“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
These are the words of famous American author, philosopher, and poet Henry David Thoreau who lived in the mid-nineteenth century during turbulent times in American history. He said he was born “in the nick of time” in Concord, Massachusetts, during the flowering of America when the transcendental ideas were taking root in many countries in Europe and when the anti-slavery movement was rapidly gaining momentum in America. Thoreau is best known for his book Walden which contains personal reflections about simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay “Civil Disobedience” (originally published as “Resistance to Civil Government”), an argument for disobedience to an unjust state.
A careful reading of Walden indicates that as a naturalist, Thoreau understood that the path to a greater understanding of our life on earth is through an understanding of the natural world around us and of which we are part:
“We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and Titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thunder cloud, and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces freshets. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.” — “I suppose that what in other men is religion is in me love of nature.”
Starting from the summer of 1845, Henry David Thoreau lived for two years, two months, and two days by Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts which is located around 20 minutes drive from the place where I currently live in Watertown, Boston. The pond and reservation are located to the south of state highway MA-2 / MA-2A. Highway MA-126 passes through the reservation. The Fitchburg Line of the MBTA Commuter Rail passes west of the pond; however, the nearest station is in Concord center, 1.4 miles northwest of the reservation.
Walden Pond was on my bucket-list for many years (since I read Walden and watched Sean Penn’s masterpiece movie “Into the Wild”) and finally last weekend I was able to hitch a ride to spend a sunny, tranquil, and lazy afternoon at that beautiful location.
Walden Pond and its surrounding area is home to many species of marine life, birds, plants, and insects. In addition to being a popular swimming destination in the summer, Walden Pond State Reservation provides opportunities for boating, hiking, picnicking, and fishing.
Thoreau’s time in Walden Woods became a model of deliberate and ethical living. His words and deeds continue to inspire millions around the world (me included) who seek solutions to critical environmental and societal challenges.
There is one passage which is perhaps the most famous in Walden where Thoreau summarizes, in memorable prose, why he chooses to spend the time he does living by Walden Pond. He says he wants to learn what life really is about, unmediated by all the busyness and consumer goods that screen us from life’s essential core.
Only by having a deep connection with nature, Thoreau asserts, we can be sure that we are actually living, and not simply existing or sleepwalking through a life someone else has devised for us.
The passage is worth quoting at length. Thoreau writes:
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. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.