[I assure you that I hand wrote this in a journal beside the pond]
It’s almost surreal sitting at the edge of Walden Pond. Walden is the site of Henry David Thoreau’s reflective work of the same name. Today, Walden is part of the Massachusetts Park system. Almost every English student comes across Thoreau at some point in his or her studies. He is usually read as one of the defining figures in the canon of American literature and holds almost mythic status. On my way to Walden I listened to the first half of Thoreau’s Walden on audiobook. I’m going to go through it again because there are just so many concepts and phrases that rang true with me and I feel many would resonate with others as well. I marvelled at the impact of Thoreau’s writing, so many years after his death, but also found myself frustrated by our society’s unwillingness to commit to many of his values/ideals. As I listened to Walden I heard some of my own thoughts about the world in Thoreau’s phrasing. It was comforting to know that I wasn’t the first one to have certain thoughts, but also frustrating because we haven’t done a lot with some of Thoreau’s most significant ideas.
Being at Walden Pond and hearing the locals colloquially refer to Walden reminded me that this place is real and that Thoreau was a real guy. As you study great thinkers you have a tendency to think of them in the abstract. You consider their themes, narratives, thoughts and place in history but rarely their humanness. My visit to Walden will forever make Thoreau distinctly human to me. It sounds corny, but you really do feel his presence at Walden. I imagine him roaming the area surrounding the pond and maybe even sitting where I am now; thinking and writing.
I thought twice about sharing this second part, but ultimately decided that the story was worth telling.
As I sat at the side of the pond, my soundtrack was the occasional bit of wind in the trees and the sound of four little kids playing in the pond (I swam in the pond today as well which was pretty cool). They didn’t have any toys; just their imaginations and the ability to splash water at each other. As you would imagine, playing in the water involved some significant shrieking and excitement. To me, the sound made the Pond feel alive but it didn’t please everyone. To my left, a middle-aged woman with a large designer magazine, had set up shop. After every shriek she sighed or clucked in disapproval. Then, after a particularly exuberant bout of imagination (and splashing) her patience ran out. She called out to the mother and told her to keep her kids quiet. The mother did nothing. As the children continued to adventure through the water, our Vogue-reading-friend grew more and more frustrated. Finally she got up, in a huff, and walked over to where the mom and dad were standing. She went at it with the father, giving him her best indignant tone. He didn’t give in. Eventually she gave up, turned on her heel, marched back to her beach chair, gathered her magazine and other worldly possessions and stormed out towards the parking lot. The kids had won the battle and the war.
I think that Thoreau would have been pleased. The power of imagination won out over the petty grievances of a person who was evidently in search of meaning within the pages of Vogue. As the family left the Pond, they walked right by where I was writing. I stopped them for a quick chat and learned that they were from the Netherlands. They were quite bemused by the whole incident, especially because there was a bit of a language barrier!
Perhaps I’m being too judgement of our indignant friend, but I think not. We Canadians and Dutch have to stick together, especially at Walden!