Walden, written by Henry David Thoreau, has been a favorite book of mine for nearly 45 years. I’ve long appreciated this record of a life well-spent and, thus, have long resisted the temptation of visiting the book’s post-glacial centerpiece near Concord, MA. “Resisted” is, of course, a fine word from the lexicon of Lexington-Concord life, the place where the American Revolution got its start in 1775.
Despite my eternal interest, I’ve resisted visiting Walden Pond for what appears to be a silly reason: I didn’t want the images garnered from my readings of Thoreau and other writers to be diminished by the Burger King and Dollar General crowd; I didn’t want my understanding of American freedom to be compromised by the discord of the present moment. But my daughter drove us up to Walden Pond on a chilled but brilliant late-fall day– and I wasn’t disappointed.
I’d been told that my visit would be reassuring, that Concord village and Walden State Park would be a good experience. Sure enough. We had a fine 1.7 mile walk around the 62-acre pond. Walden is the deepest natural lake in all of Massachusetts. In the 1840s, Thoreau was the first to accurately plumb its greatest depth (102 feet) while wintering in his cabin on the wooded shore. This glacially created pond is well-preserved today despite its popularity and proximity to Concord, an historic city with a small-town feel.
I had refrained from looking at photos taken at Walden Pond, preferring to keep in mind the human and natural history described by Henry David. I surprised myself in finding that the pond’s reality is pretty close to what I had imagined. Pilgrimage doesn’t often turn out so happily. Yeah, there was a small crowd of visitors at Thoreau’s cabin site, with people reverently adding a stone to the cairn or asking a question like, “Where did the cabin go?”
The Fitchburg Railroad still cuts across a corner of the pond as it did in Henry’s time, but the pond remains a lovely place. It’s flanked by cliffs of large white pine and hemlock trees. Its scarlet oaks reminded me of the writer’s famous Journal. Glancing at Walden’s sandy beaches, its shallow water dropping quickly into the depths of Concord and the world, one could almost grasp the beauty and complexity recorded by the Concord naturalists and philosophers.
If that wasn’t enough, we also toured the nearby Concord Museum and the homes of some literary greats, viz., of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson and Louisa May Alcott, and Nathanial Hawthorn. The North Bridge/Concord River battlefield behind the “Old Manse” conjured revolutionary daydreams, and the “Authors’ Ridge” (a burial site for Emerson, Thoreau and other Transcendentalist writers) was an evocative, pine-shaded stop in the expansive Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.
There wasn’t a Burger King or Dollar General Store in sight. Not in the historic quarters. And I shouldn’t have been surprised to find more than one book store in Concord. It seemed that every block of town, plus each museum and writer’s home, had its own small shop catering to the talk of literature and the selling of books. My god, what was this world coming to? I was grateful, of course, and even bought a massive new biography called Henry David Thoreau, A Life, by Laura Banks. I read this New York Times Notable Book and learned a lot about the brilliant, progressive author that I didn’t know before.
I learned enough to make me want to visit Walden’s shore again, some quiet day, in any season of the year.
That must have been a rare and inspiring discovery: to hold an image of a place that also incorporates the symbolic value you’ve ascribed it; and then, upon actually visiting, finding that the trip only enhances the signifance. I’m glad it exceeded your expectations and taught you something new!
Thanks! I guess I had braced myself for disappointment/disillusionment while hoping for something better. Then to find something more positive and enhancing– pretty cool.
Delighted for you that this pilgrimage delivered rather than disappointed! Taverns, bookstores, rustic bridges and decent folks? Maybe there’s hope yet…
Thanks for all this Walt – loved the winter photos, and the seasonal good wishes from Old Woodenhead. Enjoy the festive season!
Thanks much, Adam. Yes, a glimmer of hope in an almost hopeless world… All the best for a great festive season to you & yours, to Scout, too, of course, from Old Woodenhead & Co.
Jealous, I am. A place I’ve long wanted to visit. I tried to read Walden for the first time when I was a mere ninth grader; Thoreau’s challenging prose was too much for me then. Piece by piece I gradually made my way through Walden, reading and rereading some passages in attempt to grasp every nuance of his writing. There’s a lot to be said about H.D., but for anyone who ponders the natural world to any length, well, to my mind, he is the granddaddy of us all. My favorite Thoreau quote? On his deathbed when his aunt asked if had he made his peace with God, he replied, “I did not realize that we had ever quarrelled.” Genius.
Walden can be tough going for anyone not prepared, ninth grader or ninety-ninth grader, and should be ladled out with care for newbies. But I think once you get through “Economy” the going can be wonderful. I’ve read it several times and often in segments and I’m a believer even though H. T. would say “keep an open mind.” His final quote was genius, and so much before. Thanks Bob. And really, you should visit the place someday.
Glad to see that the place you envisioned on seeing didn’t disappoint. Sometimes places have been wrecked by havoc within todays society progressions. Your travels are certainly interesting Walt and richly filled in with history. A story behind a story always follows. I wish you and your family peace and good health this season. Just glad to hear good cheer from you and always enjoy your blog. God Bless ya Walt and if you don’t mind me saying, you are a treasure.
Thanks so much, my friend, and I’m glad that you’re enjoying the historic angles here on the blog. I appreciate the kindness and I wish you & yours a very happy holiday season and a great new year.
I really enjoyed this tribute to Thoreau and your musings here, Walt. As a writer, I, too, have places in the world I have read about and treasured, used my imagination to cherish as the author so intended. And, yes, like you, would rather keep them in my memory than be fouled by the present. But life does go on and your essay here shares the beauty of the present, too. How wonderful that you had the chance to see Walden Pond with loved ones, and took time to walk around the Pond and see what he saw. I espec. pondered a long time on the photo of Walden’s Pond “as seen from Thoreau’s small beach…. ” Thanks for sharing the beauties of Walden Pond in the past and the present, my friend. And Happy Solstice to you, too.
Thank you for this, Jet. Your kind words and understanding go a long way here. We writers sometimes have a debt to pay, if only to ourselves. And when we pay it and express the link to others who enjoy the product, then the work becomes quite special. Your response is much appreciated. Happy Solstice & new winter season to you.
I am glad that Walden did not disappoint; it is difficult at times for long held ideals to measure up. You and yours enjoy the holidays Walt.
Thanks very much, Ross, and a merry Christmas to you & the family. Hope to see you in the new year, too.
Merry Christmas to you Walt, and thank you for the rambling:)
My pleasure, Bob. Thanks for being a faithful reader, and all the best for some wonderful holidays!
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