Swimming holes rank up there with fine chocolate, wine and Italian food — I could spend an entire vacation sampling them and debating their merits.
Which is what I did during a recent trip to Boston to visit some much-loved friends. Familiar with my love affair with freshwater swimming holes, they drove me to nearby Concord, Mass., home of Walden Pond.
Walden Pond is the quintessential swimming pool, tucked in a slice of woods so heavenly all you want to do is jump in, roll onto your back and smile up at the gods who created it. No wonder Henry David Thoreau spent two years here in the 1840s, reveling in its beauty and writing about its solitude.
I have but one complaint: Today Walden Pond draws great crowds, especially on hot summer weekends. If you don’t arrive by about 9 a.m. on busy days, the parking lot is full and you’re sent away, told to come back another time. Because Walden Pond State Reservation operators are trying to minimize impact and limit overcrowding, you really have to want to go to Walden Pond to get there.
We, of course, did. We parked at a nearby school and walked ¾ of a mile to the pond. As soon as I saw it glistening in front of me, I got that giddy feeling I always had as a kid when my mom took me to the pool or lake. We veered away from the tiny but bustling beach and found a cozy little inlet on the opposite end to stash our towels.
The open-water swimming community is on to it, and at least a dozen people were slicing across the ½-mile length of the pond when we arrived.
We quickly joined them, wading into the water and then plunging in full bore. We swam to the center of the lake, and I remembered that 150 years ago, an enterprising businessman harvested ice from this pond for export halfway around the world. I paused to spin around, absorbing the serenity and dipping my toes low, into a deep layer of cold. Then I dove straight down and surfaced like an otter.
We swam on, chugging all the way across the pond to the sandy beach, then turning around and cruising back. I lolled for another 30 minutes before sloshing onto shore like Godzilla emerging from the sea, sparkling rivulets of water rolling off my skin.
Something about swimming this way, in a deep pool carved by retreating glaciers, without stripes on the bottom to guide me, walls to constrain me or chlorine to tickle my nose, makes me blissfully happy.
We toweled off, then walked a few hundred yards to a pile of rocks and some markers outlining the site of the cabin where Thoreau lived.
Oh, to sneak away for a summer and live in a little cabin in sight of a glinting pond! Walden Pond is the happy place I imagine when I’m trying to relax. It’s a giant bowl of cool green water rimmed by a halo of boulders and shaded by tall pines standing shoulder to shoulder.