Monday, November 8, 2010

Walden Pond and Henry David Thoreau

31 October 2010: Early on this cold, gray Sunday morning, I drive out to Walden Pond, to visit the woods when it is quiet. I walk the paths around the pond, where some 165 years ago Henry David Thoreau also came to spend 2 years in the quiet of the woods.

Much has been written about Thoreau. But what touches me most is the idea of living simply and going to the woods for the quiet and peace of nature.

A Brief History of Walden Pond

The glacier: The story begins 15,000 years ago with the retreating Laurentide Glacier sculpting a deep fresh-water pond. Over much of the New England landscape, the glacial retreat carved out ponds and left mounds we now call hills or drumlins.

The transcendentalist: In 1845 this little kettle pond had a visitor. A 28-year old philosopher and graduate of Harvard College arrived in Concord, where his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson owned land on the north and east shores of Walden. Only 1 years earlier in Concord, the Fitchburg Railroad was built from Boston. This line provided transportation that allowed Thoreau to venture from Boston to the woods at Walden.

Life in the Woods:
Thoreau proceeded to build a simple cabin near the pond, “squatting” on his friend’s land. His purpose is summarized on a sign near his cabin site. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life. And see if I could not learn what it had to teach and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Below: The site of the cabin is marked by the granite stones
Below: Replica of the cabin (near the parking lot)

Below: Walden Pond as Thoreau would have seen it from his cabin.

Thoreau, a Kindred Spirit

In high school, Henry David Thoreau was one of my favorites. I really loved the idea of living simply, without a lot of clutter and distraction. I enjoyed reading about his days living near Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. But, I lived over 200 miles (350 km) away in New York State, so I had no idea of what the pond or woods at Walden looked like.

But I came to know a secluded pond near where I lived. Pine Meadow Lake was deep in the woods away from paved roads, and about a 1/2 hour hike. It was like my little Walden Pond. As a teenager, I was shy, socially awkward. I didn’t not quite fit in, and felt my family did not understand this yearning within. So, like Thoreau, I too went to the woods was where I could think and clear my head. With sunlight glistening off the clear waters and filled with the starry idealism of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, it was my little oasis.

Living in Massachusetts

I came to Boston for college, in part to get some distance from my family and become my own person. Though I was nearer to Walden, it was years before I visited. (I think the first time might have been skinny dipping in the moonlight while in college – not exactly a spiritual pilgrimage to the sacred ground where my kindred spirit lived.

A bit older now, I’ve been to Walden a number of times to walk around the pond and spend a few moments at the site of the cabin. The reservation at Walden is well-used by swimmers and hikers and fishers. It’s probably, too well used.

So, I came to visit early on this chilly Sunday morning, when the woods are quiet and peaceful. It is the last day of October. The foliage is long past its peak of brilliant hues. The sadness and melancholy of fall becoming winter is setting in. Yet, I came, to spend a few moments, to contemplate living simply, and to share this with my on-line friends.