The Walden Story
Follow Walden's sometimes surprising story through the centuries, from the days of Henry David Thoreau to what Don Henley and others are doing to continue the Walden legacy today.
There are Waldens in every community, all around the world. Many people also have their own special, personal Waldens (or should!).
So. Where is your Walden?
Before you can answer, you might need to know more about the original "Walden".
Walden Pond is a small spring-fed lake surrounded by Walden Woods.
In many ways, it is an ordinary place - like ponds and small lakes everywhere.
It is not far from neighborhoods, busy roads, railroad lines and the hustle and bustle of urban life.
Walden is in Concord, Massachusetts, near Boston, in the United States.
Concord is famous because it is where the first shot of the American Revolutionary War was fired. In April 1775, British soldiers marched from Boston to Concord where American colonists, tipped off to their arrival, met them at the Old North Bridge and forced them to retreat.
In 1835, famous American writer-philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson moved to Concord. Other like-minded thinkers and literary figures like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Bronson Alcott, and Henry David Thoreau soon followed.
In 1845, Henry David Thoreau, writer and former teacher, pencil maker, and handyman, went to live by Walden Pond. He was 27 years old.
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.
- Henry David Thoreau
Only one year earlier, in 1844, Henry had accidentally set fire to a large portion of the Concord woods. He was even known around town as the "woods burner." Now he was returning to the woods to see what nature could teach him.
He stayed two years, in a small house he built on a cove. His neighbors were freed slaves, immigrant workers and other people living on the margin of society.
Henry called his time at Walden Pond his "experiment".
His days were filled with hard work, long walks, nature observations, journal writing, and reflection. He built his own house, farmed, and worked odd jobs. And although somewhat secluded, Henry was not a solitary hermit. He frequently hosted and visited friends and neighbors.
I had three chairs in my house: one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.
Henry went to Walden not quite sure how he would spend his days and they ended being among the most productive in his life.
Henry was not only a keen observer. He had a gift with words.
- What is the use of a house if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on?
- Be not merely good, be good for something.
- Things do not change; we change.
- If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.
- Be true to your work, your word, and your friend.
- A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.
- Cultivate the habit of early rising. It is unwise to keep the head long on a level with the feet.
- How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.
Henry wrote a book about his experiences called Walden - A Life in the Woods. It took nine years and seven drafts to write and sold for $1 a copy when first published.
The book inspired a new kind of awareness about the environment and our relationship to it. People began to understand why we need to protect places like Walden Woods.
But the Walden story does not end with Henry.
In 1989, two big commercial development projects threatened Thoreau's beloved woods. Musician and Eagles member Don Henley heard a report on CNN and couldn’t believe it.
If Walden Woods couldn’t be protected, what place on earth could?
Henley founded The Walden Woods Project and launched a campaign to raise public awareness and money, which he used to purchase the endangered areas.
Today, Walden Pond is an historic landmark and a beautiful spot for swimming, fishing, and canoeing.
But to people all over the world, it is much more than that.
- Tranquility in nature and in ourselves
- Self exploration and our "inspired self"
- The profound connection between people and the natural world
- Balance between nature and society and the choices we face
Most importantly, Walden represents all of the natural places in the world - small or large - that desperately need our care and protection.
They need us and we need them.
Is there a place or issue in your community that needs your care and attention?
Take action and share the story of your "Walden" on the World Wide Waldens site!