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Thoreau’s Lake: Walden Pond

The picturesque beauty of a lake is well-documented throughout history. Humankind has always been charmed by ponds and other bodies of water, with these secluded pools often holding a special appeal. How did they get here? Where is the water from? While these questions are universal, some are less applicable. For example: what makes Walden Pond so special?

The beach of Walden Pond

Found in Concord, Massachusetts, Walden Pond is an excellent example of a “kettle hole.” As glaciers retreated 10,000-12,000 years ago, it resulted in the creation of the pond. The lake has a surface area of 61 acres. The deepest point is 102 feet. A shore 1.7 miles in length wraps around it, some of it a beach. Others descend steeply into the water from the trail surrounding it.

On that trail, marked by granite posts, is a cabin that once belonged to Henry David Thoreau. This is Walden Pond’s main claim to fame- serving as the inspiration for and focus of Thoreau’s most famous work, Walden; or, Life in the Woods. The memoir details the two years he spent living in that cabin and watching the lake. He was commended both at the time and today for his appreciation of the land; he encouraged respecting nature despite the site being somewhat degraded.

It’s not hard to see why Thoreau chose Walden Pond for his experiment. Aside from taking inspiration from the story of Zilpah White, the area was filled with pure, icy waters. In the winter, the “Ice King” of Boston, Fredric Tudor, would harvest the ice. Thoreau described it as seeing “the sweltering inhabitants of Charleston and New Orleans, of Madras and Bombay and Calcutta, drink at my well… the pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges.”

Thoreau's cabin
Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond

In the book, Thoreau also paid tribute to local legends surrounding the lake. Noticing how the shore was particularly resilient, he asked some locals for information. He later wrote:

“My townsmen have all heard the tradition- the oldest people tell me that they heard it in their youth- that anciently the Indians were holding a pow-wow upon a hill here,  which rose as high into the heavens as the pond now sinks deep into the earth, and they used much profanity, as the story goes, though this vice is one of which the Indians were never guilty, and while they were thus engaged the hill shook and suddenly sank, and only one old squaw, named Walden, escaped, and from her the pond was named. It has been conjectured that when the hill shook these stones rolled down its side and became the present shore.”

The area surrounding the lake was designated a protected area in 1990, although the lake and cabin were registered as a National Historic Landmark in 1962. Walden Pond is also the namesake for Walden Media, an American film company. It appears in the 2015 video game Fallout 4, with Thoreau’s cabin preserved. Two years later, Walden, a game would release. This title challenged players to recreate Thoreau’s life and was released to positive reviews after over ten years in development.

Sign with quote from Thoreau

Nature is inspirational. This was established long before Thoreau took to his cabin to write his magnum opus. But sometimes, the legacy attached to a part of nature can be equally inspiring. Walden Pond is beautiful, and Thoreau was quick to point that out in his book.

“I have spent many an hour, when I was younger, floating over its surface as the zephyr willed, having paddled my boat to the middle, and lying on my back across the seats, in a summer forenoon, dreaming awake, until I was aroused by the boat touching the sand, and I arose to see what shore my fates had impelled me to; days when idleness was the most attractive and productive industry.”

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