Thursday, July 5, 2012

Celebrating the 4th of July

While the rest of America is celebrating the birthday of America in merry parades and carnivals, I'm sprawled out under a tree in a corner of Concord, MA, a famous corner though it is, on the banks of the Walden Pond - yes, the beloved home of Henry David Thoreau. I've long been reading his book by the same name, Walden, long been wanting to visit this little lake, and long been idealizing Thoreau's lifestyle, a life of solitude, contemplation and "living deliberately."

"... my friends ask what will I do when I get there. Will it not be employment enough to watch the progress of the seasons?"

I've been asked this question myself a few times when I go away on my own little solitary retreats, and even though they're not long enough to watch the progress of the seasons, they're long enough to watch nature in its season, on that particular day or week. And this warm summer day is a gorgeous day to see the beauty of the woods around Walden. I found a shady tree, laid out my blanket under it on a moss carpet, and the view below me is the pond through the trees.

Thoreau was given the gift of this plot of land by his friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and on this plot, Thoreau built a one-room house by himself, including the chimney, cut his own firewood, grew beans to sustain himself. He took residence in this tiny home on the 4th of July, in 1845, and so here I am, unwittingly celebrating the birth-day of Thoreau's Walden!

Earlier today, I also got to visit the homes of Emerson, Louisa May Alcott and Nathaniel Hawthorne, all of who lived in Concord around the same time, and were great friends. They were the original Transcendentalists, who believed in the goodness of man and nature. Emerson's home was surrounded by beautiful grounds where he wrote his famous "Nature" essay, LM Alcott's house was filled with corners and staircases where she set Little Women, and Hawthorne's Wayside House was the only house he ever owned which he had bought from the Alcotts. And as it happens, the 4th of July happens to be Hawthorne's birthday too.
Thoreau's Walden hut
Alcott's Orchard House

Hawthorne's Wayside House
Emerson's House and Gardens

Seeing their houses, how they lived and wrote, their workplaces and walking spaces, these literary legends somehow seem friendly, their wishes and fears relate-able, and the words of their hearts not too long gone. To walk in their paths, see through their windows, standing behind their chairs, literally watching over their ghostly shoulders has been a fascinating trek back in time for me.

I even got to visit their graves, their humble final homes, when I walked through the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, named by Emerson himself, and it is a beautiful resting place for these lovers of nature, laid out as a garden for the living as much as for the dead -
"When these acorns, that are falling at our feet, are oaks overshadowing our children in a remote century, this mute green bank will be full of history: the good, the wise, and the great will have left their names and virtues on the trees..." ~Emerson