Walden Pond: A History

Walden Pond: A History

Walden Pond: A History

Walden Pond: A History

Synopsis

Perhaps no other natural setting has as much literary, spiritual, and environmental significance for Americans as Walden Pond. Some 700,000 people visit the pond annually, and countless others journey to Walden in their mind, to contemplate the man who lived there and what the place means to us today. Here is the first history of the Massachusetts pond Thoreau made famous 150 years ago. W. Barksdale Maynard offers a lively and comprehensive account of Walden Pond from the early nineteenth century to the present. From Thoreau's first visit at age 4 in 1821--"That woodland vision for a long time made the drapery of my dreams"--to present day efforts both to conserve the pond and allow public access, Maynard captures Walden Pond's history and the role it has played in social, cultural, literary, and environmental movements in America. Along the way Maynard details the geography of the pond; Thoreau's and Emerson's experiences of Walden over their lifetimes; the development of the cult of Thoreau and the growth of the pond as a site of literary and spiritual pilgrimages; rock star Don Henley's Walden Woods Project and the much publicized battle to protect the pond from developers in the 1980s; and the vitally important ecological symbol Walden Pond has become today. Exhaustively researched, vividly written, and illustrated with historical photographs and the most detailed maps of Thoreau country yet created, Walden Pond: A History reveals the many ways an ordinary pond has come to be such an extraordinarily inspiring symbol.

Excerpt

In January 1845, Bronson Alcott bought a house in Concord, which he would name “Hillside” (today's “Wayside”). For three years it provided a stable homeplace. He had returned a year earlier from the seven-month Fruitlands experiment, where he had engaged in an abortive transcendentalist exercise in self-sufficiency in Harvard, Massachusetts. His diary for 1845 is unfortunately lost; one would like to know what reference it made to Thoreau's Walden house, an act of settling down parallel to Alcott's own. We can imagine, though, the conversations that he might have had with Thoreau: would it not be dramatic to make a public demonstration of living a primitive yet intellectual life in deliberate contrast to the bustling agrarian capitalism that surrounded them in Massachusetts?

By moving to the woods, Thoreau could explore the ancient dichotomy between rus and urbe, but this time, along a model of solitude, not socialism. As Emerson had said, “Will there not after so many social ages be now & here one lonely age? Tom Wyman at Walden Pond will be the saint & pattern of the time.” And what Emerson had defined as Concord versus Boston in his own life at Bush, his native-son disciple could rework more starkly as Walden versus Concord. Thoreau would fulfill the cherished goal articulated four years earlier—“he intends being a farmer”—and, as historian Richard Francis says, would complete the chain of transcendentalist . . .

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