A friend who lives in the wilds of transcendentalism, in the land of Thoreau and Emerson, told me not too long ago that his daily run sometimes took him on the path that circles Walden Pond. This same friend and his older brother were with me when I visited that pond for the very first time.
Here’s what I remember. I was disappointed to find a public beach at Walden Pond. I enjoyed the stroll around the pond. I saw the marker at the site where Thoreau’s hut once stood. I think I even remember seeing the railroad tracks mentioned by Thoreau, and being surprised that they were so close to the pond and to Thoreau’s retreat — come to think of it, I remember being surprised that this symbol of blessed solitude was so close to the town of Concord itself.
But what I remember most of all was when my friend’s brother took off his shirt and shoes, then leaped with a great splash into the pond, which great splash was followed by a great scream as his foot landed on a broken beer bottle.
A broken bottle — trash — tossed into the last place in the world where trash should be tossed — tossed into the holy waters of Walden Pond.
Flash forward a few decades — plenty of time for my friend’s brother’s foot to have healed — but also plenty of time for man to do even more permanent damage to Walden and the woods around it. According to a Harvard University research team, climate change is the likely culprit in the disappearance of more than 25 percent of the flowers and plants documented by Thoreau in the mid-1800s; another 36 percent “exist there in such small numbers that their disappearance may be imminent.” According to the study, the mean temperature in Thoreau’s old neighborhood has risen more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit in the past century.
Here’s the bathing beach at Walden Pond:
Here’s what the pond and its surroundings looked like around 1900:
Thoreau declared: “In wilderness is the preservation of the world.” But Thoreau, if he still “traveled extensively” in Concord and its environs, would now have to look long and hard to find the violets, wild orchids, lilies, buttercups, anemones and wild roses once so prolific around Walden, into which waters the great philosopher and naturalist gazed long and hard in order to measure “the depth of his own nature.”