Walden Pond is just over a mile-and-a-half around and little more than a hundred feet deep. That’s big enough to reflect New England’s widely varying seasons, yet small enough to circumnavigate a few times on a reflective walk. It gives me a sense of completeness—not jaw-dropping wonderment but meditative calm.
I also like Walden’s inclusiveness. All year round there are dozens of visitors, eager to get a glimpse of the setting where Thoreau built his modest cabin and catalogued his musings. Unless the pond’s surface is solid ice, there are always a few people fishing, invariably men, usually older men, some alone, others in pairs, mostly speaking Russian.
The two main beaches, chock-full of swimmers and sunbathers on a hot summer day, are a medley of European and Asian languages, along with various brands of American English. No boom boxes, though, and very little yelling. Even so, I seek out the quiet of a more remote spot, following the wooded path that encircles the pond until I find a rocky outcropping where I can leave my towel and jump into the clear water. Walden is a sandy pond, not a muddy one, so the water is never murky.
The swimming is my bliss. It’s as close to flying as I can get without strapping myself into a machine. And it’s as close to graceful as I can be, pulling my way evenly, rhythmically, through the water, moving across the surface of the pond, peering down into its blue-green depths, spotting the occasional striped bass, submerged branch, or tumbled boulder. It’s physical exertion that feels like pleasure, not punishment. It’s gymnastics without the hard landing on bar or beam. It’s time slowed to a graceful cadence.
On hot summer weekends, when so many of my friends and neighbors have fled to Cape Cod or Martha’s Vineyard, I often feel I’ve got the better deal. There’s no better swimming than Walden, and I don’t have to slog through multi-hour traffic jams to get there. I arrive calm, I leave calmer, and I feel nourished for days thereafter.