Friday, March 1, 2013

Thoreau's little house in the woods

Earlier this week I was down in Massachusetts and on Monday after visiting some old friends in Concord, stopped by Walden Woods to see if we could find Henry David Thoreau's little house.  It no longer exists but there's a replica there of the one-room structure in which he lived from July 4, 1845 to September 6, 1847.

The original building stood on a slope overlooking Walden Pond about one-half mile from here [in the photo].  It was possible to create an accurate reproduction of Thoreau's home because he described it in such detail in Walden, the book he later wrote about his two-year-long experiment.  Thoreau built most of the home with his own hands.

The 10' X 15' cottage, as seen from the back

Someone had been there before us.  Footprints going in,
circling the house, coming back out

Walk up and peek into the window at the side
and you see:

a desk and 3 chairs

This is the front of the house.
Looking in at the other side window, you see:

Thoreau's desk, on top of which sits what looks like
a Visitor Book where guests can sign their names.  

To the left, Thoreau's fireplace, stove and woodpile;
underneath the opposite window, a single bed

Cost of Materials for Thoreau's House (from Walden)

                                            Boards                                       $8.03 1/2            Mostly shanty boards
                                            Refuse shingles for 
                                            roof and sides                            4.00
                                            Laths                                              1.25
                                            Two second-hand windows
                                            with glass                                     2.43
                                            One thousand old brick          4.00
                                            Two casks of lime                      2.40                  That was high.
                                            Hair                                                 0.31               More than I needed.
                                            Mantle-tree iron                        0.15
                                            Nails                                               3.90
                                            Hinge and screws                      0.14
                                            Latch                                              0.10
                                            Chalk                                              0.01
                                            Transportation                           1.40                  I carried a good part on my back.
                                                                                               $28.12  1/2


Sculpture nearby.

While at Walden, Thoreau chopped wood, cleared land, made bread, grew
vegetables (2 acres of beans), did repairs, and of course, read books and wrote.
He often had visitors (hence, the 2 extra chairs), and regularly trekked into town for news.

I imagine Thoreau walking these woods,
spring, summer, autumn, winter . . .

"Soon the ice will melt, and the blackbirds sing ..." 

listening for the birds,
contemplating snow

Thoreau claimed he never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude.  Who of us has not at one time or another wanted to get away somewhere, to some island or seashore or cabin in the woods, to be alone to think or write or meditate sans distraction?   And yet he was distracted (by the sound of the passing trains, for example, which irritated him; by visitors, by inclement weather). 

 "Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!"  A dead writer's temporary work and living space reproduced repositioned, and preserved for generations to come.  Honoring the writer, remembering his writings. Which most captivates here--the writer, his former dwelling/experience of living alone in these woods, or his words? 

My two most remembered Thoreau quotes:

          If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because
             he hears a different drummer.   Let him step to the music which he hears, 
          however measured or far away.

          It is not what you look at that matters;
          it's what you see. 

My favorite part of these grounds is Walden Pond, one of the absolute best places for swimming in the area [IMHO].  Walks in the woods in the winter, anywhere though, always a pleasure, with or without encountering a reconstructed famous writer's former house.  Unlike Thoreau, though, I love the sound of trains.  And you hear them all the time here, still chugging along the tracks - train whistles and bird tweets and silence: life in these Walden woods.