On Walden Pond

Walden 05 crop

Paul Richardson in More Intelligent Life:

It is one of the great American sententiae, as sonorous and moving as the Gettysburg Address. “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.”

Henry David Thoreau went to the woods in 1845, living for two years and two months in a cabin he had built on the north shore of Walden Pond. The book resulting from his experiment in simplicity was published in 1854, to lukewarm reviews. A century and a half later, however, “Walden” is a fundamental text of the ecological movement, and the pond, a crucial topos of American history, has become a place of pilgrimage.

I come to the woods in a taxi from Logan Airport, leaving Boston on Route 2. My taxi driver is a young Ethiopian woman with a printed headscarf wound around her head, nervous on her first day of work. We leave the highway at the turn-off for Lincoln, and up there on the exit sign I see the name in big letters: Walden Pond. It has become a destination in itself.

The pond lies a few miles out of Concord village in the state of Massachusetts. The pond isn’t really a pond, at least not in the English sense of a small body of standing water, often found at the bottom of a garden. It’s a roundish lake surrounded by forest, with a patch of boggy meadow at its western end. The water in this kettle lake or pothole lake (as geographers variously define it), tinged benignly blue-green at the edges and scarily black towards the middle where it plunges to a depth of 33 metres, is filtered as it pushes up through the sandy soil around it, and has a mesmerising clarity I’ve never seen in any English pond.

More here.