Life in the Woods
Here I sit at Walden Pond, known to the literary world as the once-home of Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau. Presumably, what was once a source of inspiration for Thoreau could also serve as inspiration for me, so here I sit with my pen and pad, surrounded by nature and awaiting my muse. Granted, I’m sitting in a van in the parking lot, but the parking lot’s surrounded by nature, and the van’s doors are wide open to admit the singing of birds, a cool New England breeze, and the sound of an ice cream truck playing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Yay, nature.
Every subspecies of writer, including the columnist, is familiar with the challenge of finding subject matter. (For those of you playing at home, this becomes most obvious when they start writing about the challenge of finding inspiration.) As much as I’d like it if something exciting, interesting, and fit to print conveniently happened to be every week, more often than not, I instead get to face the challenge of making the mundane sound interesting (see issue 17’s piece on dental hygiene). I haven’t the faintest idea of whether it’s working or not, but I will say that the writing exercise has done wonders for my class papers. So naturally, if a chance to try a change of pace (option #1 in the anti-writer’s block handbook) presents itself, I’m going to take it. Which brings me back to Walden Pond.
I have to be honest: I’m not really sure why it’s called a pond, and I found out this morning that Wikipedia shares my confusion. When my friends and I first saw it, we could have sworn that it had more of a lake-like persuasion, although the point arose that we could at least see the other side, one of two theories as to the defining characteristic of a pond. Still, it’s been called a pond for ages. It’s in print as such. You can’t argue with that.
The first thing we did when we got there was take a look at the replica of Thoreau’s hovel where he spent two years without television or Internet access, the poor soul. And people say writers don’t suffer for their art. The most immediately noticeable aspect about the cabin is that it looks about as large as a dorm room but turns out to be quite a bit roomier that it appears. I haven’t felt that same combination of pity and envy since watching Adam Savage of the Mythbusters get to burn off half his hair on national television in at least two seasons’ worth of intro montages. Then there was the usual college-students-on-tour fare: signing the guestbook, taking photographs, watching the females in the party flirting with the presumably-life-size but suspiciously short statue of Thoreau himself.
Taking a stroll around the “Pond,” we noticed that the water was actually fairly shallow for a considerable distance out from shore (the second theory), and that most of the people trying to take long walks on the miniscule beach were having to walk several laps back and forth. Along the way, we saw the original site of Thoreau’s bachelor pad, reasonably close to the water and far from civilization, as much so now as then. It was, on the one hand, a great setup for a writer, and, on the other hand, a perfect setup for a horror movie. Fortunately, we were traveling by day, so we were safe, at least as far as we knew. At any rate, the pond-lake was small enough to walk around once quickly before heading for the safety the gift shop.
As it turns out, the Shop at Walden Pond doesn’t have any snow globes or collectible shot glasses. What is does have are some t-shirts with interesting quotes on them and a wide assortment of finger and hand puppets. My friend and I spent enough time with those to regress my brain to an eight-year-old’s state and to make my friend feel at least a little bored. My friends aren’t MIT students, and I suspect I found the beaver puppets to be much funnier than they did. While I was there, the clerk at the cash register happened to be giving a small electromagnetism lecture to some tourists on the workings of generators and motors. I imagine they didn’t find that as interesting as I did, either.
It’s hard to say whether the trip to Walden Pond was a success or not. I experienced some literary culture, got some much-needed sunlight, and spent the afternoon with friends, but most of what I wrote that day was scrapped. Apparently, the counter at a diner a few blocks up Massachusetts Avenue can be just as inspiring as a natural haven in the heart of a New England forest. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get going. Opportunities for exciting, interesting, and fit to print events are few and far between, and at this point, dinner is close enough for me.