Missing Walden


I drove past Walden a few days ago. I was on my way home from the post office. My dog was sitting quietly in the back seat, her eyelids dreamily closing as she was lulled by the motion of the car. I didn’t stop but I did slow down to steal a glance at the pond. My gut tightened and a short gasp unexpectedly escaped from my throat. Before I had driven two hundred yards down the road a tear had started to form in the corner of my eye. I have been missing Walden and I didn’t even realize it.
The weather in Boston has been unseasonably cold and the sun has hardly made enough of an appearance to encourage me to make time to schedule a visit. One glance at the tranquil pool of green blue water and I immediately wanted to be sitting on the sand, my head in my hands and I would have been crying
I would have been crying, I repeated to myself.

I have not been back to Walden since my early season dips into the pond a couple of weeks ago. Each day I check to see updates on the weather and it seems impossible. Last week the overnight temperatures dipped into the 30’s. Surely unseasonable for May! “It’s more like April weather” a friend replies when I remark how happy I am to see that the newly planted grass seed is slowly making its way through the soil, “and the sky has patches of blue… and we did see the sun for a little bit this morning,” I add trying to make the most of the predominantly grey days lately.
I am not alone then in my frustration over the slow arrival of spring.

In a couple of weeks the ropes and floaters will appear on the main beach at Walden. And over the Memorial Day weekend they will take their place standing sentinel in the water off the main shore and Red Cross Beach.
Each fall I vow I will start swimming early so I can enjoy the freedom of swimming without the ropes wherever I please, which usually means in the springtime, close to shore where open water swimming is banned once the ‘season’ begins. But this year the vagaries of the weather have not made it possible.
So I am left stealing a glance from the drivers seat of my car, wishing and wondering when the weather will do us all the turn we wait for and deliver the warmth of a spring day lit with sunshine, heralded by a chorus of birdsong.



A Revelation in Change

Before I can get as far as the pond I am distracted by the stacks of logs, some perhaps three feet in diameter and the enormous pile of wood chips that occupy the far corner of the parking lot. A feeling of loss wedges itself in my gut and I wonder how it is I never realized just how immense the trees, now felled, are. How many years it would have taken for their trunks to become so perfectly round and thick that I could not clasp them within my outstretched arms? How many summers of sun and heat, and winters enduring cold and snow passed, while all the time they stood erect with their branches reaching for the sky?


The wooded area isolating the bathrooms from the rangers cottage and the barn has disappeared. It is as if the earth has opened up and the forest been swallowed by it, revealing how close the three buildings really are. Previously they were, in my mind anyway, quite distinct from one another.


At one end of the roped off area a plastic covered sheet has been pinned onto a wooden post. Although it is flapping in the breeze I can see both writing and colored photos have been printed on it. I wander over to read it.


I am immediately relieved. Someone understands the loss wedged in my gut.

“Trees…. sadly sometimes come into direct conflict with our need to improve the health and safety of visitors.”

The notice continues to inform me that the red oak will be used to construct flooring and furniture for the new visitors center at Walden Pond.

I think about the change in form that these trees are undergoing, how they will be returned to Walden not as towering branches swaying over my head but as smoothed and polished floor boards bearing the weight of all that has come and gone inside me over the years I failed to really notice them.


I think of my daughter. How last September her form changed from one of being a spirit, a soul housed in the body of a young woman to the pure light that shines down on me, to the heavy air that wafts around me when I see and sense with eyes that are not restricted to understanding just what is physically present. How in the transformation from her human form she was freed into an eternity of love.

As I walk away, I take a closer look at where the earth has been churned and the dirt heaved up in untidy mounds. Somehow it looks different and inside me the weight of loss has lightened and is replaced by a sense of peace and acceptance.

In Search of Solitude at Walden


Now the water is back I find myself drawn to Walden. Every day I want to be there. Mostly to wander aimlessly through the woods and stare at the pond through tree trunks and stick branches that belie Spring is really here. The water, at forty degrees, is still too cold for me to venture in.

There is a sadness though, for every visit I make…on weekend days or late in the afternoon when the big yellow cats are stilled, or earlier in the day hearing their loud drowning voices I avoid them and head into the woods away from where they work… there are more felled trees, more cyclone fences, more changes. On Tuesday I arrived wanting to use the bathroom. For as many years as I remember, Walden’s bathroom block (not much more than that), has boasted a Clivus Composting system. The small wooden shack which housed it had been closed and the replacement port-a-johns were still being unloaded off a truck and wedged into a far corner of one of the two parking lots which remain accessible. A temporary measure, the young DCR worker assured me, adding he hoped the upheaval would not deter from my love of the place.
His manner was kind and sincere. Transition, change. It is Spring after all.


These, I know, are the beginnings of a season of changes at Walden. A septic system, the construction of a new visitors center to replace the tiny ranger quarters which currently lends space to the Thoreau Society’s shop and a small gallery where various exhibits relating to the historical significance of Walden can be viewed. Thousands of visitors come to Walden each year primarily for this reason.


But for me, I find peace and solitude sitting on a fallen tree on the hill overlooking the pond and the distant beach house. Walking briskly away from the signs of change I pass the site of Thoreau’s cottage in the woods, stopping breathless and in awe of the loud ringing of frogs in the marshy area known as Wymans Meadow. Frogs and insects reminding me that winter has truly gone for another year. Birds chirping are a backdrop as I head further into the woods.

It is magic sitting perched up on the hill reading, overlooking all of what drew Thoreau to this place, understanding so little of it, except it draws me too.


When the summer truly comes and picnickers throng to the beach and I hunger again for solitude, I will retreat even further into Walden, into the middle of the pond and the deep water that awakens my soul and all the memories Walden holds.

Despite All This

Sometimes when I want to silence the crying inside my head I go to Walden. It is the still white layer upon layer of snow, which hides Walden from me, which hides me from my world.
I walk, hands in pockets to keep out the cold, eyes downturned to keep out the sun, feet gingerly feeling for ice to keep safe, until I find a place to sit and stare.

Walden is near deserted when I arrive, and if I see someone (and often I see someone) I know, I turn the other way, or retreat behind the hood of my coat, or the dark lens of my glasses, and stop, as if by stopping it will camouflage me. Woman in burgundy coat against white snow and ice.

So I sit and think of nothing. Despite it being five and a half months since my daughter left me for the other side, despite my truly believing she is free and happy and dancing like she couldn’t dance in her body, despite knowing she is there, everywhere, and that she comes to me, in dreams and in her own time and way. Despite all this, it sometimes feels unbearable.

As if it was just yesterday I said good bye.