“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” This thought was expressed by Henry David Thoreau over 160 years ago while living in the one-room cabin he built overlooking Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts.
Thoreau conducted his experiment of living in solitude at the pond from July 1845 to September 1847. The spot where he built and lived in the cabin is preserved and marked. A sign stands that reveals the thought process underlying his experiment: “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.”
The area is a state reservation protected from development thanks to the aid of Don Henley of the Eagles. His Walden Woods project, a nonprofit founded in 1990, has helped preserve 462 acres of woods surrounding Walden Pond.
A local developer had planned to construct a 139-unit condominium there when Henley got involved. Thanks to Henley, instead of parking lots, miles of hiking trails snake through the woods surrounding the pond. It’s a popular summer spot for vacationers from throughout New England.
Above the pond, just off the road that leads to the woods, stands a replica of the cabin Thoreau built. One can walk inside and imagine a two-year stay in the cramped space. A museum nearby contains some of the original furniture used by Thoreau, including a green wooden writing desk and rocking chair. You can see carvings on the desk that Thoreau may have etched in moments of contemplation (or writer’s block?). For someone like me who fell in love with Thoreau’s writings in college, it was quite a thrill to be here.
The town of Concord, about 19 miles outside of Boston, played a significant role in American history and literature. Along with Thoreau, it was also the home of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women.
Thoreau’s influence extends beyond his two-year experiment at Walden Pond – his writings on civil disobedience have inspired such twentieth-century figures as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.