Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Walden Pond


Henry David Thoreau was an American writer, essayist, naturalist and renowned author of “Walden,” an account of his two years and two months living in the then Walden Pond semi wilderness.
Thoreau went there, built a small, ten by fifteen foot sideboard cabin on land owned by his friend and teacher Ralph Waldo Emerson. Thoreau wanted to experience nature at its simplest. He was not a hermit, but he did live and write in a solitary environment some of the time. Most the book was collated and edited by him after he left the woods.
Thoreau sets his criteria. “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live” and he adds, “"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."
There is probably much more to Thoreau’s life there than is accounted for in his writings on Walden or in scholarly research of his life and times. His parents lived about a mile away and one would suspect he visited for an occasional meal and probably laundry. It was also an easy walk of a couple of miles into the town of Concord.
I mention this history because I walked around the pond recently and visited the site where Thoreau’s cabin existed.
I have one negative comment, but I do understand its necessity given the 600-thousand visitors to Walden’s shores each year. The path for visitors to circle the pond is a narrow four-foot channel, fenced in on both sides with barbless wire.  There are a few places where you can stray up a hill, but never near the water accept at the beach entrance to the park.
My walk with family was at a moderate to slow pace, pensive at times and conversationally wondering at other moments about why Thoreau did it and what this life experience accomplished for him?
I suspect Thoreau was looking for life’s meaning and its kinship with nature. He spent a lot of time thinking and writing about the social conditions of the time and elevating his spiritual transcendence to blend with his seasonal observations. He rarely condemned his fellow beings, but he did condition their worth with succinct and erudite prose. I enjoyed the book and the walk.
Even today most people have never experienced raw nature. Perhaps that’s the legacy and value of Walden. 150-plus years later Thoreau lets us live it vicariously without the commitment to do so.

1 comment:

Chris said...

I share your sentiments about the value of what Thoreau had to offer. I made my first trip to Walden Pond in October and was moved to tears by the experience. I'd be honored to share my account with you and your readers:
http://dcreflections.typepad.com/dc_reflections/2009/09/crying-on-thoreaus-cabin.html

 
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