Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Imaginary Places

The day after visiting Author's Ridge, we took a few hours and visited Walden Pond. This was the year long home of Thoreau who then wrote the book "Walden Pond". The philosophy, observations, and practices of this writer during that one year have had significant influence American writing, ideals, and self perception. I had read significant portions of "Walden" at various points in high school and in college. I had never looked up a picture or took too active a time in researching the details of that year in the woods.

Walden Pond was very different from what I had imagined. 

I am not sure I had imagined something in great detail. I could not now describe to you what I had imagined, but can tell you what surprised me.

First, it was very large. The trail around it was about 2  miles in length. I would have cut it off by the first cove we came to. My southern PA pond experiences perhaps influenced this thinking.

Second, it was anything but secluded. I know: things change in hundreds of years. This did not seem possible though while reading the book. The constant presence of highway sounds were startling. Rangers wandering in their uniforms. Families armed with beach towels and chairs an afternoon in the roped off swimming area. A large bath house. A gift shop. A fee to park in the lot up the hill from the water.

Simplify? Maybe not.

But yet this was the historical pond. And I began to question the difference between my imaginary Walden and the one that was sitting in front of me full of a open water swimmers, international tourists, and the occasional fisherman. Boston had a similar effect on me: was this the city I felt I knew from years of reading history, both in fact and story? The imaginary place had been very real to me even if I could not have told you all of its details. I would be able to tell you when it seemed to fit my expectations and my imagination.

But what is more "real"? The one I have known through reading? The one I knew through visiting? Both have an affect, shape an experience. Walden Pond, as Thoreau knew it, is no more. And yet it exists in the pages of a book.

Can the imaginary real be real as a bathhouse by Thoreau's home?

1 comment:

Charlotte Holmes said...

Yes, I think so, Dana. The world you create in your head is much closer to the world Thoreau knew and wrote about. And that world was completely real.