Fighting The Crowds On Walden Pond
Henry David Thoreau's Walden; or Life in the Woods, deserves
it's status as a great American book, but let it be known that
Nature Boy went home on weekends to raid the family cookie jar.
Thoreau begins his American classic with lines that are memorable
for their simplicity, clarity, and ... utter deception.
When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them,
I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house
which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord,
Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only.
I lived there two years and two months. At present I am a sojourner
in civilized life again.
Most Americans have an image of Thoreau as a rough-hewn, self-educated
recluse, who, following the grand tradition of prophets, disappeared
into the solitude to commune with nature. We picture his little
shack far off in the woods, the man a voluntary Robinson Crusoe,
alone with his thoughts and the bluebirds.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Thoreau could see the
well-traveled Concord-Lincoln highway across his field; he could
hear the Fitchburg Railroad as it steamed along the track on the
far side of Walden Pond.
He visited Concord Village almost every day; Thoreau's mother
and sisters, who lived less than two miles away, delivered goodies
baskets every Sunday, stocked with pies, doughnuts, and meals;
Thoreau even raided the family cookie jar during his frequent
The more one reads in Thoreau's unpolished journal of his stay
in the woods, the more his sojourn resembles suburban boys going
to their treehouse in the backyard and pretending they're camping
in the heart of a jungle.
The children of Concord visited on weekends and the cabin became
a popular picnicking spot for local families. One winter, fellow
writer Bronson Alcott had dinner there on Sunday nights; Ralph
Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne were frequent visitors.
And, on August 1, 1846, the good ladies of an antislavery group
held their annual celebration of the freeing of West Indian slaves
on his doorstep. The cabin once packed twenty-five visitors inside.
"It was not a lonely spot," understates Walter Harding
in his excellent The Days of Henry Thoreau. "Hardly
a day went by that Thoreau did not visit the village or was visited
at the pond." The joke making the rounds in Concord was that
when Mrs. Emerson rang the dinner bell, Thoreau came rushing out
of the woods and was first in line with his outstretched plate.
After a year, Thoreau was giving little lectures in the Concord
Lyceum on his experiment in simplified living. Words of his shack
spread fast so that tourist stated arriving, asking for a drink
of water, hoping to catch a glimpse of the inside.
But Thoreau, a meat-eating Harvard grad, did find time away from
the crowds to write about man and nature. Walden is a mesmerizing
tale of St. Francis on a budget.
However, if you have a hankering to duplicate Thoreau's experiment
in simplicity, perhaps you to should build a shack a couple of
miles from the family home, just off the road, by the railroad
tracks, a five minute walk from the village. And don't forget
to schedule the weekend picnics.
[Richard Zacks.(1997). An underground Education. New York,
Burham, Tom, The Dictionary of Misinformation (New York,
1975); Harding Walter, Days of Henry Thoreau (New York,