Two days ago I made a pilgrimage that I have been waiting to make for over 25 years. You see, I grew up in the USA, and while that meant that in general my literary education was somewhat limited to American authors, it mean that I was exposed to some writing at a very formative age (16) that had an immense effect on the adult I would grow up to be, the career that I would choose, and how I would spend my time. I went to high school in a small town in Florida, and amidst the typical backdrop of a fairly normal high school education, I had one of THOSE teachers – Mrs Kauffman for both English and Creative Writing. Mrs Kauffman said that she thought that I would like some of her favourite authors – Walt Whitman & Henry David Thoreau. (In hindsight I think it was more my tendency toward Civil Disobedience that she saw in me, rather than my future as an ecologist, but either suits me fine!) Her recommendation changed my life – and so on the morning of December 11th, my 40th birthday, I stood (with my brother and my husband who had made the trip with me) on the shore of Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts in the softly falling snow.
“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.” -HDT
We had first visited Thoreau’s grave, which is in the overwhelmingly peaceful Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Light snow was filling the air, but not sticking to the ground. I paid my respects to Henry’s grave which was surrounded by pens and pencils thrust into the earth in tribute, and then went down to Walden Pond itself.
There was a replica of HDT’s cabin which he built on the shore of Walden pond in 1845, and in which he lived for two years, largely turning his back on society. Henry was on a quest for simplicity, and the cabin, which contained a small desk, a stove, a chair and a bed, was certainly minimalist by anyone’s standards! I felt a wash of trepidation on his behalf at the thought of the cold, labour and solitude, and no small amount of envy at the same time.
It was an immense privilege to walk through the woods of pine and birch (which apparently were considerably less dense in Thoreau’s time at Walden) and to feel like I’d had a glimpse of insight into this incredible place which acted as such a catalyst to the Conservation movement. There is no wonder that it is held so dear in the heart’s of Thoreau’s fans – that people do as I have done and make the pilgrimage to Walden. Makes one come over all transcendental.
“It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see.” - HDT
So I’m back in Blighty now and happy to he home for Christmas, excited about the turning of the seasons. I have a few more blog posts coming up about my trip to the US, but in the mean time, please do have a wonderful Christmas and a peaceful, simple and fulfilling new year.