Omu’s Journal: Walden
To honor Henry David Thoreau, I finally visited Walden Pond in the spring of 2008. It was a bucket list item for a life-long fan.
I boarded a commuter train that rolled out of Boston towards Concord, Massachusetts. The conductor, after punching my ticket (just like on the Hogwarts Express!), assured me that I would see Walden out the window just before my stop.
The scenery gradually changed from rather dismal inner-city squalor to yuppie suburbs. For about 15 seconds I could see the pond through the bare trees (this was in April).
My stop was Thoreau Station, and I set off to walk to Walden (1.5 miles one-way). Down Thoreau Street, turn right on Walden Street, past Brister’s Spring and Hill (described at length in Walden).
I crossed a busy highway and entered Walden Woods, which surround Walden and are managed by the state of Massachusetts. The first thing I saw was a recycling center, ironically positioned right on top of, and obliterating, some of the rural Thoreauvian landscape.
The staff were busily composting and recycling, which Concord supports to a respectable degree. Would Henry David approve of the somewhat messy scene? I’m going to go with, “Yes!”
And then I was there—Walden Pond.
After examining the replica cabin, I walked around the margin of the pond towards the site of Thoreau’s cabin. There were very few people, for which I was grateful. The Walden Park managers have to limit the number of people in summer, when so many try to get in.
A fisherman, a young couple…There was a lot of ecosystem restoration work going on, trying to limit people’s walking to somewhat hardened paths, and protected plantings to prevent erosion.
It was quite beautiful, but just as in the 1830s, it was definitely NOT wilderness. Just a pretty lake surrounded by pine forest.
A series of granite obelisks connected by chains outlined the location of the original cabin. Nearby was a massive cairn created by Thoreau-admirers who have made the same pilgrimage, and who each add a rock. I was ready with a rock to contribute.
Back at the lakeshore, I watched a hawk winging its way above the bare crowns of the trees. The sun sparkled on the water. This was the same cove to which Henry would send a thirsty visitor, dipper in hand, for their drink of water. It was a beautiful and restful scene.
Walking back to Concord, I last of all visited Henry’s gravesite at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. In the Thoreau family plot is a piece of white marble about the size of a loaf of bread.
The only inscription — “Henry.”
You could see it shining from a distance, and a closer examination showed why. Hundreds and thousands of people want to touch Thoreau’s headstone, and it has been rubbed smooth and white. A touchstone.
Of course, I followed suit. As is the custom, I also left another pebble on his headstone.
Henry died at the age of 44, never married, never successful in his lifetime as a writer. Of course, he touched many, MANY people after death, primarily through his double-book, “Walden, and On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.”
I visit many significant graves. Why?
About three weeks from now, Feb. 22, the season of Lent will start with Ash Wednesday. The priest will mark an ashy cross on the worshiper’s forehead, and intone, “Dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return.”
I believe Henry understood that very well.