Monthly Archives: October 2014

The hole in the bottom of Walden Pond (Walden 129)

Thoreau's map of his soundings of Walden Pond. Wikimedia Commons

Thoreau’s map of his soundings of Walden Pond. Wikimedia Commons

There is something deeply strange about Walden Pond. “The pond rises and falls,” Thoreau wrote, “but whether regularly or not, and within what period, nobody knows, though, as usual, many pretend to know.”

What’s weird is that the water level doesn’t seem to vary with local rainfall. It rises and falls for no apparent reason. Henry said “I can remember when it was a foot or two lower, and also when it was at least five feet higher, than when I lived by it.”

The Concord Magazine reprinted a fascinating 1971 article by Eugene Walker, a geologist and local resident. Walker writes, “Tales are told around town of the hole in the bottom of and the stream that comes through it, connected perhaps to a river that is rumored to run underground from somewhere in the White Mountains, perhaps Lake Winnipesaukee, southward to Cape Cod.”

But the truth, Walker explains, is that the pond’s water level varies exactly with the water table in the sand and gravel that surrounds the lake. In other words the lake bed is apparently porous: Continue reading

The lost world under your feet (Walden 128)

Thoreau knew that he and his fellow Concordians weren’t the first people to enjoy Walden Pond. He had long had a knack for finding Indian arrowheads, and he read early narratives about the people who were living here when the first Europeans arrived. But who lived at Walden itself in ages past? So much of it was lost. He could only guess.

He found “a narrow shelf-like path in the steep hillside, alternately rising and falling, approaching and receding from the water’s edge, as old probably as the race of man here, worn by the feet of aboriginal hunters, and still from time to time unwittingly trodden by the present occupants of the land.”

Whoever you are, and wherever you live, it’s a given that yours is not the first culture to inhabit what we all think of as our land. Let me tell you a little about the place where I live… I’ll come back to Thoreau (and to my point) at the end of the post. Continue reading

Clear water, muddy water (Walden 127)

Thoreau describes the remarkable clarity of Walden Pond, the water of which was “so transparent that the bottom can easily be discerned at the depth of twenty-five or thirty feet.”

It’s one thing to say that. It’s quite another to show it and make it vivid. Here’s how he does it: Continue reading

Scenery on a humble scale (Walden 126)

Thoreau's Cove, Concord, Massachusetts. ca 1908. Wikimedia Commons

Thoreau’s Cove, Concord, Massachusetts. ca 1908. Wikimedia Commons

“The scenery of Walden is on a humble scale, and, though very beautiful, does not approach to grandeur, nor can it much concern one who has not long frequented it or lived by its shore…” — Henry David Thoreau, Walden Continue reading

On the water after dark (Walden 125)

Holmes Lake, Nebraska, at sunset

Holmes Lake, Nebraska, at sunset

I want to follow up on the previous post and encourage you to find a way, as Thoreau did, to get out on the water after dark. It’s not enough to be beside a lake or pond. You have to be floating on it. Sometimes I take my kayak to a local lake just before sunset and paddle into through twilight and watch the stars come out. Continue reading

Fishing by moonlight (Walden 124)

“In warm evenings I frequently sat in the boat playing the flute, and saw the perch, which I seem to have charmed, hovering around me, and the moon travelling over the ribbed bottom, which was strewed with the wrecks of the forest.” — Henry David Thoreau, from “The Ponds,” Walden

James Galway on flute, playing Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat major (Op. 9, No. 2). Published in 1832, it’s possible that Thoreau knew this composition.

The video also includes Galway playing Debussy’s “Reverie,” which was composed well after Thoreau’s lifetime, but who here is going to complain about a gratuitous Debussy piece? Continue reading