The Man, the Myth, The Legend
Henry David Thoreau the author of Walden and Civil Disobedience holds a special place in my heart. As a nomad, I appreciate his experiment of going into the woods, to nature, to simplify his life, develop self- reliance and find the best parts of himself. He broke away from conventional norms and the attachments that are associated with being in ‘acceptable’ and polite society.
He was a people person but yet an introvert who loved his life of solitude at Waldon Pond. Through his writings you can tell that he was admonishing the ‘polite dare I say white society’ while holding the values and ingenuity of the native people in high regard.
When I looked up his biographical information, I found out that Henry was also an ardent abolitionist who was the head of the underground railroad in Concord and helped people get to Canada to be freed from enslavement. Sadly,(at least I felt so) he died six months before the emancipation proclamation was signed.e
I live an hour and a half from Walden Pond. This was my first visit to this historic site. I was excited to see that place that inspired a man to be so famous that he became required reading for millions of high schoolers since his books were published.
In preparation for this sacred trip, and to get onto the proper head space for the pilgrimage, I bought a copy of Walden on audible and listened to it on my ride to Walden Pond. I was to learn the night before that there was limited parking at Walden Pond and once the parking lots are full, the park is closed to any additional pilgrims like myself. There was a concern that if I got to Walden Pond too late, that I may not get a chance to see it. I set the alarm clock to 6:00am which is wildly early for me on a Saturday, but I was determined to secure a parking spot right up until that alarm clock went off. I ended up oversleeping by an hour. I attempted to make good time getting ready and off we (my boyfriend accompanied me on this trip.) went.
While listening to Henry’s writings, I was reminded and it made me think or muse about attachments. Attachments to stuff, to philosophies, to a culture, to a religion, to people. Some attachments can be a blessing but some are curses. Some of the attachments can suck the soul right out of a person and beats him down especially over time. How often in my lifetime have I heard regrets from people or stories from inspirational speakers who had wished that they should have or could have lived a different life but went down the prescribed life path that the parents and the culture dictated that they should. Obviously the inspirational speaker overcame that but still lost precious time. We live in an affluent country and yet so many entitled people with resources are miserable. Does STUFF really make you happy?
This resonated with me. I learned in my time wandering alone with my truck and a tent, that I could not just live, but live well and happily. It was an amazing and exciting time in my life.
While listening to Waldon I was amused by his description of how other people reacted to his plans. They were well meaning but filled with questions like, ‘Will you be safe? What will you eat? What will you do if…’ I remember that I received all of those questions from people as well along with my all time favorite, ‘What if you get eaten by a bear?’ My response was, ‘Well, I guess the bear will be well fed and have left-overs was my normal response.’
Living without Stuff. After doing a great purge and dealing with an existential crisis after the children move out of the house. There was one irrefutable truth for me, and that was that STUFF did not make me happy. Henry was well aware of that fact and took it to the next level in practice in his life. What made him feel ALIVE was being close to nature, self-reliance, and having a purpose. This man spoke to my heart and soul.
I pulled into the parking lot and thankfully there were plenty of parking spaces available. For visitors we were there in March and not in the summer so I would suggest that if you decide to make this pilgrimage in the summer, then get there early for the best chance at getting a parking space. There was not person accepting cash for the parking fees, what they did have were parking kiosks where you pay for your day-use pass to put in your vehicle. When checking out this site online the night before, we discovered that there was an $8.00 parking fee. When I went up to the kiosk to purchase the parking fee, there was no other option than to purchase a day use pass for $30.00 per car. The information we looked at online was obviously outdated information. I enjoyed the ease of using a credit card to pay for the pass but there was no way to pay cash.
There is a visitor center with a gift shop that was open but the museum side with his writings and some journals was not opened due to COVID. Although you can view some of them when walking over to the gift shop. Thankfully, the restrooms were also open.
The pond is a short walk, across the street from the parking lot. The pond is lovely and one can appreciate what it must have been like in 1845. For those who appreciates the impact and contributions of the glaciers on the US landscape will be please to know that Waldon Pond is a Kettle. A Kettle according to Wikipedia is a depression/hole in an outwash plan formed by retreating glaciers or draining floodwaters and is something we talk about on out hikes when we do Facebook live as 2 and a half goobers on the trail.
Walking the Walk
There is a pond walking trail that goes around the entire pond. Most people do traverse the pond on that trail. We discovered that there were a lot of hiking/walking trails all throughout the property and decided partly due to COVID, partly because I am a super pokey hiker and dislike being prompted to walk faster because I have 20 people queued up behind me sighing loudly.
Please note that the pond loop trail is a one-way trail that is narrow with wire fencing on one side making it hard to travel on the path in anything other than single file. There were opportunities on the trail to pull off to the side when there were some stone steps to the beaches and water so that I would be able to let people pass but it’s undue stress that I really didn’t want to endure, especially not here, where communing with nature and contemplated one’s life choices don’t need to be marred by a case of trail rage. In the end we also wanted to take the road less traveled. Yes, I know that the road less traveled is Robert Frost, but still, I feel that those three little words summed up Henry’s life at Waldon nicely and thought it would be fitting that I do the same. I also wanted to note that there is a first aid and bathroom station right on the main beach which was closed but I suspect is opened in the summer-time peak season. The trails have trail signs but no blazes. Because I am navigationally challenged, I thought there could have been a few more signs to direct people in the right direction, but then again we were able to find everything we were looking for and you can either get to the road or the pond in walking in one direction or the other so if you got lost it would be easy to find your way out. Also the Woods trail is more like a graveled road and had benches located frequently among that path.
The House and Beanfield
We started walking along the beach in the opposite direction from the other path I just mentioned just out of respect for Civil Disobedience. Walking along the beach was only a few feet away from the loop trail and I started to see the wisdom of the parking lot restrictions. If they did not limit occupancy to the area there would be waayyyy too many people. There were some remains of snow left on the ground in patches that made walking on the beach a little treacherous in spots but luckily, I managed to maintain my vertical posture in the world during that walk. We went about half-way and decided to turn back because Henry’s House and Bean field were on the other side of the pond. We chose a different hiking trail to get to the beanfield and the house. As it turns out, there is nothing left of the house nor the beanfield where he cultivated enough beans to barter or sell to obtain items of need. Other staples like Indian Meal(Corn meal), Rye meal some salt pork and salt.
When we got to the location there are stone pilons designating where the house and the woodshed stood. The woodshed looked to be bigger than the house. There was a huge mound of rocks with rock cairns on it that people had left in respect to his life. This was a tradition that started 10 years after Henry’s death. Bronson Alcott (of the Louisa May Alcotts) brought a fan of Henry’s work and place the first stones in honor of Henry’s stay at Walden Pond.
Also at the house site is a plaque with the following famous quote from Henry.
What greater regret is there to think on your deathbed that you had not lived? I left a rock for Henry and thanked him for his contribution to the world and to my life.
A little bit down the forested path to get to the beanfield. There is a plaque that is low to the ground and one might miss it if they were not looking for it because the area is no longer a field but nature had come and swallowed up that field in a forest. You could see that it was a nice flat area and probably worked well for his needs. After walking out to the road from this path I realized that this is a will groomed path that is handicap accessible and any wheelchair or scooter will be able to visit Henry’s house and beanfield with ease. On this walk we contemplated Henry going down to the pond for his water everyday. The house was set a little ways from the pond. The beanfield was .2 of a mile from the water as well. If he had to water his crops then that would be a long day of toil in the hot sun. Henry found purpose in building his house, tending to his crops and sustaining himself with his self-reliance. In the book he talked about how trying new things and experimenting helped him to gain confidence live a purpose filled life and to get him what he needed to sustain himself.
We discovered that Henry was buried in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord Massachusetts. If you like cemeteries this is a really good one. Unfortunately, we had limited time to explore the cemetery before we had to drive back and pick up our dog from the daycare. Luckily, this cemetery did a fabulous job directing people to the gravesite. When you get to the cemetery area it tells you which gate to go into, Once inside drive forward there is a display on the right designating all of the buried people and which section they are in but if you look just a little to the left you will see a stone with an inscription with an arrow to go right and follow the arrow and so it was to get to the area where the famous writers were buried. There is a paved path to walk up the hill, it is short path but it is little steep and probably not set up for handy capped accessibility if the wheelchair is not motorized.
The parking area only allows 2 cars maybe three if they all three cars are small. Everyone was super respectful, and no one seemed to linger a very long time hogging the parking spaces. Among the other famous writers buried there is Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Nathaniel (and I thought I was wordy and verbose but at least I don’t use a bunch of pretentious words to try and impress my readership) Hawthorne. (Clearly, I’m not a fan of Hawthornes) At each of these grave sites, people left trinkets, mostly pencils and pens.
To get to the cemetery I had to go through the Concord’s town center. What a lovely quintessential New England town. It’s beautiful, and I wished I had more time to explore. There were museums for Henry and the other famous authors. I would say in less COVIDY times it would be great to have lunch and explore the town for a bit. I suspect though that parking will be a challenge. I will definitely be going back.
If you find yourself in Massachusetts or in the south of any of the surrounding states (Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut) than I would recommend a jaunt over to see Walden Pond.