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Walking in Thoreau's Footsteps at Walden Pond in 2017

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View New England - October & November 2017 on rachwells's travel map.

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"We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure..." --Henry David Thoreau

In high school (and even still), I studied and loved 19th century literature. (Yes, it is okay to call me a literary nerd. I wear the badge proudly.) Particularly, I admired the Transcendentalism movement - the poetry, the individualism, the love of nature. Ralph Waldo Emerson... Henry David Thoreau... Walt Whitman... you get the idea.

So when I started planning my first autumn trip to New England, I got very excited when I found out that Concord (which is the hometown of some of my literary heroes) is on a train line and that Walden Pond is walking distance from the center of town. And when I first saw Walden Pond from the train as I rode into town, it looked like something on a postcard - incredibly, awe-inspiringly beautiful. So, what did I do as soon as I dropped off my bags at my hotel?

I walked to Walden Pond from Concord (a two-mile distance each way) because I always prefer walking when I can, within reason. Only one problem -- I discovered that Walden Street loses sidewalk for part of the journey. I considered turning around and investigating rental car or Uber options, which seemed awfully silly and unnecessary. But, I decided to keep going on foot, and I placed myself as far to the side of the road as I could. I felt a little bit weird, as if the car drivers were looking at me funny as I walked along this small highway, hoping not to get hit by a vehicle. Luckily, after part of a mile, I gained a narrow bike path for the rest of the way.

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When I reached Walden Pond, I felt ecstatic. After a few moments of quiet contemplation by the shoreline, I hiked the trail to the site of Thoreau's cabin. Along the path, I admired the warm golden hues of the crisp autumn foliage and the whispering rustle of the leaves crunching on the ground beneath my sneakers with each new step I took. On this partially-cloudy Thursday afternoon in early November, there were not many people at Walden Pond, so the quiet beauty of this magnificent spot shined even more. It was an amazing feeling to visit such a gorgeous site and to think that I was standing in the exact spot that once inspired the famous work of one of my literary idols.

That night, in my hotel room as I read up and refreshed my memory about the life of Thoreau, I realized that there were some important lessons that I could take from this great writer's example. (Some of it I already have been doing on my own as well.) He purposely followed his own path, a little outside the norm. He lived on the outskirts of town and kept a journal to record his nature walks and deliberate contemplations about life. Why did this resonate so much with me?

I have a great life for which I'm very thankful. That said, I also think that life in the year 2017 moves at such a stressful, fast pace for so many people (including myself). It is really hard to slow down and to get perspective when there's so much to do and so many societal expectations. Modern technology and social media do a great job connecting us to friends and family, but it also can get tiring to feel pressured to be constantly available, and logged-on 24/7. It's nice to remember that some aspects of life are timeless - that nature can be a calming force, and that lessons from historical figures can have resonance in today's world.

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The next day, I visited the Concord Museum, which currently has a special exhibit about Thoreau since the year 2017 marks the 200th anniversary of his birth. Luckily, I got to hear a talk led by a local art historian, and her perspective was fascinating. She described Thoreau's two-year cabin retreat to Walden Pond as a piece of performance art. I was blown away - because it makes total sense.

When I was in high school, without knowing the exact map location of Concord or Walden Pond, I assumed that Thoreau retreated to a remote place very far away from society, but that's not the case. The town of Concord is situated 19 miles northwest of Boston. And from my own experience on the previous day, I now knew firsthand that it's actually walking distance to go from the city center in Concord down to Walden Pond (even back then). In other words, Thoreau deliberately went to the woods just outside of town so that neighbors could curiously look in on what he was doing and why he was doing it. Thoreau wanted to make a point in his own individual way about the need to slow down, follow one's own path, and appreciate nature. (It's amazing how your understanding of historical figures and events can change when you actually visit the sites where they were.)

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After admiring Thoreau's nature field notes and other writings on display at the museum, I felt inspired and decided to visit the Concord Bookshop where I bought a blank journal. I've kept many personal journals throughout my life, but this new one felt a little bit extra special. That night, I put pen to paper, and the words flowed onto the page naturally, almost faster than my hand could keep up. I reflected upon my explorations over the previous two days, and I realized that it wasn't just visiting Walden Pond that I enjoyed so much. The small town charm of Concord had enchanted me.

With a population of approximately 17,000 people (as of 2010), Concord does not have many traffic lights, so it has a classic New England small town feel, while also having enough proximity to Boston for a daily commute. Yet, in Concord, you feel like you are out in the country and you can't help but slow down to marvel because the place is just too pretty to be in a rush. I loved looking at the white church steeples, the cute small shops, the world-famous New England autumn leaves, and the grand houses that have such great character.

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Some of my other favorite experiences exploring the town -- I walked northbound on Monument Street and visited the Old Manse (which is the house where Ralph Waldo Emerson penned his famous piece "Nature" and where Nathaniel Hawthorne drew inspiration to write Mosses from an Old Manse) and the Old North Bridge (the famous location of an American Revolution battle). These two sites are right next to each other, and the nearby open fields are such a peaceful, amazing spot for a casual stroll. Earlier in the day, I also thoroughly enjoyed going to the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery where several notable literary figures like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott and Henry David Thoreau are buried at Authors Ridge. (See, literary history really is all around town in Concord.)

I can't say enough how much I enjoyed my visit to Concord and Walden Pond. Because I visited in early November, I know it is considered off-season, and I heard from some locals that at least one tourist attraction in town was closed while I was there. But, with fewer visitors around, I felt like I could really savor the quiet beauty of the town in peace. After this visit, I definitely have a much better understanding why this special place inspired so many writers. I have a feeling I definitely will come back again in the future. Until then, it is time for me to sign-off for now from this online blog journal so that I can update my paper journal...and then pick up where I left off reading a certain famous literary work written by Henry David Thoreau about a famous body of water, located just outside of town.

Posted by rachwells 06:55 Archived in USA

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Beautifully written, Rachel. I am so glad you had this experience.

by langione

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