Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Swimming Transcendentalism

Life at the parsonage has been a bit crazy lately.  Summer is upon us and various programs for the kids have coincided with various projects of my own and of the family in general.  Also, there have been maintenance issues.  Right now contractors are digging up my garden to put in a pipe that will connect the ol' parsonage to the town sewer.  Losing the garden has been sad.  However, retiring the cesspool most likely put in a century ago when plumbing finally came to Eliot Church is such an overdue joy I can put up with re-planting.  Sadly though, all this action does mean that I am home on a beautiful day.  I would rather be swimming. 

Swimming is my preferred form of exercise.  However, I see no real reason to do it in a pool.  The pool always has a "fast lane" and a "slow lane".  Both are for folks who are getting their assigned laps in so they can be healthier people.  There is nothing wrong with that.  I am just not linear enough as a person to enjoy it.  Why isn' there a "treading water for a while" lane?  Perhaps a "pretend you are a whale" lane would add some zing to Adult Swim.  I drive the kids to the "Y" every weekday.  I believe I am qualified to assert that there is no place or reason there for an "admire the view" lane. 

So sue me for wanting swimming to be more stately and entertaining.  I will stay out of your way at the pool and go to the lake. This weekend we managed to get over to Walden Pond.  Many of you will remember it from literature.  Every once in a while the 'burbs make a lasting positive contribution to society.  Impressionism springs to mind.  So does Transcendentalism...OK it has been a while...

Lots has happened to the poor old pond since Henry Thoreau (with the help of his buddy Bronson Alcott) cleared a small piece of Ralph Waldo Emerson's Burbanian possessions to build his one-room house.  The plan was that Henry would play flute to the fishes, garden, write and walk to his friends' homes for dinner.  It worked out famously.  Fame has both preserved this area in the midst of development and attracted many, many visitors.

The pond is quite a bit more crowded than it was back in Thoreau's day.  It is a state park with a changing room, two small beach areas and a life-sized statue of the great man, himself.  There is also a mock-up of his cabin located near the parking lot.  The original cabin site is about half way around the lake near a large pile of rocks.  It turned out that Alcott's memory was a bit off when showing folks where the house was.  Thankfully this meant that the stone-offerings brought by Thoreau worshippers failed to obscure the actual foundation when it was finally located.

Anyway, it was a fantastic day for a swim.  The crowds stayed right on or next to the shore.  The wet-suited fast-lane folks jumped in, swam across the lake, came back, stripped off their wet suits and marched on to their power-bars or power lunches or whatever.  This left the middle of the lake for boaters (no motors, please) and random water-treading back-floaters like myself.  It was awesome. it was rejuvenating.  I was reminded, in fact, of a sentence describing Horace Bushnell written by one of his biographers, Barbara Cross.  "In isolation, a 'sweet sense of estrangement' crept over him, and he responded to the 'sublime cataracts' of the East Hampton ocean and of Niagara as to the 'divine music' which he heard in the 'lofty passes of the alps.'"  OK, Concord Massachusetts isn't an Alp.  Still, it was nice and with my eyes pointed to the sky and my ears in the water I could have been anywhere.

Walden isn't where I usually do my swimming, though.  The next day we went to Dug Pond, the town beach in my own municipality.  It was somewhat less crowded, but judging by the number of brief conversations and encounters I had there, it appears that I know a lot of teenagers and middle-aged men.  I must be old and semi-respectable (sigh).  The view is a bit different as well.  Instead of forest and wet-suits there were familiar faces and the emerging facade of our new high school.  You could hear the power-tools and the trucks trying to get it ready for the students of a year from now. Still, with your head in the water you could be anywhere. 

I like fresh-water swimming.  I like it up in Northern Maine where the water is cold and the crowds are thin.  I like here in town, too.  It isn't just exercise.  Watching the landscape and the people who enjoy it I am reminded that--along with William Henry Furness--I can "rejoice that we can so freely approach the infinite majesty of heaven, that in this vast and various creation we are not lonely and forsaken".

I think I am OK going to Dug Pond.  I wish I was there now...

Here is a link to Walden Pond for you non-MetroWesters.

Here is a link to Dug Pond, in case you plan to visit me this summer.

Here is Horace Bushnell.  Incidentally, for a more nuanced view of the man, I would recommend Gary Dorrien's work on liberal Christianity.  Cross wrote in 1958 and rather glossed over some of Bushnell's less liberal traits.  Also...yes, I really did think of that sentence about Bushnell while floating in Walden Pond.  I just read the book and that is the best sentence in it...

Here is  William Henry Furness.

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