Goose Pond, Keene, NH

I’ve been a bad, bad girl. Sometimes you just have to do what feels right even when The Law says otherwise. And sometimes you just have to do what feels right even if that involves a culpable level of premeditation and intent.

This lovely place is the scene of the crime, the idea for which came to me last night when I was writing yesterday’s belated blog entry. The more I thought about Reggie and his dogged zeal, I realized what’s been missing from my more humane approach. I’ve been following the rules, staying on leash, and being an overall good girl. Whoever trained me trained me well…too well. And right now all the treats and patting and praising aren’t going to make up for the fact that I’ve been living a life that’s far too obedient and docile. Heck, even Lassie got to run around off-leash and kick up her furry heels every now and again: why shouldn’t I allow myself a similar stint of free heedlessness?

Goose Pond, Keene, NH

Dogs are allowed at Goose Pond, fishing is allowed at Goose Pond, and even mountain bikers are allowed at Goose Pond. But, for some reason, swimming is Not Allowed: why should that be? If Goose Pond were a source of drinking water for the community, it would make sense to keep swimmers from contaminating its water…but if that were the case, dogs would be disallowed, too. If Goose Pond were already polluted, a toxic site from some long-forgotten industrial runoff, it would make sense to protect swimmers from chemical exposure…but if Goose Pond were contaminated, fishing would be dangerous, too. And if swimming were an erosive danger to the delicate shoreline of Goose Pond, even I would refrain from dabbling even a toe into its crystal waters…but if the city is concerned about erosion, why do they allow mountain bikes to scar its trails?

In a word, there is no good reason to prohibit swimming at Goose Pond, but I suppose there are plenty of legalistic ones. If the City allowed swimming at Goose Pond, they and their insurance company would be responsible for any subsequent injuries. Rather than facing the lawsuits and bad press that would flourish in the aftermath of any natatorial mishaps, the City chose to take the safe way out: outlaw swimming in order to protect citizens from themselves and the presumed dangers of the deep. After all, Goose Pond looks like a mighty dangerous place, don’t you think? And this wild-and-crazy 35-year-old college professor just might get completely out of hand if she were legally allowed to swim there: just imagine the carnage and disaster that would ensue if The Law weren’t there to protect her from her own aquatic tendencies?

Goose Pond, Keene, NH

With echoes of Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” ringing in my mind, this morning I drove with the dog to Goose Pond, swimsuit under my shorts and T-shirt, fully intending to break the law. Thoreau, of course, recognized that unjust laws exist and that it might take a lifetime to retool the machinery of an unjust or simply inept government. Given these facts, Thoreau argued that transgressing an unjust law is one way to “Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine.” Perhaps someday the City of Keene will change the rules governing the use of Goose Pond…but in the meantime, time’s a-wastin’. Rather than waiting for a new sign with new rules, this morning I did my part to make some friction.

Goose Pond actually looks a bit like Thoreau’s own Walden Pond, and given that Thoreau’s mother was born in Keene and he visited the town at least once during an expedition to Canada, it’s even possible that Thoreau himself visited Goose Pond. Such speculations aside, though, Goose Pond is about the same size as Walden Pond and equally lovely, but on even the hottest day, Goose Pond is never nearly as crowded as Walden, which serves as a popular and officially sanctioned local swimming hole. So perhaps that sign decreeing that No Swimming Shall Be Allowed at Goose Pond is a blessing in disguise: as things stand, only diehard rule-breakers like myself have the nerve to sample Goose Pond’s tranquil waters, a well-kept secret that promises to remain well-kept.

Why, you might ask, did I feel the need to violate the law in such a flagrant fashion? Why go swimming at all today, and why choose to swim at Goose Pond when there are other local places where swimming is allowed? After watching Reg relish his off-leash excursion into the Ashuelot River the other day, I remembered that in years past (when we lived in Massachusetts at least) I’d go several times each summer to Walden Pond, where I’d swim off a secluded corner of shoreline away from the officially sanctioned beach. In those days, summer wasn’t summer until I’d gone swimming, and swimming at a beach or pool just didn’t cut it: it had to be Walden Pond, and it had to be on one of Walden’s isolated shores, somewhere were you weren’t exactly supposed to swim.

Goose Pond, Keene, NH

And so today, Goose Pond served as my Walden. The place where I swam was on the shady backside of a piny peninsula; only a narrow dirt path led down to a hard-bottomed shore. As the dog looked on in utter amazement, this being the first time I’ve gone swimming with him, I quietly, slowly floated out about 10 yards from shore: far enough to feel afloat in the middle of what Thoreau termed earth’s eye but close enough to keep near Reg with his fear of deep water. Today’s swim wasn’t long but it certainly was good: after about 10 minutes of cruising the piney shoreline, I returned to that dirt path where I stretched out on the earth, my T-shirt and fleece sweater spread on the ground like a blanket. As Reg investigated the nearby undergrowth, I let the sun dry my skin as red-eyed vireos, black-throated green warblers, and eastern wood pewees sang from the trees overhead, the air zipping with dragonflies.

It might have been a crime, this brief dip in Goose Pond, but it sure felt good. Summer isn’t summer until you’ve celebrated your own private rituals of initiation, and sometimes secret sin is just the ticket to easing into the season. After toasting in the morning sun for 20 minutes or so, I shook off that T-shirt and fleece, clambered back into hiking shorts, and headed back around the pond. Today was beautiful, you see, and to have resisted such a siren lure would have been criminal.