Friday, August 9, 2013

Thoroughly Thoreau - Redux

Original Post 9/23/11

Last time, I was relating the tale of our visit to Concord and all the great authors that once lived there.  Now, they’re actually all buried there as well, high up on a ridge that requires a billy goat and a Sherpa to access.

It’s a nice little tourist attraction, featured on all the visitor maps, although on the day we we’re there we had the place all to ourselves.  Very bucolic as cemeteries go, populated with both the long dead and the newly dead, eternally resting, side by side. 

They even named the place, Author’s Ridge, in honor of the famous scribblers, but I understand that’s a point of contention with some of the non-literati among the reposed.

What strikes you as you view these antiquated graves of those who, in life, stood out in such a notable manner, is how simple and unadorned they are, surrounded by generations of family members.  In fact if you weren’t carrying a map, you would pass them by entirely. 

It’s interesting to note, in a melancholic sort of way, that except for Emerson, who lived to be nearly 79, they all died before 60; Thoreau the youngest at 44. I guess that was not uncommon for those times since pretty much anything from the flu to a cut finger could kill you, but it kind of puts things into perspective when, even at a few years short of 60, we feel as if we can expect another 60.

Aside from Emerson’s granite boulder of a tombstone, all the others markers are pretty non-descript. I like Thoreau’s the best, wherein keeping with his simplify, simplify, philosophy, it merely says “Henry”. 

It’s a tradition, for some folks, I guess, to carry up stones and twigs and place them on a loved one’s final resting place. But it’s pretty easy to pick out the Author’s markers by the odd assortment of pens, note paper and reading glasses that garnish them...even an assortment of M&M’s.

Well, the M&M’s were mine and fell out of my pocket when I leaned over to pick up a snazzy Montblanc someone had left for Louisa May.   

Z just gave me that look she’s perfected through the years and made me put it back; all without saying a word.

So I took back my M&M’s…just for spite.

Then it was on to a more lively setting by way of Walden Pond.

Walden of course is the place where Thoreau built his little house in the woods.

 Most people think of a little rustic shack when they think of Thoreau’s digs, but they were far from that. In fact, a place like that today would fetch at least $1,200 a week down at the shore.

I’ve always felt a connection to Henry Davidformerly David kiddingever since I read Walden about 20 plus years ago.  There’s just something about the easy going way he breaks the whole of life down to basics.

Eat, sleep and…well, I‘ll let you fill in the rest.

Okay I’ll say it….
Observe and make note of everything around you. Everything that defines you…cuz it’s all there in front of you...if you open your eyes. 

Plus he frowned on heavy labor, a concept with which most freelance writers would concur.

I’ve been to Walden a few times over the years, but first time visitors are always a little surprised to see that it’s actually a state park or reservation now, plus a popular beach destination, complete with snack bar, beach chairs and all the rest. The same as any beach.

As you take a walk around the pond's perimeter, you find quite a few more adventurous types, setting up in little nooks and crannies; diving into crystal, blue water; little glints of sun dancing back to the shore.

Soon you approach the farthest northeast corner, and up on a hill, overlooking the pond, now somewhat hidden by thickets of trees, is the old foundation of Thoreau’s little one room house.

When I first stepped into that little granite rectangle of standing stones that mark the site, some 15 years or so ago, I immediately felt something stir in me….and I knew it wasn’t the leftover tacos we had brought from home, but left in the car.   

The woods were overcast with clouds that day and I was alone, since Z had decided to take a little snooze after lunch on the small beach below.  

So I set up my camera on one of the stones across the way and put it on a timer.

As the clock ticked down, I hurried to position myself, and leaned against the standing stone that marked where the front door would have been. If you’ve ever taken one of these self-portraits, you know you hurry to get set, then don’t know what to do with yourself as you wait for the shutter to click; all the while wondering if you even set the timer correctly.

As I stood there, for some reason I folded my arms across my chest and was just about to abandon the effort when suddenly the sun broke through the clouds and streamed in through the trees, lighting on my face.  Just then, I heard the camera click and the shot was taken, leaving behind an ethereal photo that evoked the strange sensation I had been feeling inside.

Quite a few years later, we returned to Walden, and while browsing through the gift shop I came across a simple drawing of Thoreau standing at the doorway of his cabin, arms folded, another gentle light upon his face. 

Now, I know it’s just an artist’s drawing, but I found the coincidence to be very, very cool.

Today, both pictures hang on my office wall; the writing factory as it were.

Just a reminder, at least to me, that the things that resonate, resonate for a reason and should not be lightly dismissed.

Thoreau said it best…of course….

"If a man loses pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away."


Check out my new YA book “The Kingdom of Keys”

Available now at 

Like" the Retorts on Facebook 



  1. Super retort. As for "heavy labor," it is only for mad dogs and Englishmen. So said my grandfather.

    1. Be kind to the English…they’re listening. Besides, if they weren’t so fond of those red coats back in the day, we might all be speaking their peculiar language.

      As for Mad Dogs, I find it very difficult to get them to focus on any one thing long enough to do a decent job with anything, no matter how hard they work….

  2. Re dogs: I have "rescued" a dear little fellow from the Animal Rescue League, and I would tell you about him if I had your email info. He will not have to do any work here. No one does.

    1. Can’t wait to hear. E-mail me at

  3. love this and love the last quote. some day i hope to get myself to walden.

  4. this is really lovely and reminded me of my time there, at 13, first learning about the transcendentalists and breathless that these authors all lived so close together. i'm 30 now and live in a house even simpler than Thoreau's and couldn't be happier :)

    1. Thanks, JP. I appreciate your kind words.....


Retort to the Retort -

“Is there anybody alive out there…”