Birthday Pondering at Walden Pond
by Maile Hulihan
Wow, it’s so great to get your lovely birthday wishes. Thank you! They bring me such joy!
I spent my birthday afternoon swimming the mile-long lengths of Walden Pond in a vainglorious attempt to kick my age in the ass. (It’s rated as an “easy” swim.) It was also a treat to watch the young men doing gymnastics on the shore, especially the muscular guy in the teal Speedo, proving all parts of me are still alive!
Below are a couple of photos from yesterday at Walden Pond—I don’t know the girl in the water—but it’s a special place to visit. You probably know Henry David Thoreau spent two years living in a tiny cabin near the pond, contemplating nature. His mother did his laundry and brought him food so he could “live deep and suck all the marrow out of life” which is what I want someone to do for me so I can write deeply. Did you know it took Thoreau 10 years to write & publish Walden? The now-seminal book was greeted with a big “meh,” despite Ralph Waldo Emerson loyally hawking the book for his friend & protégé.
Although the water was warm yesterday—probably 85 degrees—we swam over a cold section that I imagine is the cool rush of the spring that refreshes the water in the pond. Walden Pond was created about 15,000 years ago by a melting glacier and is 120 feet deep. When you open your eyes underwater, it looks like a green mist, rather than the crystal clear water that Thoreau enjoyed.
Yes, this historic place is under threat from fishermen, swimmers who pee in the water, and years of tourism that have gushed nutrients into the pond causing algae to bloom. Scientists are studying the pond now, trying to figure out how to preserve it from the ravages of people and climate change. One sediment study discovered a radioactive layer from the atomic bomb testing in the Pacific. Pesticides and wood-cutting operations also took their toll.
It’s ironic that Thoreau’s ode to nature & its transcendent qualities has brought so many people to Walden Pond that it’s trembling under our thoughtlessness. Even in his time, (1817-1862) Thoreau felt people were too busy, too consumer-driven, striving for progress at all costs. “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” Thoreau said. He advocated for the need for a spiritual awakening, to contemplate our world and our place in it. Surely, taking care of the planet we live on is an essential advocation for all of us.
I’m lucky to live so close to this beautiful spot. While I feel protective of all nature, Walden Pond holds a special place in my heart: it’s where my husband proposed to me on a sunny May afternoon as we strolled its sandy shoreline, making it where my life as a wife and mother began. It’s where I walk when I’m thinking through thorny bits of my novels. It’s where I get to swim with my friend Lizzie who’s teaching me about all the plants that insects love best.
I don’t think as deep as Thoreau, but one thought keeps coming back: Life is good on this birthday because I have people like you to share it with.