Friday, April 22, 2016

Earth Day 2016 - April 22nd


Earth from Space with Stars

Photo courtesy of DonkeyHotey Flickr Page: https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/6143809369




The old button from the Environmental Club days which I just happened to find on Earth Day! It is a little beat up (particularly the ends of the ribbon), but no worse for the wear, I think. And it is one of the few items that I have left from those days, so it carries a lot of great memories for me! Nothing Changes Until You Do!



Here is a picture of a very similar logo, with the same message, that was on the t-shirt that I purchased from the BCC Environmental Club and, if memory serves me correctly, may even have helped to make. There were a few projects like that which club members, myself included, were regularly involved with. It has been so long, however, that I no longer recall specifically if I actually helped to make these or not, although I do believe so, since I remember seeing the process of the t-shirts being dyed. In any case, I loved this t-shirt, and have kept it ever since, even if I do not regularly wear it. Since it was part of my experience with the BCC Environmental Club days, as well as more generally having an environmental theme, it seemed appropriate to share it here. 



"Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not every man's gred."

~Mahatma Gandhi


"Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future."
  
~John F. Kennedy  




“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. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”   
~Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods


"Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human beings and all other living creatures."
~Senator Gaylord Nelson, Founder of Earth Day



Okay, so, this year, I wanted to take a more active approach with writing in this blog in anticipation of Earth Day 2015. So, I was hoping that there would be a series of blog entries relating to environmental issues, and promoting the raising of environmental awareness to the extent possible.

One of the posts for Earth Day that has become more or less a tradition is this one. This is a post that incorporates the history of Earth Day with the words of both Henry David Thoreau, long considered the father of the modern environmental movement, as well as the words of Senator Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day.



Earth Day Has a Fascinating History  Added by Charles Bordeau on April 18, 2015:






It has become a nice springtime tradition, this Earth Day. It recognizes the need to see beyond the limitations of our society, of our global culture, and to appreciate the system of life that has been supported on this planet long before we human beings came around, and surely will continue to support life long after we are gone.

The first Earth Day that I specifically remember personally was in 1990. It was the first time that it was seemingly a big deal on the radio, and all of that kind of thing. Either it received more publicity that year than it had before, or I paid attention to it that year, and had never done so before (I was only fourteen, so cut me some slack).

It was a memorable day, although it was not with an environmental theme, particularly. We went to see a soccer game, or what passed for a professional soccer game at the time. it was the New Jersey Eagles, and they played in Jersey City, right across the river from Manhattan. It was hot that day - amazingly hot. I got a sunburn. But it was an enjoyable day. After the game, we went to the edge of the Hudson, and enjoyed the view of Manhattan, as well as Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, each of which were close.

Yes, that was the first Earth Day that I can specifically remember, but, obviously, not the last.

In fact, a few years later, as a part of the Environmental Club for Bergen Community College, my involvement in actually helping to set up Earth Day events went up dramatically.  This was particularly true for Earth Day in 1995, when I was President of the Environmental Club.


HENRY DAVID THOREAU

"As the pioneer of the American environmental movement, Thoreau brought the concept of conservation into the public consciousness. Cautioning mankind to be a vigilant custodian of the earth, he called for humanity  to embrace nature for spiritual renewal and urged his contemporaries to find fulfillment in the simplicity of the natural world, saying, "A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone."

 “It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see.”
~Henry David Thoreau


"I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
~Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods


“Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.”
~Henry David Thoreau


“What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.”
~Henry David Thoreau


~Senator Gaylord Nelson, 1970




“The fault lies not in the science and technology as such but in the sense of values of the contemporary world which ignores the rights of others.”
~Indira Gandhi, 1972


"To those who would neglect our schools, our colleges, and public welfare activities and institutions, our highways and conservation resources, I say this—we spend more money on cigarettes, liquor, cosmetics and other luxuries than the total cost of our state government."
~Senator Gaylord Nelson, Founder of Earth Day






“The wealth of the nation is its air, water, soil, forests, minerals, rivers, lakes, oceans, scenic beauty, wildlife habitats and biodiversity… that’s all there is. That’s the whole economy. That’s where all the economic activity and jobs come from. These biological systems are the sustaining wealth of the world.”
~Senator Gaylord Nelson, Founder of Earth Day


"Some people who talk about the environment talk about it as though it involved only a question of clean air and clean water. The environment involves the whole broad spectrum of man's relationship to all other living creatures, including other human beings. It involves the environment in its broadest and deepest sense. It involves the environment of the ghetto which is the worst environment, where the worst pollution, the worst noise, the worst housing, the worst situation in this country -- that has to be a critical part of our concern and consideration in talking and cleaning up the environment."
~Senator Gaylord Nelson, Founder of Earth Day


“Be yourself- not your idea of what you think somebody else's idea of yourself should be.”
~Henry David Thoreau


"Earth Day achieved what I had hoped for and then some. The purpose of Earth Day was to get a nationwide demonstration of concern for the environment so large that it would shake the political establishment out of its lethargy and, finally, force this issue permanently into the political arena. Having criss-crossed the nation speaking on environmental issues during the previous eight or nine years it was dear to me that the public was far ahead of the politicians and given an opportunity they would demonstrate their interest. It was a gamble but it worked. It got the attention of the politicians. An estimated twenty million people participated in peaceful demonstrations all across the country. Ten thousand schools, two thousand colleges and one thousand communities were involved.

It was truly an astonishing grassroots explosion. For the first time people were given the opportunity to demonstrate their deep concern about what was happening in their own communities and across the nation--polluted air, rivers, lakes and oceans; health threatening hazardous wastes; urban blight; pesticide and herbicide poisoning of people, plants, birds and animals; the destruction of scenic beauty and wildlife habitats. All of this swirling around them and the politicians didn't seem to know, understand or care. But the people cared and Earth Day became the first opportunity they ever had to join in a nationwide demonstration to send a big message to the politicians--a message to tell them to wake up and do something."
~Senator Gaylord Nelson, Founder of Earth Day





Article Review" Thoreau's On The Duty Of Civil Disobedience (published on "The Charbor Chronicles" 9/11/12):


On The Duty Of Civil Disobedience

This famous essay was attached to my copy of the book, and it is fitting. Along with Walden, it is the most famous of Thoreau's works, having influenced Tolstoy, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr., and helped to provide a spark of influence for both the movement for Indian independence, as well as the Civil Rights movement, both of which were nonviolent in nature.

This is a piece that should be seen, rightly, as a companion piece to Walden, since Thoreau wrote this during his time at Walden, after having spend a night in jail.

In many respects, it is in the same spirit of withdrawal from the power of society that Walden has, only this more specifically addresses the crime of institutionalized slavery, which itself was legal at the time (in some states).

Thoreau talks of the need to stand up to injustice (it is not called "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience for nothing, after all) where one finds it, and that when the power of government is utilized to justify or reinforce something that we know is wrong, then it is our responsibility to stand up to that wrong, because moral right is on our side.

He does not restrict injustice to slavery alone, but also rails against the unjust Mexican War (which was then often disparagingly referred to as Mr. Polk's War, after President Polk, who largely initiated it), and he describes how these actions, and the power of the government behind them, were actually reminiscent of the abusive and tyrannical power of the British Empire that the colonists fought for independence against.

Thoreau also mentions, in some detail, a night that he spent in jail, during which he speaks as if he were the one that was free within the jail cells, and those on the outside, unbeknownst to them, were the real prisoners, although they may have been unaware of it. Thoreau speaks of Concord during that night that he spent in jail, and how it was all very different. He paid attention to noises that he had never quite paid attention to before, including the sounds of passing traffic on the roadway, and he could recognize the relation between this town and an Old World town during the days of feudalism, with the residents like peasants tied to the land. He famously says that in any society that imprisons people unjustly, the just place for a man is behind bars.

This piece was published after his death, but the power of the message carried Thoreau to a fame, and even perhaps some measure of immortality, following his actual death. The essay grew in popularity, and within a few years of it's widespread circulation, the term "civil disobedience" became a commonplace expression, as it has largely been ever since.

It is also here that Thoreau famously said, "That government is best that governs not at all."

Thoreau wrote this essay during the time when he was staying in the woods at Walden, and since it, along with Walden, constitutes his most famous work, they are often viewed as companion pieces.

Article Review" Thoreau's On The Duty Of Civil Disobedience




Book Review: Henry David Thoreau's Walden (published on "The Charbor Chronicles 9/10/12)


Walden

So, yes, I finally read Henry David Thoreau's Walden. For a long time, I had read numerous quotes from Thoreau's works, including quite a number from this, his most famous book.

But this time, I finally read the book itself, from cover to cover (and it included a copy of his famous essay on Civil Disobedience). I started it while on a recent visit to Walden itself, something that had always been a dream of mine, but which had never happened before.

The thing is, this book has obviously been read already by so many. What could I possibly say about it that has not been said already? How to go about with a review of a book that was published almost160 years ago, especially one that has been dissected by so many people, and which has proven to be such a strong influence for so many people, literally numbering in the millions? This is a work that, along with it's counterpoint, commonly known as Civil Disobedience, proved so highly influential, including to such notables as Tolstoy, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.? What can I possibly bring to the argument, or anyone's reading of this work?

Not much, perhaps. But having read it and been influenced (and yes, surprised) by it myself, I figured it was worth a shot. Who could it hurt, anyway?

It has a certain timeless quality to it, and a strong measure of serenity, as well. Once you have been to Walden, and you read the book, you cannot help but think of these woods, and imagine Thoreau going about his daily business within it, fishing in the waters, walking along it's paths, breathing in it's air.

But this is not a book that I would describe as an easy read by any stretch. This was not the first, or the second, or even the third try for me. I am not entirely sure how many times that I had actually tried to read the work before, but there were numerous times, and never had these efforts met with success before. Not sure what was different this time. Maybe it was the moment, that almost spiritual moment, while visiting Walden on such a pleasant, sunny, summer's morning, with the sun shining down, and the pond shimmering, keeping good company while I walked along it's shores. Maybe it was maturity. Probably it was both, and maybe it was something else, as well. Maybe it was just time, because I needed it at this moment in my life, having gone through some things, and needing some measure of guidance that the book could provide.

There were a few reasons for the rather extreme delay, and I don't think it would behoove you to go into detail over any of them. However, sufficed to say, I was familiar with many quotes from Thoreau's written works, and so thought myself more or less familiar with his writings and his way of thinking, his approach towards the wilderness, or at least towards Walden, in particular.

But I was wrong. This book was actually a bit different than anything that I expected, truth be told.

Of course, not all of it came as a shock, or anything. I have long known that Thoreau went out to the woods in order to live in the midst nature, and to appreciate it in a manner that was rather unique among whites living in the middle of the nineteenth century, the way that Thoreau did.

That said, it should be noted, and this is not a minor point, that the natives who were here before us had a much greater appreciation for, and respect or even reverence of, nature. I don't think that it's a stretch to think that Thoreau might have been influenced more than a little bit by the natives approach towards living at peace with nature.

But it was the first time that someone from our modern culture really stopped in his tracks in order to think about where we were (and still are, because his arguments and criticisms of society in general are likely far truer of our modern society now than they were even back in his day). He overcame the general fear and distrust of nature that existed up to that point, the need to dominate, to subject it to our desire to dominate, our need to transform it to our liking. Perhaps to make it more productive, or profitable.

What he did that was unique was voice the opinion, to a modern audience, to leave it alone just for it's own sake. Again, natives had said this many times, but Thoreau voiced this opinion from within our culture, and in that, he was the first.

So, what surprised me about the book? Well, early on, he mentions something that seems actually quite relevant in the present - again, perhaps even more relevant in the present age than when it was written, back in Thoreau's day. That was the part when he focuses on indebtedness, and borrowing money in order to spend it to obtain things (mostly physical property, or land, but not necessarily restricted to it, as he also mentioned, specifically, clothes). He spoke about the tendency to borrow money systematically to buy things, and makes the point that what you "own" is not really "yours" until you actually have worked enough to have earned the money to pay for it.

Another element that surprised me when I first found out about it (although I knew about it before actually reading the book this time around) is to what extent Thoreau did not simply go out into the middle of the woods and live entirely under his own power. In fact, he has been criticized for this, and it is not a minor bone of contention, since he often seems to suggest that this is largely what he did. Yet, he enjoyed evenings out in the town of Concord with friends during his time at Walden, when the impression often times has been that of a complete withdrawal from society. In fact, he regularly saw others, and did not exactly retreat from their company. He was hardly what anyone would have called a true hermit, or anything, although what he did made him unique, and the book itself would go on to achieve a measure of immortality based upon the quality of the thoughts expressed, and not strictly as some kind of documentation of his actual actions and documentation of his exact style of life during these times. He lived close to Concord itself, which is within easy walking distance of the site of Walden Pond and Walden Woods, where Thoreau stayed (it is only a couple of miles, really).

Mostly, the idea of being able to step back a bit from the hustle and bustle that our modern lives demand is what this book tries to awaken the reader to. Taking a different approach, and understanding that there are other, perhaps higher, priorities in life, and that a different approach like this has some value. Being able to reflect, and indeed criticize, the society at large, and to understand how it (we might call it these days a consumer culture) is in fact consuming literally everything. Thoreau's emphasis on the nature, on the woods at Walden, are literally a testament to those woods, but symbolically, it is the "wildness", so to speak, within us (probably on both an individual and a societal level), that also needs to be preserved. The notion that these things have quality and are worth examining on their own was not exactly an accepted, let alone a popular, notion at the time, however much they may be glorified nowadays.

I would have added quotes but, knowing how liberally some people tend to use quotes from this book (and with strong justification, for that matter!), I thought that maybe it would be good to take a different approach in this review. It would be all too easy to buttress my own arguments, or thoughts, or personal philosophy, or what have you, with some of his own quotes, and perhaps would have lent them some credibility. I will admit, this was initially what I was going to do. However, it began to feel more formulaic than anything, so the focus became about a review, rather than a testament to the book, or some kind of personal monument or tribute. Maybe, some time in the future, I will indeed do something with it, and use some of my favorite quotes in the process. But for the purposes of this review, it seemed more direct just to give my impressions of the work, and how it affected me in real terms, rather than employ some breathy moments of supposed inspiration by using some powerful quotes that I read (or perhaps, misread). This has been a more honest review, and I am actually glad for it.

Now, to be fair, I must say that, technically, I may have read this book, or at least huge chunks of the actual book, without fully being aware of it. But that happened back in high school and, thus, really does not count, since I really barely paid it any attention (there was little that I did pay attention to back then, frankly), and so that hardly counts. I must say that this time, attention was paid. And so, if you have tried to read this work, and struggled to get through it, try not to get overly discouraged. It is not an easy work, especially for us now, in the 21st century. We are taught, implicitly, to rush through things, to get them done, and hopefully, to maximize their effects. Thoreau took an entirely different approach, and this is reflected in his writing style. It requires us to read it carefully, to pause and think about some of the quotes within, and to understand what vantage point he was taking. It is not a book that you can simply plow through and get what you are supposed to get out of that. That would be a true of some of my favorite authors, such as Stephen King, who has an amazing writing style in his own right. But we need to read Thoreau quite a bit differently. He almost demands it of us.

So, if you have had difficulty with this work and really want to read it (like me), then my advice is to take your time with it, but not so much time that you put it down to softly reflect on a point, perhaps closing your eyes to focus on a specific point or passage in the book, and then never to pick up the book again, or perhaps to awake yourself by the sounds of your own snoring, and to find saliva dribbling down your cheek. This is an incredible work, and there really are some treasures to be found within, that can truly be appreciated by reading the book through entirely, and not merely being acquainted with some of the more famous quotes and passages (although these have a good quality, as well). Just stick with it, and eventually, you will find that the pace of your progress just might surprise you.










A Journal On Thoreau (published in "The Charbor Chronicles" on 9/6/12):

I picked this date to begin some posts about the town of Concord, Massachusetts in general, and Henry David Thoreau.in particular.  You see, on this date, the 6th of September, way back in 1847, Thoreau left Walden Woods after two years, two months, and two days. He wrote his two most famous works during that stretch of time - Walden, and On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.

He was a writer of modest success during his own lifetime, but seemed unable to escape from out of the shadow of the much more famous Ralph Waldo Emerson. But that was not to last, as things worked out. Yes, he seemed to be Emerson's student, on many levels, and worked for him at times. it seemed that his writings were in the mold of Emerson, and did not enjoy anywhere near the success that Emerson's work had during this time period.

In time, however, that would change. Thoreau's writings became more and more popular, as it gained more of an audience following his death. His writings appealed to many people - including those looking to change the world through nonviolent protest, as well as environmentalists and conservationists. But this newfound success, and a large reversal of his previous image, came largely after his death. He himself was not alive to see it. Yet, through his writings, and the power of his thought, he still lives, on some level.

They remain largely immortalized even to the present era, where his solitary voice in he wilderness would prove remarkably relevant, and seemed even prophetic. it's almost as if he knew exactly what lay ahead, and was warning us in the present the greater part of two centuries after he wrote them.

So begins a series of blog entries on Thoreau and some somewhat loosely related areas, as well as the town of Concord (Massachusetts) in which he lived, and roamed the woods freely until he died. I will write about my own recent experiences at Walden Woods, where Thoreau wrote his most famous work, and which itself was the subject matter. It seemed like a crazy idea at the time, yet this catapulted him to literary immortality. I will write a review on Walden, as well as Heaven Is Under Our Feet, which is a book with a compilation of contributing authors coming together to honor not just Thoreau's writings and legacy, but to actually save Walden Woods, which was under threat of being developed, and modern civilization seemed to be on the verge of moving forward. Also, I will review a book on Concord itself, and maybe, just maybe, write a bit more on this man, of whom I am proud, personally. Finally, I will write a piece about my own recent visit to Concord and Walden - although it should be noted, that I will not necessarily be doing all of this in the order that I just stated.





My Trip To Walden (published on "The Charbor Chronicles" on 9/7/12):


I already had my excuse lined up, just in case I woke up to the tapping on driver's side window by an officer of the law. I would tell him that I had been in the area, had been looking for a hotel or some kind of a place to stay, and was surprised to find nothing. After a while, I was simply too tired to go on, and just had to stop. That was the responsible thing, right? Right!?
I saw the gas station there in the dark, but only the second time around. It was so dark, that my eyes had not caught it the first time around. Even the second pass, I almost passed it by without noticing it.
What was the worst that he could do after that? Send me away? Give me a ticket, even, perhaps?
Sure, there was a risk, but I thought it was worth it. After all, what were the chances that somebody would find me there, in perhaps the one place in the immediate area where cars were expected to be parked overnight?
So, I pulled into the darkened service station. It was deliciously dark, and seemed promising. It was a little unnerving, admittedly, when the motion sensor lights came on, but I continued on. What choice did I have?
There was a spot open between a car, and a bigger truck, that would have blocked the car from view by the nearby road, which was tempting. But as I was looking, I noticed a much darker area behind the station, with more spaces to park. Obviously, this deserved more of my attention, and so that is what I gave it.
Much like the entire area, it was very dark. There were no city lights to be seen. No lights from a mall or din from a nearby highway. Nope, none of that. This place felt truly like the countryside, like the middle of nowhere. During my search for a decent, adequate place to sleep, it seemed that I was in the middle of a mixture of woods and darkened farm fields. The area was too modern to be reminiscent of the days when Thoreau and Emerson graced the local area with their presence, yet for someone from suburban New Jersey, this was incredibly quiet. A few cars passed on the road, maybe at the rate of two or three every fifteen or so minutes. Maybe. But I was hoping that I would not be awake to count just how many cars passed by in the later hours in the middle of the night. Fatigue was quickly overtaking me, and I really did need to close my eyes and get some sleep.
And sleep I did. It was a bit awkward at first, and every car that passed surely must be the cop that would investigate the lot for some intruder like me. At one point, I heard this kind of banging noise, and rose up to see what it was, if I could see anything. Nothing there, but I distinctly had heard some weird kind of banging noise. Then, there was some weird shadow or something that I caught out of the corner of my eye. I turned, but again, there was absolutely nothing there. Just the dark night, nothing stirring. I might as well have been the only thing awake in that corner of the world at the moment. Of course, my thoughts raced with the worst possibilities, since my 21st century mind conditioned me to think up the wildest horror movie scenarios. I quickly turned to face the back of the car, half expecting to see some deranged lunatic trying to sneak up on me, about to make his move.
I tried to force this out of my mind, and settled back down; shut my eyes for a few moments. But that was all that it took before that strange noise again. I sprang back up, and scanned the dark and unfamiliar terrain chosen for my abode for at least one fortnight. Finally, I spotted it. Some creature, probably a raccoon, was trying to grab some grub from the trash compactor.
My mind eased a bit. I relaxed a bit, and settled back down. Noticing the time (it was now well past midnight), the urgency of catching some sleep was growing. Knowing that some mechanics arrived to their jobs very early, I had set the alarm for about 5:30am. This may have been overkill, but it seemed to err on the side of caution, and not risk oversleeping, and being woken up by someone who might accuse me of trespassing. So, that would be the time the phone alarm would sound, and that was less than five hours away! Not much sleep, and I was surely going to be exhausted in the morning, and likely for the rest of the day as well, surely. I needed sleep.
My mind was restless for quite a while that night, and I don't remember falling asleep, but know it was fairly shortly after seeing that creature, which was oddly comforting, in a strange sense. It must have happened a bit after that, and the next thing I knew, the alarm was ringing, and instinctively, I turned the thing off.
Sleepy as my eyes still were, I surveyed the horizon. It was not full light out yet, but it was certainly not full dark, either. Everything was quiet, of course. This was not a busy hour yet. That would come later. Still, it felt like I had to get a move on. So, resisting the urge to lay back down and shut my eyes, I turned the key to start the car, and began to drive, just wanting to find a quiet place to empty my bladder in peace, choosing one of the really quiet, tree-lined country roads that I had explored the night before (just a few hours before, really).
That done, I began to head towards my destination, although it seemed assured that everything would be locked up and closed, and that it would take another trip here later on to gain access.
But when I got there, there was a car in the drive, and my eyes widened. Looking around, I now saw quite a few cars parked there, and my excitement began to grow. There was a great feeling that you feel when you accidentally stumble upon something really great, and that was how I was feeling at the moment.
This surely was too good to be true, and I would be met with some kind of disappointment or other, right?
Still, I headed towards my destination, taking a change of clothes, and quite a few books, in my big orange travel bag. Walked away from the car and headed back towards the road, crossing it, and to my destination.
There was quite a congregation of people there already, despite the very early hour. It was not even 6:30 in the morning, probably not even 6:15 or so. Yet, a whole bunch of people, most of whom seemed to know one another, were there. There stood on the sand, putting on their outfits, talking amongst themselves.
Always feeling self conscious, and wanting to keep to myself, I took the far side, taking heart to see these people nonetheless. There were some people already in the water, swimming. Some were actually quite distant, and these exercises were not for the uninitiated.
But that was not why I was there. It was not to test my swimming skills, but to swim these waters, and then to soak in my books, and one book in particular that I had brought with me. This was a book that, though it shames to admit it, I had tried to read a few times, but never gotten farther than a few pages or so at most. There was a well-known essay in the back that had been highly influential, and I had never even read that, either. That was a relative blemish on my reading history, and a source of personal embarrassment (although nobody else really knew). But starting today, I intended to change that.
Before stripping off my shoes and shirt, I wondered if there was anything like this scene in another lake or pond in the country. It was hard to imagine that there was, since this was nearly a religious experience for some. Not sure that it was for me, but this also was not just an ordinary swim, or anything like that. I held this place with a certain measure of reverence and respect. There was a reason, after all, that I cam here, specifically. There was a reason, too, that these strange people gathered in such numbers shortly after dawn to catch a swim, or perhaps a hike.
I tested the water, expecting it to be prohibitively cold. But it was, and so I swam, and simultaneously bathed and purified myself, in the waters at Walden in the early morning hours of dawn, and watched as the approaching sunrise began to hit the upper parts of the trees surrounding the pond.
The water was refreshing, restorative. Suddenly, spending a night crouched inside of a car in the back of a gas station was not such a big deal. Was, in fact, okay. How long had it been since I felt so alive, awake? God, it was wonderful!
I swam for a bit, then got out of the water, and sat, facing the pond. Pulled out that book that I had never managed to successfully get through, or even to get into beyond a superficial reading of the first couple of pages or so. It was an old, beat up ex-library copy of Henry David Thoreau's Walden that I had found at a thrift store for all of maybe fifty cents. It certainly was not more than a dollar.
Reading while feeling myself drying off, looking up every now and then to inhale and take it all in, before exhaling and getting back to my reading, it all felt very good. I was finding the reading far more enjoyable and enlightening than ever before. Perhaps I had needed that maturity, because now, I could appreciate it. Perhaps the surroundings helped as well. Whatever it was, it was working.
After about half an hour, when I felt myself really drying off, I went back in the water. This time, I went out further than before, and really began to feel it in my arms and legs.
How long had it been since the last time I swam so much, and so seriously? Usually, I am with my son, trying to teach him, and hardly go past shallow water that reaches past my shoulders. So this was a new experience to me, of sorts. Or, rather, it was an unfamiliar one that required reacclimatizing.
There came a point when, braving a swim to what was approaching the midway point of the pond, I looked toward the shore, and it was looking rather distant. So, I turned around and headed back.
            It was the most real swimming that I had done in ages, and my arms and legs were actually feeling it. They were tired, and had that burn of exertion. I reflected yet again that this was not a bad way at all to get up and get a morning going.
            Walden Pond is like a big bowl, and it goes very deep – well over 100 feet. So, it was nice to finally get to water shallow enough for me to stand in, and there was comfort in feeling my feet touch the ground below again. I lingered in the water for just a little bit longer, because it just felt so good.
            I got back to shore, and got back to reading, too. It was still early, and I was still feeling good.
            There was one other thing that I really wanted to do, and that was going for a hike. Now, I love hiking, and getting a hike in here, of all places, seemed paramount. But time was starting to be a factor, because later in the day, I needed to drive home to New Jersey. Still, I wanted to make a point of hiking here, and fulfilling my desire to have done everything I wanted to finally on a trip to Walden. This was as good an opportunity as I ever had thus far, and I meant to take advantage of it this time.
            So, I found a quiet place (this was harder than you might think, because although some people had filtered out of Walden Pond, others had joined them, and it seemed likely that the later the hour, the more people would show up. But there was a quiet corner, and I changed into dry clothes, ran up back to the car to drop off my bag and books, and then headed back towards Walden Pond, after a brief visit to the replica of Thoreau's self-made home (they seemed to refer to it as his "hut" on the trail, which was not entirely accurate, I don't think, since it was a house in the western style, and not a more basic hut, which would have been living even closer to the wilderness, to nature, as it were).
            So, there was a trail that wrapped around the pond, and I decided to take that. At the entrance to it, there was information about the trail, claiming that it ran a total of 1.7 miles. Pretty short, and should be a quick hike. About a half a mile into it, I learned after reading more, was the site where Thoreau's house once stood. I couldn't wait to finally see it, and wondered what it would look like.
            There was another pond just before you reached it, and this one was much more like the image of a pond that I conjure up in my mind. It was tiny and kind of tucked away, and filled with green algae and lily pads, and with ducks swimming in the water. There it was, shining in the morning sun, sitting very prettily. This was a very nice little corner of the world.
            Right after that came a bit of a rise in the land to get to the site, and I followed the signs. Finally, I saw it.
            It is indeed small, and the tiny replica of the house nearby the parking lot and Route 2A that divided the lot from the grounds of Walden Park, is indeed probably quite accurate, in terms of size, as well as what was stored inside – a bed, a desk for writing, a fireplace and some logs, and that was just about it. But it's easy and efficient to heat during the winter time, surely, and seemed rather quaint.
            But this, this was the actual site where he stayed. I had assumed it was set deeper in the woods, but it was quite close to the pond. Makes sense, since he would have needed to water, on many levels. The site of the house itself has clear borders around it, to mark where the walls once stood. There is a gap to mark the entrance, and you can step inside, and look at the memorial in stone.
            Nearby was a pile of stone, some painted and with design. Many were stacked together, there were numerous such stacks. Next to this pile of stones, on the far side of the house from the piling, there was a wooden placard, with a fitting, and rather famous, quote from Thoreau.
            "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essentials 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."
            I remember the first time I had heard that quote and having it made an impact, was seeing the movie "The Dead Poet's Society". Since Walden, I have had the urge to once again watch this beautiful movie. That particular line of Thoreau's had really given the boys pause for thought, and they had been very impressed.
            A lot of people gather here, obviously. But it is strange, because although there is an air of reverence and solemnity, it is, nonetheless, not exactly a tomb, or a memorial, or any such thing. In fact, it had been lost for some time, but discovered midway through the twentieth century, when the remnants of the fireplace gave clear indication of where the house.
            Perhaps people were simply paying respect to the man, and his unique efforts in the woods of Concord. Mostly, I think there was a sense of awe at the power of his words and his thought, which was quite unique and ahead of his time. Like the quote that was on the wooden placard, there was much in poetic quality in Thoreau's words. Yet, on some levels, he was just reiterating (or recycling, if you will) something that others had said before him. Specifically, the natives of America that had resisted the advance of our "civilization" had largely stated many of the same things, albeit in different wording. They, too, had been quite critical of the lifestyle that we have inherited. I am writing this, and you are reading this, and that means that there is a connection between you and me in terms of our culture. We belong to this "civilization" that surrounds us. Thoreau can be credited with being the first member of our culture to make an attempt at thinking differently than the conventional wisdom of the time, and taking an entirely different approach.
            Perhaps the most ironic thing about Thoreau was that he was in the shadow of the much more famous (at the time) and established Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was also a Concord native. In fact, many felt that Thoreau was rather a cheap knock off of Emerson, if you will, and so Thoreau was not really given much credit until much, much later. In many respects, their relationship was that of master and student, or perhaps rather that of master and underling. However way you want to put it, Thoreau was clearly in the subordinate position. Emerson had fame, was well known for his writings. He owned a house, and was more firmly rooted in the community, while Thoreau seemed forever the outsider. People of his time simply did not take to him, and perhaps not only did not understand him, but did not try. This defined him for some time, but things change.
            These days, it is Thoreau who is likely the most famous writer/philosopher to have come from Concord.
I hiked on after stopping at the ground where the house had once stood. The earth was soft under my feet at points, leaving that soft impress in my wake, much as Thoreau himself had written. At this point, I should admit that I did not take Thoreau's advice, and leave things alone, but rather took a small but colorful rock (more like a pebble) that I had found, as well as an acorn, a bit of water from the pond in a recyclable bottle that I had spotted along the way. While I had been gathering the water, my copy of Walden accidentally fell into the pond. I quickly scooped it up, but not on time, as the pages got wet. It seemed the book was ruined.
But it wasn't. The pages did not get soaked, they just got a bit wet, and they were still legible. The book could still be read. I was thankful for that. In a few days, much to my surprise, the pages dried out entirely, and you would never know that they had fallen into the pond, or had even been wet. Sometimes, if they get completely soaked, that ruins the entire book.
I hiked around the pond, getting vantage points of it from various angles. It was truly beautiful, sparkling in the summer sun like jewels laid out on a blue canvass. It was so bright, that I had to squint a bit and shield my eyes, another thing that Thoreau himself had mentioned in his writings.
The track around the pond is about 1.7 miles. I usually hike at least 2.5 miles to 3 miles, when I hike, and I had a lot of energy (and still had some time before needing to head back), and so I went back to the site where his actual cabin had been, soaked it all in, and then finally, turned back, heading back to the beach by the entrance near Route 2A, then crossing that, back to the parking lot, to my car, which would take me back to the modern world, and my modern life.
My stay at Walden had been nowhere near as long as Thoreau's, of course. He had stayed for two years, two months, and two days, and I had stayed for a bit more than two hours (actually, probably more like three and a half, and it was not my first time there, but who's counting?). Still, I had the book, and I felt compelled to finally finish it this time around. And that is exactly what I managed to do, too (it will be the subject matter of a new blog in the very near future).
The thing is, although I physically left Walden Woods and Walden Pond, Walden itself is more than that. Yes, it is the physical location of the woods and the pond within. But it is also the book, and it is also the spirit of the ideas, and the place, in your heart (if you allow it, of course). And so, with my copy of Thoreau's Walden to read, I kept it close to me for a few weeks, which made me feel close to Walden, even when far – even when I took a trip quite a bit farther west. I took the book while hiking, and would stop at times in whatever piece of wilderness I happened to be in (there is one place that I love to hike which has an idyllic waterfall, and that wound up being a favorite place that I would go to sit and read with that specific book a few times).
Now, I am done with the book, but Walden still somehow feels close to me…




I already had my excuse lined up, just in case I woke up to the tapping on driver's side window by an officer of the law. I would tell him that I had been in the area, had been looking for a hotel or some kind of a place to stay, and was surprised to find nothing. After a while, I was simply too tired to go on, and just had to stop. That was the responsible thing, right? Right!?
I saw the gas station there in the dark, but only the second time around. It was so dark, that my eyes had not caught it the first time around. Even the second pass, I almost passed it by without noticing it.
What was the worst that he could do after that? Send me away? Give me a ticket, even, perhaps?
Sure, there was a risk, but I thought it was worth it. After all, what were the chances that somebody would find me there, in perhaps the one place in the immediate area where cars were expected to be parked overnight?
So, I pulled into the darkened service station. It was deliciously dark, and seemed promising. It was a little unnerving, admittedly, when the motion sensor lights came on, but I continued on. What choice did I have?
There was a spot open between a car, and a bigger truck, that would have blocked the car from view by the nearby road, which was tempting. But as I was looking, I noticed a much darker area behind the station, with more spaces to park. Obviously, this deserved more of my attention, and so that is what I gave it.
Much like the entire area, it was very dark. There were no city lights to be seen. No lights from a mall or din from a nearby highway. Nope, none of that. This place felt truly like the countryside, like the middle of nowhere. During my search for a decent, adequate place to sleep, it seemed that I was in the middle of a mixture of woods and darkened farm fields. The area was too modern to be reminiscent of the days when Thoreau and Emerson graced the local area with their presence, yet for someone from suburban New Jersey, this was incredibly quiet. A few cars passed on the road, maybe at the rate of two or three every fifteen or so minutes. Maybe. But I was hoping that I would not be awake to count just how many cars passed by in the later hours in the middle of the night. Fatigue was quickly overtaking me, and I really did need to close my eyes and get some sleep.
And sleep I did. It was a bit awkward at first, and every car that passed surely must be the cop that would investigate the lot for some intruder like me. At one point, I heard this kind of banging noise, and rose up to see what it was, if I could see anything. Nothing there, but I distinctly had heard some weird kind of banging noise. Then, there was some weird shadow or something that I caught out of the corner of my eye. I turned, but again, there was absolutely nothing there. Just the dark night, nothing stirring. I might as well have been the only thing awake in that corner of the world at the moment. Of course, my thoughts raced with the worst possibilities, since my 21st century mind conditioned me to think up the wildest horror movie scenarios. I quickly turned to face the back of the car, half expecting to see some deranged lunatic trying to sneak up on me, about to make his move.
I tried to force this out of my mind, and settled back down; shut my eyes for a few moments. But that was all that it took before that strange noise again. I sprang back up, and scanned the dark and unfamiliar terrain chosen for my abode for at least one fortnight. Finally, I spotted it. Some creature, probably a raccoon, was trying to grab some grub from the trash compactor.
My mind eased a bit. I relaxed a bit, and settled back down. Noticing the time (it was now well past midnight), the urgency of catching some sleep was growing. Knowing that some mechanics arrived to their jobs very early, I had set the alarm for about 5:30am. This may have been overkill, but it seemed to err on the side of caution, and not risk oversleeping, and being woken up by someone who might accuse me of trespassing. So, that would be the time the phone alarm would sound, and that was less than five hours away! Not much sleep, and I was surely going to be exhausted in the morning, and likely for the rest of the day as well, surely. I needed sleep.
My mind was restless for quite a while that night, and I don't remember falling asleep, but know it was fairly shortly after seeing that creature, which was oddly comforting, in a strange sense. It must have happened a bit after that, and the next thing I knew, the alarm was ringing, and instinctively, I turned the thing off.
Sleepy as my eyes still were, I surveyed the horizon. It was not full light out yet, but it was certainly not full dark, either. Everything was quiet, of course. This was not a busy hour yet. That would come later. Still, it felt like I had to get a move on. So, resisting the urge to lay back down and shut my eyes, I turned the key to start the car, and began to drive, just wanting to find a quiet place to empty my bladder in peace, choosing one of the really quiet, tree-lined country roads that I had explored the night before (just a few hours before, really).
That done, I began to head towards my destination, although it seemed assured that everything would be locked up and closed, and that it would take another trip here later on to gain access.
But when I got there, there was a car in the drive, and my eyes widened. Looking around, I now saw quite a few cars parked there, and my excitement began to grow. There was a great feeling that you feel when you accidentally stumble upon something really great, and that was how I was feeling at the moment.
This surely was too good to be true, and I would be met with some kind of disappointment or other, right?
Still, I headed towards my destination, taking a change of clothes, and quite a few books, in my big orange travel bag. Walked away from the car and headed back towards the road, crossing it, and to my destination.
There was quite a congregation of people there already, despite the very early hour. It was not even 6:30 in the morning, probably not even 6:15 or so. Yet, a whole bunch of people, most of whom seemed to know one another, were there. There stood on the sand, putting on their outfits, talking amongst themselves.
Always feeling self conscious, and wanting to keep to myself, I took the far side, taking heart to see these people nonetheless. There were some people already in the water, swimming. Some were actually quite distant, and these exercises were not for the uninitiated.
But that was not why I was there. It was not to test my swimming skills, but to swim these waters, and then to soak in my books, and one book in particular that I had brought with me. This was a book that, though it shames to admit it, I had tried to read a few times, but never gotten farther than a few pages or so at most. There was a well-known essay in the back that had been highly influential, and I had never even read that, either. That was a relative blemish on my reading history, and a source of personal embarrassment (although nobody else really knew). But starting today, I intended to change that.
Before stripping off my shoes and shirt, I wondered if there was anything like this scene in another lake or pond in the country. It was hard to imagine that there was, since this was nearly a religious experience for some. Not sure that it was for me, but this also was not just an ordinary swim, or anything like that. I held this place with a certain measure of reverence and respect. There was a reason, after all, that I cam here, specifically. There was a reason, too, that these strange people gathered in such numbers shortly after dawn to catch a swim, or perhaps a hike.
I tested the water, expecting it to be prohibitively cold. But it was, and so I swam, and simultaneously bathed and purified myself, in the waters at Walden in the early morning hours of dawn, and watched as the approaching sunrise began to hit the upper parts of the trees surrounding the pond.
The water was refreshing, restorative. Suddenly, spending a night crouched inside of a car in the back of a gas station was not such a big deal. Was, in fact, okay. How long had it been since I felt so alive, awake? God, it was wonderful!
I swam for a bit, then got out of the water, and sat, facing the pond. Pulled out that book that I had never managed to successfully get through, or even to get into beyond a superficial reading of the first couple of pages or so. It was an old, beat up ex-library copy of Henry David Thoreau's Walden that I had found at a thrift store for all of maybe fifty cents. It certainly was not more than a dollar.
Reading while feeling myself drying off, looking up every now and then to inhale and take it all in, before exhaling and getting back to my reading, it all felt very good. I was finding the reading far more enjoyable and enlightening than ever before. Perhaps I had needed that maturity, because now, I could appreciate it. Perhaps the surroundings helped as well. Whatever it was, it was working.
After about half an hour, when I felt myself really drying off, I went back in the water. This time, I went out further than before, and really began to feel it in my arms and legs.
How long had it been since the last time I swam so much, and so seriously? Usually, I am with my son, trying to teach him, and hardly go past shallow water that reaches past my shoulders. So this was a new experience to me, of sorts. Or, rather, it was an unfamiliar one that required reacclimatizing.
There came a point when, braving a swim to what was approaching the midway point of the pond, I looked toward the shore, and it was looking rather distant. So, I turned around and headed back.
            It was the most real swimming that I had done in ages, and my arms and legs were actually feeling it. They were tired, and had that burn of exertion. I reflected yet again that this was not a bad way at all to get up and get a morning going.
            Walden Pond is like a big bowl, and it goes very deep – well over 100 feet. So, it was nice to finally get to water shallow enough for me to stand in, and there was comfort in feeling my feet touch the ground below again. I lingered in the water for just a little bit longer, because it just felt so good.
            I got back to shore, and got back to reading, too. It was still early, and I was still feeling good.
            There was one other thing that I really wanted to do, and that was going for a hike. Now, I love hiking, and getting a hike in here, of all places, seemed paramount. But time was starting to be a factor, because later in the day, I needed to drive home to New Jersey. Still, I wanted to make a point of hiking here, and fulfilling my desire to have done everything I wanted to finally on a trip to Walden. This was as good an opportunity as I ever had thus far, and I meant to take advantage of it this time.
            So, I found a quiet place (this was harder than you might think, because although some people had filtered out of Walden Pond, others had joined them, and it seemed likely that the later the hour, the more people would show up. But there was a quiet corner, and I changed into dry clothes, ran up back to the car to drop off my bag and books, and then headed back towards Walden Pond, after a brief visit to the replica of Thoreau's self-made home (they seemed to refer to it as his "hut" on the trail, which was not entirely accurate, I don't think, since it was a house in the western style, and not a more basic hut, which would have been living even closer to the wilderness, to nature, as it were).
            So, there was a trail that wrapped around the pond, and I decided to take that. At the entrance to it, there was information about the trail, claiming that it ran a total of 1.7 miles. Pretty short, and should be a quick hike. About a half a mile into it, I learned after reading more, was the site where Thoreau's house once stood. I couldn't wait to finally see it, and wondered what it would look like.
            There was another pond just before you reached it, and this one was much more like the image of a pond that I conjure up in my mind. It was tiny and kind of tucked away, and filled with green algae and lily pads, and with ducks swimming in the water. There it was, shining in the morning sun, sitting very prettily. This was a very nice little corner of the world.
            Right after that came a bit of a rise in the land to get to the site, and I followed the signs. Finally, I saw it.
            It is indeed small, and the tiny replica of the house nearby the parking lot and Route 2A that divided the lot from the grounds of Walden Park, is indeed probably quite accurate, in terms of size, as well as what was stored inside – a bed, a desk for writing, a fireplace and some logs, and that was just about it. But it's easy and efficient to heat during the winter time, surely, and seemed rather quaint.
            But this, this was the actual site where he stayed. I had assumed it was set deeper in the woods, but it was quite close to the pond. Makes sense, since he would have needed to water, on many levels. The site of the house itself has clear borders around it, to mark where the walls once stood. There is a gap to mark the entrance, and you can step inside, and look at the memorial in stone.
            Nearby was a pile of stone, some painted and with design. Many were stacked together, there were numerous such stacks. Next to this pile of stones, on the far side of the house from the piling, there was a wooden placard, with a fitting, and rather famous, quote from Thoreau.
            "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essentials 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."
            I remember the first time I had heard that quote and having it made an impact, was seeing the movie "The Dead Poet's Society". Since Walden, I have had the urge to once again watch this beautiful movie. That particular line of Thoreau's had really given the boys pause for thought, and they had been very impressed.
            A lot of people gather here, obviously. But it is strange, because although there is an air of reverence and solemnity, it is, nonetheless, not exactly a tomb, or a memorial, or any such thing. In fact, it had been lost for some time, but discovered midway through the twentieth century, when the remnants of the fireplace gave clear indication of where the house.
            Perhaps people were simply paying respect to the man, and his unique efforts in the woods of Concord. Mostly, I think there was a sense of awe at the power of his words and his thought, which was quite unique and ahead of his time. Like the quote that was on the wooden placard, there was much in poetic quality in Thoreau's words. Yet, on some levels, he was just reiterating (or recycling, if you will) something that others had said before him. Specifically, the natives of America that had resisted the advance of our "civilization" had largely stated many of the same things, albeit in different wording. They, too, had been quite critical of the lifestyle that we have inherited. I am writing this, and you are reading this, and that means that there is a connection between you and me in terms of our culture. We belong to this "civilization" that surrounds us. Thoreau can be credited with being the first member of our culture to make an attempt at thinking differently than the conventional wisdom of the time, and taking an entirely different approach.
            Perhaps the most ironic thing about Thoreau was that he was in the shadow of the much more famous (at the time) and established Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was also a Concord native. In fact, many felt that Thoreau was rather a cheap knock off of Emerson, if you will, and so Thoreau was not really given much credit until much, much later. In many respects, their relationship was that of master and student, or perhaps rather that of master and underling. However way you want to put it, Thoreau was clearly in the subordinate position. Emerson had fame, was well known for his writings. He owned a house, and was more firmly rooted in the community, while Thoreau seemed forever the outsider. People of his time simply did not take to him, and perhaps not only did not understand him, but did not try. This defined him for some time, but things change.
            These days, it is Thoreau who is likely the most famous writer/philosopher to have come from Concord.
I hiked on after stopping at the ground where the house had once stood. The earth was soft under my feet at points, leaving that soft impress in my wake, much as Thoreau himself had written. At this point, I should admit that I did not take Thoreau's advice, and leave things alone, but rather took a small but colorful rock (more like a pebble) that I had found, as well as an acorn, a bit of water from the pond in a recyclable bottle that I had spotted along the way. While I had been gathering the water, my copy of Walden accidentally fell into the pond. I quickly scooped it up, but not on time, as the pages got wet. It seemed the book was ruined.
But it wasn't. The pages did not get soaked, they just got a bit wet, and they were still legible. The book could still be read. I was thankful for that. In a few days, much to my surprise, the pages dried out entirely, and you would never know that they had fallen into the pond, or had even been wet. Sometimes, if they get completely soaked, that ruins the entire book.
I hiked around the pond, getting vantage points of it from various angles. It was truly beautiful, sparkling in the summer sun like jewels laid out on a blue canvass. It was so bright, that I had to squint a bit and shield my eyes, another thing that Thoreau himself had mentioned in his writings.
The track around the pond is about 1.7 miles. I usually hike at least 2.5 miles to 3 miles, when I hike, and I had a lot of energy (and still had some time before needing to head back), and so I went back to the site where his actual cabin had been, soaked it all in, and then finally, turned back, heading back to the beach by the entrance near Route 2A, then crossing that, back to the parking lot, to my car, which would take me back to the modern world, and my modern life.
My stay at Walden had been nowhere near as long as Thoreau's, of course. He had stayed for two years, two months, and two days, and I had stayed for a bit more than two hours (actually, probably more like three and a half, and it was not my first time there, but who's counting?). Still, I had the book, and I felt compelled to finally finish it this time around. And that is exactly what I managed to do, too (it will be the subject matter of a new blog in the very near future).
The thing is, although I physically left Walden Woods and Walden Pond, Walden itself is more than that. Yes, it is the physical location of the woods and the pond within. But it is also the book, and it is also the spirit of the ideas, and the place, in your heart (if you allow it, of course). And so, with my copy of Thoreau's Walden to read, I kept it close to me for a few weeks, which made me feel close to Walden, even when far – even when I took a trip quite a bit farther west. I took the book while hiking, and would stop at times in whatever piece of wilderness I happened to be in (there is one place that I love to hike which has an idyllic waterfall, and that wound up being a favorite place that I would go to sit and read with that specific book a few times).
Now, I am done with the book, but Walden still somehow feels close to me…

1 comment:

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