The Walden Woods
In early 1975, a few years after we had moved back to the Boston area, my wife and I decided to visit Walden Pond and walk around it. With our young daughter on my back, we started on a clockwise perambulation of the pond, making our way down the south side until we reached the railroad. We saw a path crossing the tracks, and wondered where it went. We crossed and found ourselves in a meeting of several well-cut trails through a wood, which we later learned were designed for horseback riders.
Following a trail toward a pond, we entered a wood where the trees were still dropping ice after a recent ice storm. A fog covered the pond and hung in the air around us. We proceeded on in this quiet wonderland for a while and came to another pond with a high bank quite close to the trail. This pond was largely covered with ice but a corner had melted. From this area peepers were just starting to sing. It was magical.
These are the Andromeda Ponds.
We stayed there a while then returned across the tracks to resume our Walden Pond walk. We felt amazed and didn’t have much to say to each other.
After we moved to Concord, I started to saunter regularly through these woods. Living near by, it was easy to go up old Fairhaven Road and enter a large network of trails. There was no map that I knew of, outside the Walden Reservation, so I simply wandered around sometimes getting lost. After five years everything started to become familiar.
I’ve traveled in these woods now for over forty years, walking, running, skiing, snowshoeing depending on the weather and the stage of my life. I’ve also skated on Walden Pond a few times (an awesome experience), and wehave canoed on the Sudbury River. I’ve mostly gone alone or with family members. Walden Woods runs from Route 2 on the north to the Sudbury River and Route 117 on the south, from Sudbury Road on the west to the eastern reaches of Flints Pond in Lincoln. The centerpieces are two great ponds, Walden and Flints, and there are pine groves, open hardwood uplands, small ponds, ravines and cliffs, brooks and swamps, and a pair of respectably sized hills, namely Fairhaven Hill and Pine Hill. I’ve traveled through the length and breadth of this land.
In the silence of this place certain thoughts and convictions come to the surface, which are normally buried beneath the stressful, driven nature of daily life. An hour or two here is enough to shift the balance to our real selves.
Perhaps the most important point about the Walden Woods is just, that it is a local feature. National and state parks and forests are not the only way that people can commune with nature, and one does not have to travel great distances such as to the Adirondacks to have an experience of wildness. Of course, that was a principal point of Henry Thoreau’s writings.
The world of nature was not made for humanity, it simply is; compared with our brief years, its age is without limit. We are simply the most recent stewards of all that is here on earth; stewards with awesome power of good or evil. As we take care of our mother earth, just so will she take care of us, and of our material and spiritual needs.
Robert Frost said in his poem “The Gift Outright”: “The land was ours before we were the land’s.” This is the history of we Europeans in this new world, summed up in one line. We took possession of this land rather quickly; it has been a long, painful process for us to be possessed by this land in a way the indigenous Americans have always known, and in a way that Thoreau has described so eloquently.
For many years when I was sauntering in the Walden Woods, I had a sense of elegy, thinking that surely the undeveloped parts would be lost to housing. But a miracle happened; people cared deeply enough to preserve almost all of it. John Quincy Adams sold at a discounted price a large beautiful tract of upland hardwoods to the towns of Lincoln and Concord, aided by private funding to which I proudly contributed. Then came the Thoreau Country Conservation Alliance, one of whose members, Ed Schofield, defined the extent of the Walden Woods as an ecological area of about 2600 acres. This is pocket-sized compared to the other areas I am discussing in this talk; but as we know it has immense significance in the ongoing story of conservation and preservation of natural areas.
Most recently Don Henley and his Walden Woods Project raised millions to preserve a number of very threatened tracts. Another important effort not to be overlooked is that the Walden Reservation has stabilized the shores of Walden Pond through proper vegetation and keeping pedestrians slightly away from the edge of the pond.
Now I look forward to nature continuing here as she always has. I imagine the trees growing, raccoons cavorting, beavers damming, deer and coyotes being prey and predator, trees perhaps getting burned in a forest fire or blown down by a hurricane and growing back again, and fifty years from now a person will go down to the shores of Walden, watch the waves and sense that the pond and its surrounding forest is an eye of Earth toward the skies, and she will begin to feel part of the land.