All posts by darianworden

The Somewhat Deserted Village

Within northern New Jersey’s Watchung Reservation, a cluster of cottages in various states of repair mark the location of a mill town that became a summer resort.

Glenside Park Buildings

Native Americans called the region the “Wach Unks,” which means high hills. A number of Native American artifacts have been found around the village site, and it is believed the area was used for winter residence. The land was sold to white men in 1664.

In 1736, Peter Wilcox purchased a 424 acre tract from the Elizabethtown Associates. He soon established a mill along the Blue Brook.

Early settlers are buried on a hill near the village. According to a Park Commission book from the 1960s, all of the original markers had disappeared, but the head stone of John Willcox was recovered and put into storage to prevent it from being stolen again.

Watchung Cemetery

In 1845, David Felt bought about 760 acres with water rights along the valley. He chose the location because the water was considered good for making paper and there were already two mills ready for his use.

Walking through the area today, passing families enjoying some time outdoors and people leisurely walking their dogs, you don’t get a sense of how regimented life here once was.

Feltville Ruins

Felt considered the area “an ideal spot on which to found a village where the inhabitants would be removed from the temptations and sorrows of city life and would enjoy goodness, peace, and plenty.”

He set up housing for workers, but also subjected them to rigid rules on and off the job.

According to one account,

The owner of the village was a man of a strong, positive nature, cold and reserved, and he ruled the village people as far as he could with as much methodical strictness as he applied to his boxwood hedges and well trimmed cedar trees. All of his employees were compelled to trade at his store, and those who lived in his two large boarding houses had to keep within the strictest bounds. At seven o’clock in the morning the bell on the great barn at the ‘Mansion House’ rang for work to begin. At twelve and one o’clock it rang for the dinner recess, and when it sounded again the millwheel stopped and the mill hands came trooping out of the big door and climbed the winding paths beneath the trees on the bluff for their suppers. When night had fallen and nine o’clock came, the bell rang out again, and ill-fared the youth and maiden who were found strolling in the rocky glen or beside the rushing millstream, for a rigid rule was laid down that all in the village must be within doors when the last bell echoed through the darkened woods.

But Feltville would soon become a place of leisure. In 1860, David Felt sold the village and returned to New York City. Future owners failed to keep successful businesses. Mills crumbled and houses were abandoned as the place became a local curiosity known as the Deserted Village.

Abandoned Cottage

In 1882 the property was bought at auction by Warren Ackerman, who rehabilitated it as a summer resort called Glenside Park.

A brochure boasted that “The air is dry, clear and entirely free from even a hint of malaria.” Located on a wooded hillside a short carriage ride from a train station, the resort was largely successful until the mid 1910s. Its decline has been attributed to an increasing popularity of shore resorts and to the automobile making other places more accessible to people in the resort’s target market.

Glenside Park’s land was soon bought by a number of proprietors, then by Union County during the establishment of the Watchung Reservation in the 1920s.

During the Great Depression, the Park Commission restored the cottages and rented them for cheap to families who had lost their homes and properties. Soon all the cottages were occupied and a community identity was established.

Feltville Building

To this day, some of the cottages are private residences, outposts of habitation among nearly identical buildings making a slow return to nature.

Deserted Village of Feltville

The people who have lived in the places we explore had different reasons to be there. For some, the Feltville area was handy housing for a nearby job exploiting the resources of wood and water. Some spent winters there and others enjoyed the country air during the summer. For today’s visitors, the Deserted Village offers a chance to witness time and nature weathering old structures while on a nice stroll through the woods.

Feltville Sign in Watchung Reservation

Notes:

Hawley, James B. The Deserted Village and The Blue Brook Valley. Union County Park Commission, 1964.
http://www.mountainsidelibrary.org/HistoryFiles/DesertedVillBBValley.pdf

Highway Crossings

If you have traveled on Interstate 78 between the Newark area and I-287, you might have noticed driving under bridges with trees on them. These bridges link areas of the Watchung Reservation, a large county park split by the interstate.

One of the bridges carries no pavement at all.

Watchung Reservation and Interstate 78

The Watchung Mountains are a fairly low range in northeastern New Jersey. In the 1950s the region was characterized by rural towns and park lands. When the US government announced a plan for an interstate highway through the area in 1957, it began a long fight with local officials and conservationists.

The Watchung section of Interstate 78 was finally completed in 1986. The highway cut through the northern part of the Reservation, and bridges were constructed to serve as wildlife crossings.

Watchung Reservation Wildlife Bridge

As I was searching online for information about the Watchung Reservation, I found that the Wikipedia page on the topic said, “Land bridges designed to allow wildlife to travel safely between the severed parts of the Watchung Reservation were built, but they have failed and are largely not used by animals.[citation needed]”

That is a bold statement to make without citations. I figured that while I explored the area I should look for signs of wildlife. Unfortunately the previous day’s snow had turned to rain during the night, so it was not as easy as I hoped it would be.

I did find numerous animal tracks, which are kind of hard to photograph.

Tracks on Watchung Wildlife Bridge

There were several piles of droppings on the wildlife bridge.

Droppings near middle of Watchung Wildlife Bridge

Laying on the ground to photograph feces was a new experience for me!

Droppings on Watchung Wildlife Bridge

There was also a game trail that went all the way across the bridge through some bushes.

Game Trail on Watchung Wildlife Bridge

There are deer bones on the bridge too.

Watchung Deer Bones

Even hawks like the place.

Hawk in Watchung

“Largely not used” is a pretty vague statement, but it is clear that animals do use the crossing to some degree. There are plenty of downed tree branches in the area for anyone who would be interested in building a blind and sitting in highway noise and fumes for a few hours to observe wildlife.

West of the bridge without pavement is the old Nike Road crossing. It is named after the Nike missile base that used to be in the area, one of the many air defense installations that ringed New York and other major cities until the Nike system became obsolete. The Watchung installation, NY-73, was operational from 1958 to 1963.

Nike Road in Watchung

There is a gap between the road surface and the wooded shoulder of the bridge, which is a little spooky to look through and see tractor-trailers scream by below.

Gap in Overpass

The road makes a sharp turn and heads uphill.

Tire on Nike Road in Watchung

It would be a nice view if not for the incessant highway noise.

Nike Road Overlook - Watchung

A rusty fence topped with barbed wire is presumably a remnant of the Nike base.

Nike Road Hill

Near the top of the hill, the road curves back and ends at a residential neighborhood. But a side path leads to the grounds of a high school, near where the Nike radar installation stood.

While much of the Watchung Reservation is surprisingly quiet, the noisy parts have a few stories to tell. The federal government’s support for automobile and highway travel, its conflicts with locals about new construction, and the effort to accommodate or appease environmental concerns are part of America’s post World War II story just as much as the missiles deployed to intercept Soviet bombers. Taking the time to explore on foot gives you a chance to gain a new understanding of a place you might have driven through hundreds of times.

Watchung looking down to 78

Notes:

“The Bunny Bridge of Watchung.” The Lostinjersey Blog. March 19, 2009.
http://lostinjersey.wordpress.com/2009/03/19/the-bunny-bridge-of-watchung/

Di Ionno, Mark. Backroads, New Jersey: Driving at the Speed of Life. Piscataway: Rutgers University Press, 2003. Pages 17-20.
Preview at Google Books.

“MISSILES in Mountainside — Nike Battery NY-73.” The Hetfield House, Mountainside Historic Preservation Committee, November, 2009.
http://www.mountainsidehistory.org/files/HHnewsletter09final.pdf

Watchung Reservation Trail Map. Union County Department of Parks and Community Renewal. Bob Cosman, 2001, Updated 2010.
http://ucnj.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/wrmap804.pdf

For more Watchung Reservation adventures, see the Head First post on Feltville and the Hidden New Jersey post on Surprise Lake and the Glenside Avenue overpass.

Modern Times

In 1851 Josiah Warren and Stephen Pearl Andrews founded Modern Times, a community based on Warren’s ideas of individual sovereignty and equitable commerce. Modern Times quickly grew into a stable and unique village within the Long Island town of Islip. Its marks can still be seen even as its founding principles have been gradually replaced by more conventional ideas.

Modern Times Dame House

Josiah Warren was born in Boston in 1798. By 1851, he was an experienced innovator and activist. He made several contributions to printing technology and invented a lard-burning lamp that provided good light using cheaper fuel than tallow. From 1824 to 1827, he lived with his family at Robert Owen’s utopian community, New Harmony, where Warren worked as a music director.

josiah-warren

Warren soon realized that New Harmony, run on communitarian principles with Owen in charge, did not provide a solution to economic injustice. Warren did not leave as a reactionary but remained an innovator. He developed his philosophy of individual sovereignty, and advocated individually-held property with an economic program of “equity” or “equitable commerce.”

After leaving New Harmony, Warren opened a new store in Cincinnati. Prices were based on cost with compensation for the storeowner’s time, and labor notes were used as a medium of exchange. The storekeeper agreed to exchange his time for an equal amount of the customer’s time. The system was modified through experience, and began to allow for different valuations of different kinds of labor. Warren’s “Time Store” was very popular and had a major effect on local business. But Warren had his mind on broader changes.

labornote

In 1831 Warren established the first “equitable village” with four hundred acres and a few families. The experiment had to be abandoned due to disease, a major problem for new and old communities at the time, but Warren believed that he was onto something. He explained his ideas his publication The Peaceful Revolutionist. In 1847 he established Utopia, a village in Ohio. Individuals traded with each other using labor notes, and in doing so were able to acquire homes and small plots of land despite their previous poverty.

Warren returned to Boston in 1848 and met other reformers, then went to New York City in 1850, where he developed his relationship with the writer and reformer Stephen Pearl Andrews. It was time to demonstrate equity at a new location.

Warren and Andrews purchased land in the town of Islip, New York. They developed 90 acres of their purchase, laying out a grid of streets and dividing blocks into smaller lots that would be sold at cost.

Through labor capital and cooperation, Modern Times pioneers were able to afford homes, some for the first time. By 1854, 37 families were living in Modern Times. In 1857 the octagonal-shaped one-room schoolhouse was opened.

modern-times-class

Reporting in the New York Tribune brought attention to the village, and didn’t always bring the expected crowd.

While Modern Times residents were generally non-conformists for their time, some pushed the envelope further than others, including a family of nudists, an advocate of polygamy, and followers of strange diet fads. Warren remarked that “A woman with an ungainly form displayed herself in public in men’s attire, which gave rise to the newspaper comment that ‘the women of Modern Times dressed in men’s clothes and looked hideous.’”

True to their principles of individual sovereignty, residents were largely tolerant of what they considered odd as long as their neighbors did not invade the rights of others.The community’s tolerance, and probably the money to be made in sensational reporting, led Modern Times to be widely viewed as a den of sin and dishonesty. The prevalence of a casual view toward marriage and non-interference in personal relationships contributed to outside disdain.

In 1864, Modern Times residents voted to change name of the town to Brentwood, which is the name of the area today. William Bailie contends that the pioneers continued to prosper but “often let the statement go forth that the experiment had come to an end in order to escape the interminable annoyance of sensational press reports and equally obnoxious visiting cranks.”

One goal of Modern Times was to demonstrate on a small scale what could be done if the principles of equity and individual sovereignty were applied on a large scale. In this sense, Modern Times was a failure as a public relations project, but it was not a failure as a community. It was an attractive place to escape the control of capital and conformity.

In 1857, a resident praised Modern Times in a letter to an English friend.

You have been here, Sir, and I ask you, considering the natural obstacles to overcome, if you ever saw greater material success attained in so short a time, by the same number of people without capital, and with only their hands and brains to operate with, under all the disadvantages of habits formed by a false education and training…. And as it regards individual and social happiness and the entire absence of vice and crime, I am confident this settlement cannot be equalled.

A visitor’s account of Modern Times reveals a strong combination of individualism and community spirit.

No two persons were expected to dress alike, think alike, or act alike; nothing was in such disrepute as sameness, nothing more applauded than variety, no fault more venial than eccentricity….
There was, too, an easy, cordial relation of one with another, a frankness and simplicity of intercourse, which gave assurance that they were held together by a genuine attraction and sustained by mutual sympathy.

Bailie writes that Modern Times moved away from Warren’s ideas mainly due to the scarcity of employment other than agriculture, and the reluctance of the outside community to adopt its economic principles.

Capital was needed to start factories for the manufacture of articles for which there was a demand in the outside world. The pioneers had but little resources, and the labor-note currency, while of great service amongst themselves, could not help them in transactions with those who neither understood the principle nor accepted the practice of Equitable Commerce.

The Panic of 1857 and the changes wrought by the Civil War contributed to the gradual dissolving of the community’s identity.

George Woodcock writes that Modern Times “maintained its mutualist character for at least two decades, eventually turning, like Utopia, into a more or less conventional village with cooperative tendencies.”

The schoolhouse closed in 1907 and became a private residence.

modern-times-schoolhouse-residence

In 1989 the schoolhouse was moved to a spot on the school district property, and locals are making efforts to restore the structure.

Modern Times Schoolhouse

Back of Modern Times Schoolhouse

Exactly how equitable commerce could have worked on a regional or broader scale is a good question. Numerous time-based currencies have come, and many have gone, since the 1830s. Warren would certainly favor innovation and peaceful competition to find the best way, as he did when he ran the Time Store. The solution could not be imposed by force, but had to be freely adopted and adapted by individuals who recognized it to be in their interest.

Josiah Warren wrote about social and economic philosophy until his death in 1874. He was an innovator who learned through experience and put his ideas into practice for refinement and demonstration. The peaceful revolutionist influenced a number of American reformers and rebels, and was considered a forefather of individualist anarchism.

josiah_warren

Stephen Pearl Andrews continued his involvement in reform movements until his death in 1886. Promoting Warren’s ideas was one of his numerous contributions to nineteenth-century politics.

stephen-pearl-andrews

In a way Modern Times symbolizes an ideal of America as a somewhat wild land of opportunity where pioneers – innovators, people willing to build new lives for themselves and their neighbors – have the freedom to experiment. It is of course an ideal that was not fulfilled on a wide scale, an ideal that coexisted with slavery, speculation, sexism, cronyism, and conquest. But it is a promise that can bring hope to a land enclosed and foreclosed upon, a promise that Warren, Andrews, and many Modern Times residents worked to fulfill, a promise that today’s innovators may deliver to more people.

It is an ideal that shines through stories found along the road.

modern times schoolhouse sign

Notes:

Accounts of Modern Times are quoted from Bailie, Josiah Warren, Chapter 8.

The Josiah Warren Project at Crispin Sartwell’s website is an excellent place to begin research on Josiah Warren.

References:

“A Message From the Brentwood Historical Society.” Brentwood Historical Society.
http://www.brentwoodhis.org

“Andrews Biographical Information.” Anarchy Archives. http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/Anarchist_Archives/bright/andrews/SPAbio.html

Bailie, William. Josiah Warren: The First American Anarchist. Boston: Small, Maynard & Company, 1906. Online at Anarchy Archives.
http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/Anarchist_archives/bright/warren/bailie.html
Modern Times history from Chapter 8, “Modern Times”; Background info from Chapters 1, 2, and 10.

Berger, Jay. “Brentwood History Trail Guide,” Brentwood Public Library.
http://brentwoodnylibrary.org/brentwoodtrail/brentwoodtrail.htm

Brentwood Public Library, history room, Visited February 18, 2013.

Maloney, Cory, Discussion with author, February 18, 2013.

Projects, Brentwood Historical Society.
http://www.brentwoodhis.org/projects

Sartwell, Crispin. “Timeline of Josiah Warren’s Life.” The Josiah Warren Project.
http://www.crispinsartwell.com/warrentimeline.htm

“Today in History: August 24, The Panic of 1857.” American Memory. The Library of Congress.
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/today/aug24.html

Warren, Josiah. “Modern Education,” 1861. Josiah Warren Project.
http://www.crispinsartwell.com/warreneducation.htm

Woodcock, George. Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements. Ontario: Broadview Press, 2004. Pages 391-394; quoted from 393.

Image Credits:
Anarchy Archives (first Josiah Warren image)
Brentwood Historical Society (old photos of school building)
Helen Nayfeld (photos of current Brentwood)
Josiah Warren Project (Labor Note, Josiah Warren)
Molinari Institute (Stephen Pearl Andrews)

Lightning Tower

In 1901, construction started on a tower intended to be the first piece in Nikola Tesla’s plan for wireless energy transmission. The 187 foot tower at Wardenclyffe was to be a working prototype for wireless communication as well as electricity distribution.

Tesla_Broadcast_Tower_1904

The tower is long gone, the laboratory is boarded, up, and the grounds are full of weeds.

Tesla Wardenclyffe Laboratory

Nikola Tesla was born in 1856 in Smiljan, a Balkan town now in Croatia. By the 1880s he was working in the emerging field of electrical engineering and making innovations of his own. He came to New York in 1884 and worked for Thomas Edison for a year. After a period of working on his own while doing physical labor for money, Tesla began a fruitful working relationship with George Westinghouse.

Westinghouse was a major proponent of transmitting electricity through alternating current, as opposed to Edison’s advocacy of direct current. Tesla and Westinghouse illuminated the 1891 World’s Fair in Chicago and partnered with General Electric to install massive AC generators at Niagara Falls. With royalty money and name recognition, Tesla soon struck out on his own.

Around 1900 a number of innovators were working on wireless communication. Tesla himself piloted a remote control boat around a pool in Madison Square Garden in 1898. He proposed a “world system” of wireless telephone communications, which would broadcast news, music, and even pictures around the world. He got the attention of financier J.P. Morgan and set up what he intended as the first installation and testing ground for his world system in Shoreham on Long Island. It was called Wardenclyffe for a landowner and patron of the installation.

Tesla Street

Morgan invested $150,000 into the project, which was a substantial sum but nowhere near what the project would require. Tesla then revealed his broader vision: the world system would also transmit electricity wirelessly. Morgan was unmoved and did not invest further. Tesla’s position was not improved by Guglielmo Marconi’s successful wireless transmission of a Morse code S across the Atlantic Ocean in late 1901.

Tesla pressed on. A 187-foot tower topped by a 55-ton steel sphere was built. In 1903 it was activated. Lightning streaks flashed through the night sky, startling nearby residents. But it was not enough to be a successful commercial venture, and Tesla abandoned the project in 1905. He soon sold the land to settle debts with the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. The new owners demolished the transmission tower in 1917, possibly at the urging of federal officials concerned about it being used as a landmark or observation point for German spies.

Wardenclyffe Lab

Tesla’s dream was defeated, and Marconi’s achievements in radio were celebrated more than the pioneering radio work of Tesla and others. But Tesla continued to innovate boldly even as his behavior became more eccentric. In 1928 he received his last patent, “Apparatus For Aerial Transportation,” essentially a tilt-rotor aircraft. Hoping to make it impossible to invade a country by air or land, Tesla worked on a particle beam weapon until his death in 1943.

Wardenclyffe changed hands many times until it was bought by Agfa, a company specializing in imaging equipment. Agfa used the grounds from 1969 to 1992, and later spent about 5 million dollars cleaning up silver and cadmium contamination at the site. It has been on the market since 2009, and funds have been raised to purchase the property for a science center and museum. It is not a convenient place to get to from outside of Long Island, but it certainly has potential to be a great community place.

Wardenclyffe For Sale

It is a large tract, and several buildings besides the Tesla laboratory stand on it.

Wardenclyffe Grounds

Building at Wardenclyffe

Today Nikola Tesla is widely admired, sometimes with cult hero status, for his ingenuity and his vision. His eccentricity has only fed the legend. It is satisfying to think of him as the mad scientist, or as the man who stared too long into the abyss and went wild with the wisdom he found. And his rivalry with Thomas Edison, often exaggerated, makes for an appealing story of handsome folk hero against the powerful rich man. These characteristics have fueled many fantastic stories and conspiracy theories, many centered around Wardenclyffe.

tesla-1893

Tesla’s work was profoundly important to the development of alternating current motors and power distribution, as well as wireless signal transmission. He was one of many pioneers bringing the dawn of an electric age, and perhaps his bold vision made him more aware than anyone that a new world was at hand.

While Tesla certainly could have broadcast radio signals from Wardenclyffe, wireless transmission of electricity has been shown to be impractical on a large scale. Even geniuses get it wrong sometimes.

At a time when lightbulbs and phonographs were amazing innovations, Tesla envisioned a world system of electronic communication. A century later, the moving pictures we see from the other side of the world are mostly going through wires, but they are often sent through the air before getting to our computers. Tesla’s tower can be appreciated as a bold effort to explore a new frontier of energy and harness its power for humanity.

Wardenclyffe Complex

Notes:

Amaral, Brian. “Was Thomas Edison a hack? Historians take on claims in The Oatmeal.” NJ.com, February 10, 2013.
http://www.nj.com/middlesex/index.ssf/2013/02/oatmeal_comic_about_tesla_and.html

Broad, William J. “A Battle to Preserve a Visionary’s Bold Failure.” New York Times, May 4, 2009.
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/05/science/05tesla.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

“Life and Legacy.” Tesla – Master of Lightning. PBS.
http://www.pbs.org/tesla/ll/index.html

“Nikola Tesla.” History.com.
http://www.history.com/topics/nikola-tesla

Walden in Winter

On July 4, 1845, Henry David Thoreau moved into a cabin he had built in the woods near Walden Pond. He was not seeking the life of a hermit, but wanted a quiet place to write, study nature, and experiment with simple living.

Thoreau Went to the Woods

Since his youth, Thoreau avidly explored nature and excelled academically. Upon his graduation from Harvard in 1837, he began meeting with Transcendentalist philosophers in Concord, Massachusetts, and became friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson. Thoreau’s first published work would appear in Emerson’s journal The Dial.

Thoreau soon got permission to use part of the Emerson family’s land to gain a deeper understanding of nature. He bought scrapwood and secondhand windows, cut pines with a borrowed ax, and built himself a cabin. He also planted two and a half acres with vegetables, mostly beans. His house was on a gently sloped hill, and its location is now outlined by stone markers.

Thoreau Cabin Site

This was not an experiment in primitive living, but an experiment in simple living that Thoreau hoped could be applied more broadly in society.

Walden Bean Field

A replica of Thoreau’s cabin stands near the parking lot of Walden Pond State Reservation.

Thoreau Cabin Replica

Thoreau made the walls of his cabin from the outer layers of pine logs, so the surface would have been a bit rougher than the replica’s.

In Walden; or, Life in the Woods, Thoreau noted that he lived about a mile and a half south of Concord, and a mile from any neighbor. This was no mean distance for a proud saunterer like Thoreau, who said that “every day or two I strolled to the village.” Thoreau also had many visitors at his cabin, including fugitive slaves he helped guide north.

Not many people visited the cabin in the winter, but Thoreau still walked to town to socialize and conduct his business before walking back through the snow to his cabin. On lonely winter days he sometimes visited the grounds of ruined homesteads nearby and thought of their former inhabitants.

Thoreau’s cabin stood not far from the pond.

Thoreau Cabin and Walden

He described his winter morning work as taking an axe and pail to get water.

Standing on the snow-covered plain, as if in a pasture amid the hills, I cut my way first through a foot of snow, and then a foot of ice, and open a window under my feet, where, kneeling to drink, I look down into the quiet parlor of the fishes…

Thoreau was living on the fringes of civilized life, where culture met the wild. He was close enough to participate in Concord life and visit his family there, but far enough away that many people considered his situation odd. This is exactly where he wanted to be.

Thoreau hoped that the lessons he learned at Walden could be applied by other interested people. Discovering the essential facts of life would help determine how much time and work were really needed to obtain necessities and how much could be spent at leisure and study. It would also give Thoreau a deeper understanding of his relation with the rest of nature. Thoreau was a firm believer in the need for wildness as a tonic to restore and strengthen the civilized.

Our village life would stagnate if it were not for the unexplored forests and meadows which surround it. We need the tonic of wildness…

The railroad was one product of modernity that clamored through the wild at Walden. Thoreau often walked by the tracks, and he seems unsure of whether to be awed or annoyed at the power of the train. Either way he could not ignore it, as the tracks that pass by the banks of the pond across from Thoreau’s Cove were operational in his day.

Thoreau Cove and Train

Thoreau reflected on heat as a basic necessity of life, something common to all humanity. The need for wood to warm and to cook was universal. Food for fire was as valuable to Thoreau’s contemporaries as it was to their ancient ancestors.

In Walden, Thoreau describes nature as satisfying a need for infinite discovery:

At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor…
We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.

Thoreau did his best to explore and fathom the wild. He traveled around New England, observing and recording nature. His knack for measurement served him well in his work as a surveyor assessing property lines.

When Walden froze, Thoreau took the opportunity to measure the pond’s depth by cutting through the ice and dropping down a sounding line. He noted that “There have been many stories told about the bottom, or rather no bottom, of this pond, which certainly had no foundation for themselves.” The mystery of Walden was further compounded by the absence of streams feeding it, as it is a glacial lake filled by runoff. Thoreau’s 1846 survey of the pond is accurate to a close degree.

pondmap

The ice also served Thoreau as a clear area to walk when Concord was covered in deep snow. Walden Pond became his yard. It was also a draw for icemen, who gathered the thick ice to keep food cool in the days before electric appliances.

Today, walking on the ice is a welcome experience to those who rarely get to stand in the middle of a frozen lake.

Walden in Winter

The ice varies in thickness, and cracks run through it.

Walden Ice

On September 6, 1847, Thoreau left his cabin at Walden and went back to living in Concord. He became “a sojourner in civilized life again” after two years and two months in the woods.

I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one.

Thoreau went on living his life and continued to deliver lectures on some of the day’s most pressing questions, including how to confront a government that upheld slavery and how to keep the right amount of wildness in a developing society. His time at Walden undoubtedly refreshed his writing. In 1849 he penned what would become one of the most influential American essays, “Civil Disobedience.” Originally entitled “Resistance to Civil Government,” the essay was largely inspired by Thoreau’s one-day imprisonment for refusing to pay a poll tax, which happened while he was walking to town from Walden. Thoreau also continued to study nature until his death from tuberculosis in 1862.

Walking around Walden, especially when the beach crowds are absent, gives us a chance to reflect on our connections with the rest of nature, and to consider the words Henry David Thoreau left us.

Rise free from care before the dawn and seek adventures. Let the noon find thee by other lakes, and the night overtake thee every where at home.

Frozen Walden and Sun

Notes:

Thoreau, Henry David. Walden. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 2003.
Strolled to village, 154; Winter walks, 232, 240, 246; Gathering water, 256; Tonic of Wildness, 285; Wood, 227; Unfathomable, 286; Measuring pond, 259; Sojourner quote, 7; I left the woods, 291; Seek adventures, 188.

Baym, Nina. “Thoreau’s View of Science.” Thoreau Reader, EServer web publishing project, Iowa State University, 2009.
http://thoreau.eserver.org/science.html

Goodman, Russell, “Transcendentalism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2011/entries/transcendentalism/.

Hoag, Ronald Wesley. “Walden, The Place.” Thoreau Reader.
http://thoreau.eserver.org/waldenplace.html

“Replica of Thoreau’s cabin at the Walden parking lot.” Thoreau Reader.
http://thoreau.eserver.org/cabin.html

Schneider, Richard J. “Thoreau’s Life.” The Thoreau Society, 2006.
http://www.thoreausociety.org/_news_abouthdt.htm

“Thoreau’s 1846 survey of Walden Pond.” The Thoreau Reader.
http://thoreau.eserver.org/survey.html

Thoreau, Henry David. “Civil Disobedience,” Ed. Richard Lenat. Thoreau Reader.
http://thoreau.eserver.org/civil.html

Checklist

You don’t need much to start exploring: comfortable clothes and decent shoes (unless you’re one of those barefoot people) are the only equipment you really need. If you’re going far then water, food, raingear, an extra layer of clothing, and something to carry your stuff with will help.

But if you are serious about trekking out and reaching a specific place, a few things can help you do that – and help you get home. I have decided that a checklist will help things go smoothly when I set out to explore, and I’ve posted it as a simple, two-page .pdf document. Your needs may differ from mine, and every journey has different requirements. But this is something you will adjust as you gain experience and awareness of options.

Here it is: The Head First Day Trip Checklist

Silvermine Lake