Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Day Trip to Concord: Thoreau and Walden Pond

"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. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan- like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion."
from Thoreau's Walden

I learned this, at least, by my experiment;
that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams,
and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined,
he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.
from the "Conclusion" to Walden

It was difficult to tear myself away from the city for the journey to Walden Pond. Today was a perfect first day of summer—76 degrees with clouds enough to make the sky picture perfect. I worked in the morning at the Trident café and then stopped by the Sonsie to say hello to L. who lunched there for business. Back at the apartment I chatted with the gardener and then decided I had to mail a batch of letters this afternoon. Then I was hungry for lunch.

Finally at three o’clock I got myself on the road toward Concord, MA and Walden Pond. Traffic through Cambridge was brutal and slow enough for me to notice that it is exactly two miles from Hereford (our street) to Harvard Square. I would have sworn it was at least five miles.

I found Concord with ease and started my visit at the Concord Museum. I watched a brief video and toured the rooms—some of which where set up to be authentic period rooms from early American history. My favorite things: a temporary exhibit about woman’s handbags spanning many eras and the Thoreau t-shirts in the gift shop. Key new fact: I have been mispronouncing Thoreau. I used to say tho-REAU and now I have learned that the accent is on the first syllable: THO-reau. This makes sense as most two syllable names are accented on the first syllable: KEL-ley, RO-bert, MAT-thew, etc. (A quick check at gives several acceptable pronunciations. When in Concord, do as the Concordians….)

After having my pronunciation corrected, I headed off to find Walden Pond. I expected a sanctuary where I could walk and ponder my deepest nature in the light of nature and be moved to a life of deliberate simplicity and slow burning fires to warm me after bracing swims across the pond. What I found: lots of people in beach wear, squealing kids, preening teenagers, and even a half-clad adult male who gave me the jeebies when he followed me in the narrowly fenced trail.

I was trying to commune with the trees and gently lapping lake waters. Instead I fingered my car keys and told myself I could use them as a weapon. I also learned at that time that I had a signal at Walden Pond on my cell phone. I slowed down; so did he. Eventually he passed me and I slowed way down to created a safe zone between us.

As I circled the lake, I realized that the area was mostly safe. At least there was no shortage of people enjoying the water and the perfect weather. It was gorgeous and I regretted being fully clothed and without a swimsuit or at least appropriately bathing-suite-ish underwear. Shoot. Note to self: next time you come to Walden, bring the bikini.

About halfway round I found a spot to let my feet drink in the waters. I rolled up my pants and waded into pristine lake waters warm on my skin. I wanted to dive in, but restrained myself. I wanted to call someone to share the moment (I had a signal). I settled for scratching a mosquito bite and contemplating that I may have just gotten bitten by a descendant of a bug that had bitten Thoreau. Sweet. But itchy.

I then hiked around to find the house site where Thoreau’s cabin once stood. After he lived there two years, the cabin was dismantled (the roof was used for pig sty) and the location forgotten. Years later an archeologist dug for three months before he finally located the chimney stones. Now there is a memorial and next to it a large mound of rocks. A placard noted that visitors add a stone to the pile to honor Thoreau. I tossed a pebble and watched it settle deep in a crack.

The lake was beautiful--the color of the water changed from blue to green to crystal clear as I turned each bend. I wound love to return to take a long swim in its depths.

I walked the lake’s perimeter and into woods for about an hour and a half before heading back to my car. I made a stop by the Old North Bridge, site of “the shot heard round the world” where the Americans first defended themselves against the British in 1775. Just nearby was the Old Manse, the house built by William Emerson and where Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathanial Hawthorne penned their works.

The landscapes around Concord are serene. The town quaint. And the cappuccino in this café has a respectable froth. This is a place to return. It was painful to leave the city, but while I walked around Walden’s Pond, I thought to myself: the city is overrated; I could make a life in the woods with a stack of books, a gaggle of kiddoes, and regular trips to modern healthcare facilities. Resolution: a minimum one month per year in the wilds of extra-urban life.

Luckily, Walden Pond and the surrounding woods look a lot like Transylvania, where we are headed next month.

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