On Walden Pond
A rambling by Tom Knapp,
June 2000

I played my fiddle on the shores of Walden Pond.

Henry David Thoreau, while living in his one-room hut a few miles from Concord, Massachusetts, is said to have enjoyed playing the flute from a boat on the pond. I settled for a fallen log, close to the shore but within sight of the remains of Thoreau's former house.

I hadn't planned to play. I hadn't even expected to be there. Killing time between a few days in the Boston area and a weekend Irish music festival in North Haven, Connecticut, I swung by Lexington and Concord and, late in the afternoon, decided to visit Walden, which I'd last seen several years before. My fiddle was with me, and I grabbed it out of habit; I don't like to leave it in the car. Once I was there, it seemed natural to play a few tunes.

While Thoreau had this near-wilderness all to himself, I saw a very different Walden. The shore closest to the road teemed with swimmers and sunbathers, and boaters schooled on the water. Hikers and joggers made good use of the winding paths, and there were occasional people walking the half-mile trail to see Thoreau's ruins. A few people read on the shore, including one lone tourist from far away who read Walden in Chinese. Two young men laid clues for a treasure hunt their boss would be taking later with his girlfriend; the treasure at the end, they told me, was a wedding proposal.

I settled in on my log, far from the crowds. With the sun close to setting and the surrounding trees in their full June glory, the water on the pond had turned golden-green. At times, voices of people in the water carried clearly, as did the sounds of their splashing. But sometimes it was as quiet as if there were no one else for miles. Squirrels, chipmunks and black mice romped through the underbrush, including one bold mouse who ran over my foot.

As evening wore on and the light began to fade, the crowds thinned out. There were fewer people on the trails, although there were perhaps more couples strolling hand-in-hand. (Was one of them the treasure-hunt couple? I never found out.) Meanwhile, the birds' songs changed with evening, and the subtle sounds of woods and water grew more distinct. I couldn't have asked for a better chorus.

I'm not really sure how long I played. I paused often, just sitting back to enjoy the day or to chat with passersby who paused to hear the music. But dusk was rapidly falling when I ran out of jigs, reels and polkas. I let the last notes of "Give Me Your Hand," a beautiful Irish air, ring out over the water before packing my fiddle away and heading back to the civilized world.

On the way out, I fished someone's abandoned purple cap from the water and admired a lone sand castle by the pond's edge. I'd passed a simple, peaceful evening in a place of beauty and inspiration, and I gave my gift of music to the woods and those who were there. I'd like to think Thoreau would have approved.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

Buy Walden from Amazon.com.

You can see my photos of Walden, taken during a previous visit, here.