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On a recent gloriously beautiful morning, I decided it was a good day to make my more or less annual pilgrimage to Walden Pond.

I first visited there nearly 50 years ago, when I was still in high school and had just read Thoreau’s essay on Civil Disobedience and Walden. I knew I had found a kindred spirit, and had to see the place he had made so famous.

That first visit was a bit of a disappointment.

Instead of an isolated spot deep in the woods, the pond was just off busy Route 2, and instead of gentle birdsong all I could hear was traffic. And because it was a summer weekend afternoon, cars were parked bumper-to-bumper on the side of the road for the better part of a hundred yards (there wasn’t much of a parking lot in those days) and the place was crawling with people, like so many ants.

My spirits lifted a bit when I realized most everyone was interested in the swimming area, so by the time I reached the site where Thoreau’s cabin had stood, about a half-mile away, I was pretty much alone.

I learned my lesson from that first visit. This time I went on a weekday, and I went early in the morning, while the schools were still in session.

After Thoreau left the cabin, it was sold to a farmer who carted it off into obscurity, and nature began to reclaim the spot where he had lived for two years.

During his lifetime, Thoreau was known only to a relatively small circle of intellectuals. His reputation grew only after his death, as did the popularity of Walden. People wanted to see the place.

One such person was Mary Newbury Adams who was visiting Concord in June of 1872. She asked her friend Bronson Alcott to show her the spot. It had been 25 years since Thoreau had lived there, and there were few who could remember exactly where it had stood.

Bronson Alcott (father of Louisa May) had been a lifelong friend of Thoreau’s and was one of the few who remembered, and took her there. She regretted that there wasn’t some permanent marker to mark the spot. Then she got an idea.

The took a stone from pond to mark the spot, as did Alcott.

“Let everyone who loved Thoreau add a stone,” she said, and visitors have been adding their stones ever since. In the 142 years since, a sizeable cairn has grown.

As a footnote, the foundation of the cabin was rediscovered on November 11, 1945, just a few feet away from the stone cairn, and today is marked by a rectangle of granite posts.

 

 

 

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