It was something started a few years ago and has now become something of a tradition. To celebrate or document her birthday my sister Karen has used the waters of Walden Pond to swim her way into another year. This year was convenient for me since I had the day off to accompany her to the ritual. She invited me to put on a bathing suit and join her this year. Little did I know how crazy this place was on any given day during the year but especially on a nice, warm summer day.
We both grew up swimming at our local “Stevie’s Pond” and took lessons there. In our 20’s we lived near to one another and would meet at the local YWCA where in the evenings after the work day we would meet and swim laps. Swimming was second nature to both of us and we were lifeguards in our teens, me at the infamous above mentioned Stevie’s Pond and her at our town country club golf course pool. And now fast forward oodles of years later at another swimming hole. Since it was her thing on this one day at Walden Pond, I hesitated to join in. That and the little nugget of information about someone drowning last year had me definitely pause for a moment. But I reconsidered in the novelty of it all and we left on our mission. Our birthdays are a week apart so I thought it was a fitting event. As we drove, I thought about where we were going but had no idea about the place, the Walden legacy with Henry David Thoreau or the draw the park had for a lot of people.
When we arrived on this Friday in September the parking lots were full and people were strolling everywhere. When we got down to the beach area I was surprised at the amount of people. It was like a day at Hampton Beach. Parents with young kids and every other age in between old and young were on the beach, in the water or on one of the many trails. Karen told me that this was nothing. Every day during the week during the summer they needed to have a police detail to handle the overflow parking nightmare. People would flock to Walden Pond to swim before their workday began. It is that popular. The pond is pristine and absolutely nothing like you would expect in an average pond. The water was unusually clear, the bottom not full of murky stuff. It was very much like ocean water and with plenty of fish. People were zigzagging all over the water some swimming out as far as the eye could see. The commuter rail still skirted the edge of the pond as this route has been here since the years when Thoreau lived his simple existence at this place.
After a few warmups, Karen was ready to celebrate the big six-oh in style. However, in our rush to leave the house, my bathing suit was left behind. Just as well. It was her day. So I became her lifeguard on shore. I walked the path that followed the shore and close to her swim route. Every now and then she would pause from out in the blue and wave so in a way I was with her. The original footprint of where Henry David Thoreau’s cabin had been located was just around a bend. This was the turnaround spot and I watched as she looped back to swim toward the beach where she set out. She picked up speed swimming at an envious pace with a nice crawl stroke. It became another thing ‘done’ and checked off the list.
It was a nice day and we finished up by walking a few trails around and about. We couldn’t help but think of this person, Henry David Thoreau. His vision of a simple life was still here in the surrounding trees in the forested acres which has become a national park.
The following is from the park website for your information. There is more online for those curious about this Harvard graduate who chose a humble simple life.
Walden Pond State Reservation, Concord/Lincoln, Massachusetts
Henry David Thoreau lived at Walden Pond from July 1845 to September 1847. His experience at Walden provided the material for the book Walden, which is credited with helping to inspire awareness and respect for the natural environment. Because of Thoreau’s legacy, Walden Pond has been designated a National Historic Landmark and is considered the birthplace of the conservation movement. Park Interpreters provide tours and ongoing educational programs. The Reservation includes the 102-foot deep glacial kettle-hole pond. Mostly undeveloped woods totaling 2680 acres, called “Walden Woods,” surround the reservation.
Now part of the Massachusetts Forests and Parks system, Walden Pond State Reservation includes 335 acres of protected open space so that visitors from near and far may come to experience the pond that inspired Thoreau. In summer the Reservation is a popular swimming destination. In the spring and fall, many people hike the trails that ring the pond and visit the replica of Thoreau’s one-room cabin. Year round interpretive programs and guided walks are offered as well as a gift shop, bookstore and the Tsongas gallery.
The history of this part of Concord is more than one man and one pond. For more of this fascinating area check out:
Walden, The Place – The Thoreau Reader