Years and decades later
when working, looking for the way
I knew the sunfish showed me,
that quiet sunny day.
I formally learned the art of meditation in my twenties. I was a do-it-yourself-er, using books and a few visits to a Zen Center to guide me.
I sat with eyes open, some times gently gazing toward a spot a couple yards away. Other times I watched a candle, counted breaths, observed the flow according to the teachers. With practice I got the knack and found their mind state.
I had known it years before,
but had not known it then.
I had no name to give it,
had let it drift away.
As a little nipper in my grade school years I lived in then-rural Exeter, Rhode Island. We lived along a two-lane highway, but it was not busy. Maybe half a dozen families were our only nearby neighbors.
We kids rode our bikes or walked along a dirt and gravel two-rut, one-lane path to a swimming spot on a small fishing pond called Barbers Pond.
The dirt road was one or two miles long and touched the highway at each end. It paralleled the highway. A quarter mile of woods and wild-land stood between the two.
A couple miles of graveled dirt road, with trees and brush on either side. It was a tunnel through the forest, the perfect youngsters' trail.
One end of the dirt road was closest to our homes. It looked like a narrow driveway to the few who sped on down the highway. No one but we locals knew it was a public road.
The fisherman's access was to the south, just off the highway pavement. A picnic grove with some wooden tables, stone picnic fireplaces and an unpaved boat launch under some nice big shade trees lured the few picnickers and fishermen away from our private swimming spot. The far end of our dirt road reconnected to the larger world there.
The swimming spot was at a washed out embankment about halfway from either end. The washout's rounded gully ran about ten yards from the gravel road sloping pretty steeply to the pond, ten or fifteen feet lower than the road.
Some unknown neighbor good guy had poured a dump truck load of sandy gravel to make a rough beach. There was a ten yard dock of logs and scrap wood standing at one side. The water was about a yard deep at the far end of the dock.
My favorite mornings were when I was alone there. I went to swim a few hours after sunrise, well ahead of the small crew of neighbor kids who went there almost every hot day of the summer. We kids, when together, could be loud and rowdy. Some days I didn't feel like being noisy or rambunctious. And so I swam alone.
I pedaled my Schwinn 3-speed down there, a towel, my swim fins, mask and snorkel in a pair of baskets across the back.
I'd hide my bike across the road in a secret bushy hollow and stroll across the road. I'd make my way down shoreward dodging painful pointy stones upon the slope.
I'd move, without splashing, into the water, spit in my mask and rub it round and rinse to keep the glass from fogging. Then I'd wade in waist deep, squat into the humus scented water, pull on my swim fins, stretch forward prone upon the surface and slowly prowl the edges of the pond.
Sometimes I'd tow along some five or ten pound rocks on a scrap of broken styrofoam float and head out toward the middle. I'd use the little boulders for a gravity assisted dive to a mid depth thermocline.
There was a distinct separation between the cold and the warm water. It was not a gradual change.
Two fathoms thick was the layer of sunshine heated water. Turtles, plants and fish... and swimmers... liked this layer best.
Two fathoms down and deeper lay murky water, cold and still and dark and spooky. Black-brown mud and coldness meant few living beings inhabited the world below.
I would hold my breath, kick my way downward to lazily float in the sun-warmed, light-dimmed space just above that border.
Facing down while hovering in the warmth of the upper layer I could stretch my arm and hand straight down and into the cold water below.
Twisting like a submerged otter and rolling to my back I would lie there looking far far upwards to the surface.
A few stray bubbles escaping from my snorkel, swam their way upwards, tiny, wiggling, silver balloons of air shrinking ever smaller as they left me.
For those few moments, it did not seem entirely like water, more like infinite weightless space.
The surface was another world away way up there. This weightless place was mine for as long as I held my breath.
With practice I was able to stay down and laze mid-water for some few minutes and feel no panic. I'd gently fin my way toward the distant air when lungs suggested it was time to breathe.
Some warm sunny mornings I had the whole thirty acre pond to myself. No anglers, no canoes, no tourists, no neighbors. Just the fish and birds and turtles worked the pond.
Tufts of pond plants barely waved in the tiny currents that moved along the gently sloping bottom. Trees and brush crowded the shore leaning over the water. Birds enjoyed the branches, sometimes singing, sometimes flitting overhead.
One swim remembered fondly found me slowly, gently snorkeling the edge of the pond, a few yards out from shore, gazing downward to see what lived in the couple feet of water. I easily pushed through clumps of reeds and lily-pads spaced about a foot apart.
I spotted a shallow, foot-wide bowl swept out of the sand.
It was a tiny crater of gravel lined with pebbles.
A six inch sunfish had exposed the underlying gravel by finning away the overlying sand.
I slowed my forward motion, drifted to a stop and let my fin tips drop to lightly touch the sand as a gentle anchor. I hovered with my face a couple dozen inches above the sunfish's nest. This nest is where her eggs were, gluey strands between the pebbles.
I slowly, gently breathed through my snorkel.
My displacement changed as my lungs filled and emptied.
I gently rose and settled, cycling in time with my breath.
Ripples from my bobbing cast moving bands of light and dark across sand the color of last autumn's straw .
The sunfish quietly circled her nest unconcerned by me.
She felt no threat, it seems she sensed I was no danger.
Perhaps she thought a drifting log had grounded,
bobbing with the ripples.
I rested there hearing my breath moving through the j-shaped tube, quietly watching the sunfish as my back skin air-dried in the dappled morning sun.
Like a piece of driftwood, I simply floated watching.
There was no time but now then.
No past or future moved my thoughts.
Simply there, a hunk of human driftwood.
Driftwood with some eyes, though,
that watched a little sunfish.
Moments passed uncounted
I knew no sense of time then.
Moments were but one now.
No words at all came to me,
none were there to think or speak.
I floated, breathed and did not think but noticed.
I was someplace elsewhere, wordless.
Too soon a sense of time came back, though.
Mind's internal chatter slowly started up again.
I moved along and left her, the little sunfish
prowling round and round the warm shallows
round her gravel spot, her nest upon the bottom.
I made my way to shore then,
walked up the slope and toweled off
and then I pedaled home.
Or so I thought back then.
- I knew the sunfish showed me,
that quiet sunny day.
I'd met the buddha swimming
and then I swam away.
Posted by Caroline at 11:14 PM, Sunday, May 2, 2010, in: her blog, Etcetera by Carolyn