Walden’s Still Got It
Walden Pond continues to be a destination for people looking to escape civilization
It’s been over 150 years since Henry David Thoreau walked the shores of Walden Pond. Today, Thoreau’s old stomping ground is largely as it was back then, but with more visitors and a parking lot a few hundred yards from the shore. The natural beauty of the space and its seclusion from civilization attracted the young transcendentalist whose two-year experiment living in a cabin on the grounds led to the creation of his best-known book, “Walden; or Life in the Wood.” Today, it’s unclear if the visitors at Walden Pond pull off the road in Concord searching for similar revelations about the capacity for inner growth in solitude. Either way, Walden Pond continues to offer its visitors an escape.
Walden Pond is just a 20-minute drive from Brandeis, and it’s a frequent excursion for students looking for an off-campus adventure. Last Sunday, as cars began to fill the parking lot and parents bundled up children in puffy jackets, Terri Dannis, an accountant who works at Northwestern Mutual in Boston, made his way along the shores of Walden Pond, stopping every few hundred feet to look out at the frozen expanse of water. “I try to come here once a month,” he said, brushing snow off his boots. “I never really got into Thoreau and all of that, but this place is special all on its own,” he said. “You can’t hear the traffic from the road and sometimes there aren’t even any people and you’re all alone. It’s one of the few places of its kind.” Dannis grew up in rural Vermont, and says that while he loves living in Boston, he craves the natural landscapes from his childhood.
While Danis had hoped the snow would discourage visitors, he thinks last weekend was the most crowded Walden has been in months. “I guess all these parents thought it would be fun to take their kids out in the snow,” he grumbled, half-jokingly. But kids were not the only ones coming to play in the snow that day. Andrew Yan ’20, a computer science and math double-major at Brandeis, came to the pond to “get lost.” Sitting on the train tracks which run along the pond and near Thoreau’s cabin, Yan rested awkwardly on the icy rails. “You got the water, the sands, the trees, and even the train tracks that represent a quintessential New England scene,” he said. He lamented that he has only made the 20-minute drive off campus twice. While he’s always visited Walden with friends, it’s solitude that Yan seeks here. “From watching the golden leaves falling down the trail, to stepping on the soft snow on the beach … I just keep asking myself, ‘Where am I’?”
Soon, the sounds of a horn and a train rattling on the tracks rippled across the pond. Yan got up from his perch on the tracks and ran toward a trail that snakes along the perimeter of the pond. A child in a red jacket shouted “look!” and pointed his small hand in the direction of the train. For a brief moment, the stillness of the landscape was interrupted.
Back at the visitor’s center, Mary Casterlan, a mother of two and a social worker in Newton had just led her children through an exhibit on Thoreau’s life at Walden. “The kids just love it here, and it gets them off their iPads,” she explained. Casterlan said she was concerned about the amount of homework her children have and how little time they spend playing outdoors. “When I was a kid we either read books, played with dolls, or went outside,” she said. But it’s not all about the children: Caserlan loves walking around the pond with her husband, Jack. “He’s a big nature guy. It’s nice to see him in his element,” she said.
By 4 p.m., the sun had almost set and most of the visitors had left. Dannis was among the last to get to his car, which he inspected for a parking ticet. Before driving away, he rolled down his window and said, “Today was kinda perfect. I get why all these people come here, just don’t interview people when it gets dark,” he chuckled, and rolled away.