Swimming across Puffer’s Pond in Amherst is one of my favorite things in life. I say this without exaggeration. This afternoon, the small beach was teeming with people enjoying the 85-degree Fourth, and I felt utterly unencumbered as I tucked my shades, sandals, and tank top–all I had with me–neatly in a sandy spot under a tree. I dove right in instead of my usual tip-toeing, and swam slowly across to the dam, where I sat listening to the waterfall and looking at the blurry reflection of clouds in the water. A couple swam up and sat next to me for a while. We smiled and said hello. Two young men, one white, one of color, took turns jumping from the cliff, which reminded me of a scene in Children of God, the beautiful film my sister and I stumbled on last night.
I slipped in again after a while and took my time swimming back, languidly feeling the cool water surrounding my skin, floating on my back and looking up at the blue sky, the cottony clouds, the bright sun. I did the side-stroke, seeing the ring of trees around the pond, and I thought to myself, “This is one my favorite places on earth.” It is.
The summer of 1997, when I was working at Starbucks and getting my feet back on the ground after several months in Mexico and a period of depression upon re-entry, my daily Puffer’s ritual did me good on every level–physically, emotionally, spiritually. To be here this week and have a chance to return to Puffer’s is such a gift. Though I slept for twelve hours last night, by 8:00pm after a summer meal with my parents and some old friends of theirs, I was ready to go back to bed–which I did, until the fireworks started and I remembered it was the Fourth of July. Aviva, Pearl, and Greg are all in Maine with my other sister’s family for the week. Greg texted me a beautiful picture of the girls wearing bandannas, their blue eyes popping. They both looked slightly pensive, though for all I know they just wanted him to take the damn picture already!
I do know that I am missing them, hoping they are having a wonderful time–and practicing just noticing where my mind wants to gallop off with stories. After a year of turmoil, adjusting, and reconfiguring, I tell myself, it is okay to have some time to rest and do pretty much, well, nothing. Life goes on, and the very fact of that is a blessing, as long as we don’t miss it because we’re so busy projecting or worrying, looking back and forward. It reminds me of a New Yorker cartoon I saw this spring, of a guy lying on a couch and the therapist saying, “Woulda, coulda, shoulda… next!” When I’m swimming at Puffer’s, there are no wouldas, couldas, or shouldas. There are open palms in the water. There is floating. There is breathing. The future will take care of itself if I am taking care of myself.
I have lived in Burlington for over eleven years now, longer than I ever lived consecutively in Amherst. But Amherst has always remained home for me in some deep-seated, indescribable way. It is lovely. The air feels different, the landscape less dramatic perhaps, more subtle in its comforting beauty. Housesitting this year has taught me that home has to be internal, a settledness independent of outside structure. Home is swimming across Puffer’s in the summertime. Home will be the blessed moment I get to wrap myself around my girls next Sunday night. Home is hanging with my sister and the ease of our shared vocabulary and silly cat videos. Home is crying at the end of a movie about self-discovery, love, courage, and loss. Home is my faith, which I gave thanks for today as I swam.
If you can whistle, be sure to whistle along to this song.