March 14, 2006
"Henry David Thoreau’s 2 years, 2 months, 2 days
What a wondrous day at Walden Pond. Got here at 10 a.m.
and met Steve the state park ranger who gave us an elementary lecture. I
say elementary because I immediately thought his conversation skills were
perfect for engaging elementary-age kids. He asked questions like “Why do
you think Henry David Thoreau wanted to stay out at Walden Pond?” “What do
you think Thoreau’s bed is like?” Questions to engage the audience…
We walked across the road, down the gravel ramp to the
sandy shoreline of Walden Pond, went to the right of the pond following a
path along the shoreline, then veered off to walk up a little hill to the
cabin spot. There on a brown sign was written Henry David Thoreau’s
words: “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
What a wonderful statement that everyone should learn
from—deal with only the important issues—meaning learn from life—the life
around you in nature.
Bronson Alcott started a cairn of rocks as a tribute to
Henry on the spot of the cabin—now there is a BIG pile of rocks!
At the lunch break time I walked around Walden Pond on the
shoreline path. Stopped at the open railroad track section and remembered
this section in the book that Thoreau observed thawing sand and clay that
to Thoreau’s mind embodied the creation of man. The leaves branching out
to signify blood vessels; the thawing mass of sand resembles fingers.
“What is man but a mass of thawing clay?” Thoreau asked. This section in
the book has so many metaphors to observe nature that every time you
reread a section or chapter you discover a new revelation and something
else speaks to you.
In the morning walk to Thoreau’s cabin the pond had a
surreal feel to it—mist coming up from the water’s surface and could see
only 100 feet across the pond in any direction. It was the very contained,
small world of Thoreau’s existence at Walden Pond and evoked this morning
a quiet, church-like atmosphere.
But in my lunch time hike around the pond, the sun came
out. You could see the trees on the other sides across the pond—no more
“other worldly” feeling to the setting. The feeling I got now was one of
“let’s explore” not one of “don’t disturb this quite sanctuary.” Now the
woods seem inviting. There was a kayaker in the middle of the pond. There
were two fishermen now instead of the solitary figure we encountered this
morning and two family groups on the trail.
The sun opened up all hidden areas in the woods so I was
able to see the veins in the leaves on the ground. I was able to see the
patterns of the different tree barks. I was able to see the canopy of
trees overhead still leafless but see their height and shape and see how
much undergrowth the sun permitted. Wow!! The afternoon became an entirely
I remember from my Environmental History class reading an
essay by William Cronon how he said you can observe nature right in your
own backyard. I agreed with him at the time even though the consensus from
the professor and students was that Cronon was way off—that you can’t
equate your backyard to the beauty you can see in the wilderness—that your
backyard is a “created natural world” and can never be connected to the
wildness of nature.
Cronon said your tree in your backyard could have sprung
from the same seed as the tree in the forest and both trees are worthy of
our wonder and respect. I agree with this. Thoreau escaped to a simple
life at Walden Pond on the outskirts of town to contemplate nature, its
environs, life, and mourn his brother’s death. Coming to Walden Pond 161
years later, still remains therapeutic to present day visitors when Walden
Pond is literally in a backyard.
This same spot is now not considered wild or wilderness but
a small section of 411 acres preserved by the Massachusetts State Forests
and Parks system. To me this proves that if you have a special place in
the natural world, no matter how far from a town, city, or civilization,
and if it is preserved by keeping the natural aspect of the
environment—that this place is just as special to you as visiting
Yellowstone, Yosemite, or the Grand Canyon with all their natural wonders.
Someone had the foresight to protect Thoreau’s special
place so future generations could experience what he experienced. It is no
less meaningful for us to preserve our special places—maybe even our own
backyards—so we can continually make a connection to the natural world. We
will respect the natural world both in our city limits, outside of city
limits, and in faraway lands that take time to arrive to.