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.
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.