Staying Afloat

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York Photoshops her Havanese dog gazing at a dandelion by the pond.Staying Afloat -- Robin Botie in Ithaca, New York Photoshops daughter, Marika Warden, swimming in pond filled with algae.“Do you remember this?” I asked, holding up the ancient rake. “I got my rake, my Wellingtons and work gloves. What am I forgetting?” The boots and gloves were oversized. My shorts were tight and tiny. No one would be stopping by so my hair was tied up haphazardly.
“Don’t look at me like that. I have to rake the algae from the pond.” I took a fast drink of water and bent down for a kiss.
“First we rake. Okay, I rake. Then I pull the cattails up by the roots. Then I get to carry the piles of raked and pulled stuff from the pond banks. Then I pour the blue dye off all the edges to discourage algae growth. And then – I don’t know why I do this every year. I should be spending this time with you.”

This is the conversation I had with the dog. She watched me from inside the sliding glass door as I reached and pulled and piled algae and old pondweed. For seven days I raked the pond in one or two-hour sessions until dripping sweat stung my eyes and my back ached.

“Do you swim in your pond?” People always ask me that. The truth is I can’t remember when I last swam in the pond. My daughter was the one who used the pond. She and her friends splashed around on neon-pink and orange poly-foam noodles, shrieking with laughter. “Mom, look. Watch me. See me.” I kept the pond clean and beautiful for her. Now that she’s gone, I’m not sure why I bother.

To keep a pond cleared for swimming is backbreaking work but sometimes hard physical labor is what one needs to stay afloat in grief or depression. Some people pray. Some meditate. Some go for walks in nature or drive fast and far. All of these I have done. There are many ways to deal with loss but the thing I come back to each spring is the raking.

I could see my inherited dog waiting and watching my every move from inside. Tearing off my boots, my socks, the tight shorts, and my father’s watch, I scanned the shallows. There was no longer any easy access to the pond. I sat down on its grassy edge. Now or never, I thought, and scooted off into the cool water. I splashed. I swam out through warm and cold spots. I swam in a circle. And hollered out to the dog, “Hey, Suki. I’m swimming. See me?”

 

In times of trouble what do you do to stay afloat?

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14 thoughts on “Staying Afloat

  1. Elaine Mansfield

    Wonderful, Robin. I see this as your yearly ritual at a time when there are so many hard hard reminders. Clearing the water, saving what Marika loved,, tears, sweat, and lots of remembering. My conversations with Willow are as involved as yours with Suki. I laugh at myself, but keep on talking. Today I visited a pond on National Forest land where Vic and I took our dogs in the spring. I hadn’t been there since Vic died, but Willow needs water therapy and the big lake is cold. For the first time since her knee surgery over four months ago, I took Willow off leash so she could go swimming. She loves the water, so I trusted she’d stay close as long as I had a stick. she did. After her swim, we had a long conversation about the past and about the joy of swimming. Next time I’ll take a swimming suit. It was warmer than I thought it would be and almost no algae.

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Elaine, this sounds so neat, being able to swim with Willow. Suki is not a water lover. She thinks she’s a hunter. And with the deer, coons, chucks, and other wildlife, I don’t dare have her off the leash around the pond as I work. I’m glad to hear you rediscovered the pond in the National Forest Land. Maybe you and Willow would like to come swimming here some time? The pond won’t be blue forever. And I’m hoping to build a more graceful way to get in and out.

      Reply
  2. Annah Elizabeth

    I’ve done all those things in times of grief, along with napping and running and screaming at anyone and everyone who would listen…

    I think the swim is a great way to let go, a moment of moving forward… Thank you for sharing this beautiful story, Robin!

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Thank you Annah. So great to hear from you again. In all our moving forward I do hope to catch up with you in person again soon.

      Reply
  3. Kimberly ryan

    You are right Robin, sometimes, the only thing that works is doing hard physical labour…… so I garden until every inch of me aches.

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      And then you get rewarded with flowers and/or vegetables. Isn’t working hard wonderful when there’s a reward at the end? Thanks for responding, Kimberly. Cheers!

      Reply
  4. Lynne Taetzsch

    This sounds great, Robin–for you! You won’t find me raking a pond or anything. Walks in the woods do it for me.

    I also have to keep reminding myself that “it’s OK to feel what I feel.” If I accept the feelings, they pass, like everything. When I fight them, it’s harder.

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Walks in the woods are the best for me too, Lynne. I’m still seeing the chiropractor with my messed-up-from-raking back. The thing about crying while you are doing hard work in the heat is that the sweat mixes with the tears so your eyes really sting. I wouldn’t recommend this type of activity.
      Cheers, Lynne.

      Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Me too. It was like breaking a spell. Now that the pond is almost algae-free, I am looking forward to a summer of swimming.

      Reply

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