Sunday, August 2, 2009

Thoreau's Birthday

July 12 2009 – am

to Sleepy Hollow

[This is an especially long entry - please bear with me! Since things are so far behind in this blog- it's time to catch up to the present ~!
In order to do so, I am leaving out some of the other things that happened in Concord, perhaps to tell at another time. This entry is about my very last day there, when I stayed a little later than planned, and had a marvelous experience as a result.]

Woke up very early and headed over to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, to leave a small offering at the gravesite of Henry Thoreau.
When I asked Corky if she wanted to come along, she said,
"I'm heading for the woods,
that's where he speaks to me."

I thought about that, in the car, all the way over there.

She's right.

But visiting the cemetery was sort of a tradition. Throughout the year, people leave little things on and around his small and simple headstone.

(photo courtesy of Rob DePaolo)

It's a touching sight at any time of year. Many others who were visiting Concord this week would be coming here, too — for today was Thoreau’s birthday.

It had rained hard overnight and the sky was a morose shade of gray. I parked at the gate and walked along the dark path, up the hill toward Author's Ridge. Past the large white quartz boulder with engraved bronze plaque that serves as Emerson's gravestone. Past Lousia May Alcott's plot, where small tokens -- acorns, pennies and, curiously, ballpoint pens -- had been left by admirers. Past Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife Sophia.
I didn't see anyone else around at that early hour, so it was a meditative walk.

At the Thoreau plot, I left my small gifts. Something biodegradable that Henry was fond of.

Corky's words were still bouncing around in my head.


No, wait - that was the sound of a green frog! Several green frogs.
Behind Author's Ridge, the ground drops off sharply to ... a swamp.

I enter a swamp as a sacred place—a sanctum sanctorum.
HDT, Walking

I followed the sound of the frogs. The path ended at a crumbling stone gate with a chain across it. Beyond the chain -- was a trail to the swamp.
After a short distance, there it was - a quiet murky pool of water in the middle of a dark woods.

The frogs plucked their banjos contently, playing a tune that Henry was very familiar with.
I rejoice that it can be heard near his resting-place, more than a hundred years later.

July 12, 2009 late morning
To Walden Pond on foot

Today was the day to leave Walden. The car was packed, goodbyes were said,

and yet …
... maybe there was time for one more walk around the perimeter of Walden Pond…?

The heavy clouds were lifting, and it promised to be a hot sunny day.
At a huge mud puddle along the narrow fenced-in path, I met a mother with two small children.
Marco and his little sister Ana Gracia both carried small red tin pails. “They want to find a turtle,” their mom explained.
La tortuga.

Well now! Despite being a genuine certified Turtle Monitor at Lake George,
I’d never seen a turtle in the clear waters of Walden pond itself, but I thought they might see one around the other side, in Wyman’s Meadow (really a shallow weedy pond.) So off we went.

The kids were curious about everything, and it was fun to point out some things to them. They asked about Thoreau. They ate sorrel leaves. At their mother's urging, they waded in the water.

What a great mom.

Their mom Maria said that her son told her that he “wanted to be like the scientist Darwin.”
Darwin! This little guy was in second or third grade!
He’d already spotted a painted turtle in a small pool along the trail, that our grown-up eyes had missed.
We continued around Walden Pond, passing those little openings in the undergrowth where rocky steps lead out into the water.
At one, a man was just coming out from swimming. We turned to say hello, when the little boy said, “Look, a turtle!”

Sure enough, there was a young snapping turtle floating just offshore. I was surprised and pleased to see it there, in the clear waters of Walden itself.
Wow, what an educational opportunity! I thought.
"Mr. Thoreau had a special place in his heart for turtles," I told the kids.
He and his brother John taught school for several years, and their field trips with the children to places like Walden Pond were considered a radical teaching method in those days.

The man said, “It’s been hanging around there for a while now.”
We all stood and watched it.

Then the turtle did a flip.
The man & I looked at each other. “THAT was weird.”
Then we noticed a twig or something hanging below the turtle in the water.

It seemed to follow the turtle as she swam around.


Fishing line.

The turtle was caught in fishing line and the twig was like an anchor. Something had to be done.
“Is she going to die?” said the boy.

This could turn into a really bad version of Wild Kingdom, fast.

The man resourcefully used a long stick to loop around the line, and draw the turtle gently closer to shore. We pulled her in as close as we dared, then the brave man cut the line closely with my teeny tiny Swiss Army knife. What else could we do? This turtle had been hooked, perhaps intentionally. There was no way any of us was going to reach into a snapping turtle’s mouth to take out a hook.
But at least now, cut free of the line, she could swim freely.

Which we figured she would do, hastily.

What she did next was completely unexpected.

Instead of fleeing from us humans, she came even closer until she was on the bottom step, halfway out of the water, and fixed a beady eye on each of us.

“She’s thanking us,” said the mother.
There was a long pause.
The five of us, and the turtle, silently gazed at each other.

Then the turtle backed into the water again, and slowly moved out of sight along the shore. How she will fare in the days to come, is anyone’s guess, but if we had not happened along, her end would have been fairly certain.

We each went our separate ways after that. The family took a little lunch break at Wyman's Meadow, and when I walked away, the children were happily watching frogs along the water's edge.
They give me hope for the green future.

In the car on the long drive home, I thought,
What better way to celebrate Henry Thoreau’s birth-day?

Consider the turtle … has not the great world existed for them as much as for you?
~ HDT, Journal


  1. Oh, what a beautiful story! It brought tears to my eyes. Just think what a lesson in love you revealed to those children. You saved a creature that many people revile, and what a miracle you witnessed when the turtle seemed to acknowledge you. Wow! Thank you.

  2. What a touching turtle story! Like Jackie, I find my eyes a bit blurry after reading it. I imagine those children will remember the experience for years to come!

  3. Lovely story! We're SURE that the snapper will be okay. They're really tough. We often 'rescue' them from roads where they've been hit, and even with cracked shells and bleeding, they're alive. We'll take them to ponds and release them, and we're sure that more than once we've seen the same turtle, crack and all, swimming about days later. That fishing hook should rust right out, and probably just add a little iron to her diet =) Way to go rescuing this beautiful animal!

  4. Ok, so I got a little teary eyed too. First, for the young boy who wants to be like Darwin. This is the kind of thing that gives me hope. Second, for the little group of people who cared enough to try and rescue the injured snapper. This IS hope.

  5. It's a lovely story!!!
    And I'm so proud of that mother that with all her love teach to those children moral values, specially in this case with nature...
    In fact she is my sister and the children are my beautiful nephews.
    Gabriela Castillo (PerĂº)