off my shoes and shirt before the cooling wind can take my heat.

The water is bracing cool. Here, on the southwest side, the bottom falls away quickly; a few steps bring me to chest level, and ducking myself pondward takes me out over my head. I float, feeling my body’s contractions, its heat seeping out, its muscles registering surprise. I can’t achieve an easy float for sky-watching, and so I ease back to shoulder-level water. There, I stand and watch the wavelets play across the eye-level surface. An envelope of water warms around me; I relax, slip toward reverie.

What wakens me is a jostling. Its enough to test my balance, and it takes me a few seconds to realize that the larger wavelets are rocking me. I watch a five-incher approach. It curls slightly; it mimics its larger sea-cousins. The trough drops the water-level to my neck, then the crest rises to my chin, and, sure enough, the wave moves me.

I begin a game of guessing the wavelets’ force, noting soon that the trough behind the first wave draws me to the second wave, whose force then feels magnified. A beech leaf surfs by. I am completely immersed in my reading of this water and the play of wind across it.

Even here at September’s end, with its sense of departure and imperative about “several more lives to live,” Walden is a whole world.

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Wood Work

A week or so ago, our neighbor had a cord of firewood dropped off in her driveway. I heard the heavy clatter while I was painting a side of our garage, and, after finishing that section, I walked over for a look. Her wood was a mix of ash and maple, cut into stove wood lengths and split. Hefting a few chunks told me that it was mostly dry; she had a lot of warmth piled up there.

I ambled back over to our house and closed my paint can and washed my brush. Then, I pulled out my axe, splitting maul and a few wedges and headed for our small stand of trees in the back. Out there I have a scavenger’s woodpile of rounds from a few local blowdowns in recent years. The birch was going to rot promoted by its tight bark, but the maple was still solid. I sized up a large round, examining its sides for whorls and other disturbances in the grain; then I took a swing, hitting precisely and happily the spot I’d aimed for. The axe stuck fast. As I worked to extract it, its head wobbled, and I thought of Henry’s axe, immersed in water to swell its wood and tighten its hold on the head. I got a bucket of water, set the axe in it and shifted to the splitting maul.

More to split

More to split

Gradually, as my axe soaked, my woodpile of white-faced quarters grew. I turned then to sections of a small oak that had been crowded out by our little lot’s pines and added its dense pieces to the pile. I spotted more downed wood next door and asked my neighbor about it, dragging it then to sectioning with my bucksaw and eventual splitting.

As the light shifted through my grove, I grew more and more attuned to any potential firewood, sorting what I found into types – chunk wood, quick heat, kindling. A satisfying warmth suffused me, and I thought of Henry Thoreau’s wood-scavenging in the fall of 1855, when he and a companion “brought home quite a boatload of fuel”:

“It would be a triumph to get all my winter’s wood thus,” he wrote on September 24th. “How much better than to buy a cord coarsely from a farmer…Then it only affords me a momentary satisfaction to see the pile tipped up in the yard. Now I derive a separate and peculiar pleasure from every stick that I find. Each has its history, of which I am reminded when I come to burn it…”

First fire in waiting

First fire in waiting

Just so in a narrative world where our stories are won by the time we allot to them. Autumn’s first fire draws near.

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September Morn at Walden

By Corinne H. Smith

patricewalden1

 

 

I come to Walden twice a year
To saunter ‘round the pond.
We gather at the replica
And set off after dawn.

It’s crisp and quiet on this day
When we begin our walk.
I tell my fellow colleagues
Just to listen and not talk.

We tiptoe as the clock would,
With the water to our right,
And share the place with fisherfolk
And swimmers glistening bright.

The Sun may be a morning star;
But its pale brother Moon
Still hangs above the railroad tracks:
It fades away too soon.

The air is chilly, that’s for sure.
I keep my hands tucked in.
A mist swirls on the water;
I can feel it nip my skin.

A few bold blue jays cackle
From the trees above our heads.
Then nuthatches and chickadees
Dart in and chirp instead.

But something’s missing from the scene:
A motion and a sound.
No chipmunks squeal across our path:
They’ve all stayed underground.

When I lead walks, they often
Chase each other near my feet.
The trail has fallen silent now;
The hike seems incomplete.

We make it to the house site
And we think of friend Thoreau.
If he were here, he’d no doubt
Tell us what we need to know.

And then we keep on going
With the sun strong in our eyes.
The bathers are just showing up
With blankets and supplies.

Companions tell me that they spied
Some chipmunks later on.
But they were few; and quick enough,
They scurried and were gone.

Are they driven by the cool air?
Do they sense the morning mist?
Will they have enough for winter?
Will they chatter and persist?

I wonder what you do, chips.
Are you snuggled, safe and dry?
Enjoy your hibernation, then.
I’ll see you next July.

patricewalden2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photographs are courtesy of Patrice Todisco, Executive Director, Freedom’s Way National Heritage Area.

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