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A VISIT WITH HENRY
I often ask people about the local attractions of the particular city I'm working in, and I've noticed more than once an embarrassed reply: "I've never gone there."
People seem to overlook local attractions, it seems they don't know what they have in their own back yards. I put myself in their place to further verify this, and I found it disturbingly accurate. So in this frame of mind I decided to visit a local attraction, and I chose one receiving some attention these days. I went to visit Walden Pond.
Walden Pond is famous, of course, because Ralph Waldo Emerson owned some land on it's shore on which he allowed his young friend Henry Thoreau to erect a shanty. While he lived there, Henry wrote "A Week on the Concord and Merrimack River." It sold poorly, and the publisher returned all the unsold books to Henry, which led to one of his characteristically dry musings: "I have a library of one thousand volumes, eight hundred of which I've written myself." He then wrote a book he entitled, "Walden, or Life in the Woods," about his experiences in his shanty, which fared somewhat better.
Walden Pond lies in Concord, off route 126. It has a beach and bathhouse, and a cut bank on its western edge where railroad tracks run, and a wide path encircling the entire pond. Walking north along the shore you come to a rock cairn marking the site of Henry's cabin. It is set back away from the water, higher up in the woods. I stand here and try to envision his hut, and his bean field. I look around at the woods, and genuinely feel his presence, for I knew Henry in my youth.
Henry Thoreau had as severe a personality as New England produces. He never would have read "How to Win Friends and Influence People," indeed one of his friends once remarked, "I love Henry, but I could never like him." He was a wanderer and philosopher, as deeply embedded into his own world as one can get, walking daily across the countryside recording the mundane occurences of the forest, such as the exact dates that flowers bloomed, or the depths of the many ponds he frequented.
To borrow one of my father's phrases, he was an Odd Duck.
He never married, he never raised a fmaily. He never owned a house. He never held a job of any consequence. And he wrote a perfect book.
Today the controversy surrounds a plot of land which preservationists want to preserve. They want to preserve this land as a monument to Henry David Thoreau, who lived for two years in a nearby hut. Why they want to do this is unclear. I wonder if these people really know Henry, because if they did I can't help but think they'd see the hypocrisy in what they do. In fact, Henry even has a few words for these people, from that perfect book of his. But before I relay them, let me say this: I love Henry, but I love him as one does his first love, not the woman he marries. His was our perfect dream, our hope, our salvation - until we married, until we worked to feed little mouths, until we began paying for our own little huts, until...until we grew up. I'll always keep Henry in the fondest part of my soul, that wonderful Odd Duck and his perfect book, part of which states: "...many are concerned to know who built the monuments of the East and West. For my part, I should like to know who, in those days, did not build them, who were above such trifling."
The only monument necessary for this man is the one he wrote himself. When you read it, you understand he walked in all woods, not just Walden's. These are my thoughts as I stand by the cairn. I reach down and add another rock to the pile, and recall reading that Henry Thoreau's neighbors, after his death, were astonished at his growing reputation.
Seems they didn't know what they had in their own back yard.