Walden Revisited

There are magical places on the planet. Not everyone perceives the magic of a place at the same time, and some places are not magical for everyone, but that doesn’t mean that that particular place isn’t magical; just that perhaps it’s not magical for you. Places such as the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls are awe inspiring due to their beauty and the romantic stories that have grown up around them over the last century and a half. Macchu Picchu and the Pyramids of Egypt remind us of the ancients, and for some they act as transmitters, allowing visitors to communicate verbally and non-verbally with those that have crossed over. The Camino de Santiago in France and Spain lies along ley lines of energy, and it is said that pilgrims who endure the walk across northern Spain are assured of a spiritual experience. For John Muir, Yosemite was his great awakening place. The list is exhaustive and eclectic, and it’s my hope to visit as many of the commonly held magical places as I can before I choose to cross over. This past weekend I had such an opportunity.

Walden Pond, August 2015

Walden Pond, August 2015

From Thursday, July 30th through Sunday, August 1st my wife and I camped at the Boston Minuteman Campground in Littleton, MA, the closest campground we could find to our real target destinations, the city of Concord, and Walden Pond. Both Concord and Walden are magical places for those who are seeking their kind of magic. Nancy and I, both fans of great thinkers, made our pilgrimage of sorts to visit and revisit sites that we had seen or missed a few years ago on our first venture into the area. Concord was once home to some of the greatest minds that America has ever seen: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, the Alcott family, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller and others. Much of their legacy is still preserved about town and is the principal source of tourism in the area. Nancy and I toured the Concord Museum and saw Thoreau’s writing desk on which he penned his enduring classic, Walden. We saw Emerson’s study preserved as it was when he used it. We toured the Emerson House and the Old Manse, houses that both Emerson and Hawthorne inhabited and wrote Nature and Mosses from an Old Manse respectively in. And we hiked up to Author’s Ridge in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and visited the graves of Emerson, Thoreau, the Alcotts, sculptor Daniel Chester French, and poet William Ellery Channing. The magic of Concord and the voices still whispering to be heard are deafening and hard to miss if you’re paying attention. I’m not prepared to say at this point what the trip meant to me spiritually, but being immersed in the energy of such great, artistic, and progressive minds is overwhelming and I’m still in the afterglow of being near where they lived and worked.

On Sunday, August 1st, Nancy and I had a much longed-for brunch at the Concord Colonial Inn and then headed off for the day into the magic that is Walden Pond. When last we visited a few years ago, Walden was practically a deserted place. This time, during swimming season, it was teeming with people wading, swimming, hiking, reading, and having all forms of summer fun. In fact, it was so overrun that twice while we were there the park service actually closed the park gates from further visitation. For many of the folks there I would guess Walden was not so much a spiritual place as a recreational one. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s hard to see the magic of a place when you live in its shadow every day. Nancy and I hiked the quarter mile around the lake to the site of Thoreau’s cabin and, while there were still sunbathers, the population was quiet and much less numerous. Many other pilgrims have trucked it out to the site, and piled stone markers—some with inscriptions, some not—were aplenty as reminders of what his writing and his life have meant to the world. In the shadow of the site we sat on the shore, waded our feet, took photos, took a little water, and listened to the sounds of nature. The clouds, according to Nancy, were so perfect they almost looked painted in the sky. Walden Pond, populated or not, could still reveal its magic. All we had to do was stop, look, and listen.

On the way home from Massachusetts, Nancy and I discussed the magnificent weekend we had: sitting by the campfire, visiting the homes and graves of great men and women, eating delicious meals, wading in the shadow of Thoreau’s experiment in self-reliance. (We also toured Boston and Quincy and saw the Adams family properties, but that’s a conversation for another day.) We couldn’t decide fully what our trip had meant. I had pressed for it, but even I wasn’t sure what I hoped to achieve by it. All I had known was that I’d been in a very stressful and uncertain place in my life and my heart told me to go back to Walden, to Concord, to look for answers. A week later I’m still waiting for definite answers to some of my life’s questions, but I do feel strengthened by my memories of visiting two such magical places, and that might be just enough to get me through. But whatever the perceived lasting benefit, no time spent in a magical place of your own choosing is ever wasted. It will change you.

What magical place is calling you?


Wading in the shores of Walden Pond.

Wading in the shores of Walden Pond.

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