There is some advantage in being the humblest cheapest least dignified man in the village ... Methinks I enjoy the advantage to an unusual extent. … I am not above being used, aye abused, sometimes.
HDT Journal, July 6, 1851
As the day wore on, it wasn’t getting any cooler. After supper, Corky and I went over to Walden, thinking that the daytime crowds would have eased by now.
We thought that perhaps we could walk around the pond trail, to find a nice swimming-spot.
The thought of all that water nearby was tantalizing.
But as we came down those long cement steps to the Beach area, loudspeakers were announcing that the pond would be closing -- in half an hour. There was even a motorboat that chugged out on patrol to the far end of the pond, urging the distance-swimmers to head back to shore.
OK then, it would be a very short walk. We started along the north side trail, which is a sort of extension of the main beach. It’s the more heavily-used side of the pond and is the shorter route to the original site of Thoreau’s house at Walden. So it’s also a pilgrimage-path for many.
As I had noticed on my morning walk here, there was plenty of litter lying about. Left over from yesterday?
In years past, I had seen Park staff members, doing cleanup patrols, morning and evening along the pond. Haven’t seen them this year. If the budget in Massachusetts was as stressed as our State Parks funding at home, maybe that wasn’t an option anymore.
This morning, I walked right by some trash without stopping. My own lame excuse was that I didn’t have a trash bag in the daypack. At home I try to carry one, since otherwise one’s pack begins to smell of Eau de Budweiser.
This evening, I didn’t even have the pack with me. All we wanted to do was jump into the water to cool off.
We walked only a short way, seeing all sorts of stuff here and there along the water’s edge.
Then I saw the remains of one of the signs urging folks to stay on the trails to prevent erosion:
And wham ! I was MAD.
Not merely discouraged. No amount of tsk-tsk'ing would fix this --
One of my favorite places in the world, getting treated like crap !
There I stood, in my Target t-shirt with the big drawing of Woodsy Owl on it, with his motto “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute.” I looked down at the words.
What would I have done at home, if I saw trash? Yup, pick it up without too much thought.
And wasn’t Walden just as sacred to me? Wasn’t it a place where I feel right at home ?
It suddenly struck me that Walden was not just a symbol,
it was a real place,
and here was real trash,
and here I was, parading around in that preachy t-shirt.
Time, as my Indian friends would say, to walk your talk.
So I turned to Corky with an idea.
“I have a way for us to be able to walk around Walden after closing – let’s pick up some of this trash!”
Now I gotta give Corky a lot of credit. She paused only a second before saying,
“O – kayyyy…”
After a brief discussion with Park staff, who said, yes they were understaffed, and that it would be fine for us to help, we went back to our B&B for some trash bags.
I retrieved the garden-gloves from my car, and the grabber-pole that I use to pick up trash when kayaking. So we were all set.
When we got back to the beach area moments later, the young staffers were waiting for us, and had larger bags to hand to us - “Our boss said to give these to you.”
So off we went, feeling sort of deputized. We walked inward along the trail, picking up litter, as people filed past us walking out. One man was kind enough to tell me “make sure you get that Coke bottle I saw a little ways back.”
Oh yes sir, we did, and there were also papers and cigarette butts and candy wrappers and socks and swim trunks (???) and lots of other bottles and cans (including my favorite insult to nature, The Can-Stuck-on-the-Tree-Branch) and even half-eaten watermelon chunks tossed into the water.
He especially loved to raise melons. I once went to a melon-party at his mother’s with various people, young and old, where his work had furnished the handsome and fragrant pink or salmon fruit on which alone we were regaled; and he, the gardener, came to help entertain the guests.
Reminiscences of Thoreau by Edward Waldo Emerson
Soon our bags were getting heavy. We were both hot, tired and a little cranky. Corky started to sing a song about Geraldine and Ruthie Mae,
They'll be cruising Main today,
With their bundles and their bags ...
which made me laugh as we dragged our bags along, stumbling over tree roots.
(but it’s quite a sad song, actually.)
The sun was going down over the hill above Thoreau’s House-site.
The bags were pretty full.
Corky took a swim break while I went just a little further on.
It seemed important to slog across the flooded outlet of Wyman’s Meadow in order to check on the House-site for trash. Thankfully, there was hardly any to be found.
So that made for one whole section of the pond-side trail, all picked-up and looking good again. Barely an hour’s labor.
Now please don’t misinterpret this tale – I hesitated to write about it.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of self-righteousness.
In reality it took very little effort on my part -- and perhaps didn’t make much difference a day later.
Meanwhile, there are many other folks out there, working hard to affect the quality of the day in their own ways.
Some do it with great fanfare.
Some do it quietly without a fuss.
Guess I am somewhere in the middle.
Some are very dedicated to their ideals, like Trash Paddler, whom I learned about just days before arriving in Concord. To tell the truth, it was he who inspired me to throw that grabber into the car at the last minute.
After all, what we did this evening was a very small thing. Something anyone could do.
But that’s the point.
By Henry D. Thoreau
O nature I do not aspire
To be the highest in thy quire,
To be a meteor in the sky
Or comet that may range on high,
Only a zephyr that may blow
Among the reeds by the river low.
Give me thy most privy place
Where to run my airy race.
In some withdrawn unpublic mead
Let me sigh upon a reed,
Or in the woods with leafy din
Whisper the still evening in,
For I had rather be thy child
And pupil in the forest wild
Than be the king of men elsewhere
And most sovereign slave of care
To have one moment of thy dawn
Than share the city's year forlorn.
Some still work give me to do
Only be it near to you