I have to admit. My first impression of Walden Pond wasn’t good. Don Henley’s “The Last Resort” was playing through my mind as I parked in the HUGE parking lot and walked with my kids by the tourist information signs, crossed the busy street in front of impatient drivers, and made our way down the ramp to the OMG overcrowded beach.
Where were we going to sit? I’m rather used to having lots of space at the beach. Spending so much time on the Gulf Coast, where we had miles and miles of pristine white-sand beach, rather spoiled me.
But then I saw this group of hippies. A long-haired guy, a couple of familiar-looking women with beautiful tattoos, awesome kids running around, and I knew that there would, literally, be a place for me. And there was. My friends saved me a spot to spread out my blanket.
My idealized image of Walden didn’t exactly fit with what I encountered. For one thing, people were EVERYWHERE. I had assumed that visiting on a weekday would mean fewer people I would have to share my experience with.Â Greedily, I wanted the peace and tranquility, the sublime naturalness that inspired words that always spoke to my soul and helped transform me into the person I am today. But, as I’m an eternal optimist and a ridiculously good sport, I let the cacophony of giggling youth wash over me. I watched my kids join the masses of children, including 7 other children from our group, in the traditional ritual of summer — leaping, flinging, sun-dazed, water-frenzied, castle-building non-stop activity. I took it all in. In short, I had a wonderful day among friends in a beautiful place that, while crowded and LOUD and unlike the image I had built up in my mind, still managed to creep into my heart.
And I had a little monologue going on in my brain while splashing around in the shallow water, a response to the most often quoted line in that song of Henley’s: “They call it paradise, I don’t know why. You call someplace ‘paradise’, kiss it goodbye.” Well, yes, we are certainly leaving our mark in this once-pristine place. But we are filling this (somewhat holy…) site with laughter and joy. I got the same sense of pleasure that I get when I watch my kids play in a cemetery. I think holy, sacred places WANT to feel the pattering of little feet, to hear the screeches of joy. We humans CAN destroy natural places, yes. But we can also energize the spirit of these sacred woods. In short, we bring the sacred. Is a forest sacred inherently? Or does it take the addition of human sentience, of our appreciation of it as so, as sacred, for it to BE? It’s not a question that I believe has an objective, quantifiable answer. I do feel that as long as we appreciate it, inhabit that space conscientiously, thoughtfully, we get to inherit and celebrate the holy and are welcome.
I know that I will always be among the group of people who continue to lobby for protection of such places for future generations. I will add my voice to the uproar when decisions are made to further commercialize Walden, decisions that negatively impact the area environmentally. But I’ll also join the throngs in celebrating this beautiful place by enjoying its cool waters, its gorgeous vista with my children on hot summer days. And I’ll think of Henry T as I trespass some late summer evening with friends to slip my naked body into the clear calm stillness and swim gracefully and quietly, pondering on the sense of Wildness one can still feel at night in such places, and leaving only grateful ripples that gently tickle the shore.