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It's Not What You Expect at Walden Pond

No matter where you live, you've heard of Henry David Thoreau's Walden Pond! In the summer of 1935, 485,000 people visited Walden Pond. I’ve lived in the greater Boston area for 11 years and finally visited for the first time! I have to admit: it was nothing like I expected.

When I learned about Thoreau in high school, I envisioned his Walden Pond as very remote, surrounded by dense forests. I imagined him living the natural life in solitude for years, documenting his thoughts. So, when friends told me they visited Walden Pond in present day, I assumed they had to trudge through that dense forest before they could see the pond and his house.

Not so! Walden Pond is visible from the current road! It’s run by DCR (Department of Conservation and Recreation), so it has a bath house and a beach, and is plenty busy with recreational visitors in the summer. As you enter the visitor parking (and pay your $8), you can see Thoreau’s house—well, a replica of it. And you can see him, too—well, a statue of him. We spent some time taking a look inside. Very small and very simple, as expected. He was truly the originator of the tiny house movement!

From there we visited the visitor’s center. It is completely newly built and beautiful, and you can stop in for information and a short movie about the legacy of Thoreau. They also have excellent bathroom facilities, which is always important to know!

Then, we took off on our wike to find Thoreau’s home site where he spent two years, two months, and two days living simply in nature, thinking about life, and writing Life in the Woods. We didn’t have much time and the sky had begun to drizzle, so we took the shortest path, the Pond Path, which you can access from the right side of the beach. In total, the path is 1.7 miles around the pond; however, it’s just 0.5 miles to the Thoreau House Site. The paths are clearly marked with wire fencing to keep folks from straying; apparently they have major erosion issues, which are probably exacerbated by the many visitors.

Follow the signs to “Thoreau’s Hut”. Enjoy the views of the pond, which were quite peaceful with very few visitors when we were there. When you get to Thoreau’s cove, start looking for the small wooden bridge over the marsh. After you cross the bridge, head up the hill a bit. There you’ll see markers showing where his house stood. You can’t miss it!

There is a wooden sign with his quote: “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.” Think about it for a minute. Ask your child what she thinks it means; that should be pretty entertaining! (Wike Baby didn’t answer for some reason…) Then you can discuss the quote and his life and legacy a little bit.

The chimney from Thoreau’s original house site was excavated in 1945, and there are now stones showing the perimeter of the home. As you stand inside, put on your imagination hat and adjust your child’s. Then imagine the replica of the house, which you saw near the parking lot. Remember where the bed was, and where his desk and chair were placed. Imagine Thoreau carefully observing nature, contemplating it, and writing in his journal.

I always thought Thoreau was a loner during his time in the woods. I couldn’t imagine myself alone for two years… I didn’t realize he was less than 2 miles from his parents’ house and his mother did his laundry! He also apparently held dinner parties in his hut? Well, he certainly wasn’t a loner, and as surprising as that is, let’s consider him a student of simplicity and nature, and let’s not take away his contributions to conservation, literature, naturalism, and philosophy!

I recommend you make a day of it and explore all the way around the pond. Take a picnic, even! We didn’t have time, so we just headed back the parking lot from there. With 335 acres, I think I’ll be back for some more wiking!

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