Seeking Thoreau's serenity


Photographs by AP/MICHAEL DWYER

A statue of Henry David Thoreau stands outside a replica of his cabin near the shores of Walden Pond in Concord, Mass.

CONCORD, Mass. -- Henry David Thoreau went to the woods because, as he famously put it, "I wished to live deliberately."

Two centuries after the Walden author's birth, people are still deliberately following in Thoreau's footsteps to discover Walden Pond, the little lake he immortalized.

Whether you're visiting Boston or the Berkshires, the pond and the bucolic Massachusetts town of Concord are Thoreau-ly worth a side trip. Here's why:


A retreating glacier formed it 10,000 or so years ago, but it was Thoreau -- born in Concord 200 years ago on July 12, 1817 -- who really put Walden Pond on the map. He spent two years and two months in solitude and reflection on its shores, writing Walden (the book's full title is "Walden; or, Life in the Woods), about grasping at the meaning of life by living simply and co-existing with the natural environment.

Today, Walden Pond is a popular fishing hole stocked with trout and frequented by walkers, boaters, swimmers, sunbathers and birdwatchers in warm weather. In winter, there's snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. You can wander the shaded dirt path hugging the oblong pond. At 1.7 miles, it's perfect for walkers and runners of all abilities, and its serenity provides a spectacular backdrop for foliage in autumn.

A can't-miss attraction on Walden Pond State Reservation is the reconstruction of the tiny wooden cabin where Thoreau lived and worked. There's also a gleaming new solar-powered visitor center that opened last October, featuring interactive exhibits about the man considered a founder of the modern environmental movement. Officials say the pond and center draw about a half-million visitors from around the globe each year.


Thoreau made a big splash at Walden Pond.

Working at a simple green desk in the cabin he built, the former schoolteacher completed Walden in 1854. Now, 163 years later, it's a classic known for lines such as, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation," and, "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

But Thoreau was many things -- philosopher, naturalist, transcendentalist, abolitionist, early climate change advocate -- and he wrote other acclaimed works, including "Civil Disobedience," an 1849 essay in which he agitated against slavery and government overreach.

If You Go:

WALDEN POND: Located in Concord, Mass.; mass.gov or (978) 369-3254. Open daily year-round; hours vary by season.

GETTING THERE: Walden Pond State Reservation is most easily accessible by car. Parking is $15 for out-of-state license plates, $8 for Massachusetts plates. From Boston, you can ride the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority commuter rail (Fitchburg line) to the Concord stop; then take a taxi or Uber to the pond. Admission to the reservation and visitor center is free.

TIPS: Dogs, fires and camping aren't allowed. Only boats with electric motors are permitted on the pond.

Travel on 09/03/2017

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