Monday, July 25, 2011

Thoreau Spends A Night In Jail


The summer after I graduated from high school I worked at Walden Pond for what was then Middlesex County. A bunch of us city kids traveled by car together to the rural, wooded Concord MA. We had never seen so many trees, at least not together.

We had various duties throughout the work period. I remember one time digging a ditch for a water main for a couple of weeks and another time clearing a path in the woods for future paving.

On one particular day I remember walking by an area marked off with small granite pillars and heavy chains.

The marked off area piqued my curiosity so I questioned the County boss.


Me: What's that.
Boss: That? that's where that guy Theruss lived.
Me: Who?
Boss: Theruss or whatever his name is. Supposedly, he moved from a nice house in Concord Center to a shack in Walden Woods. Wow.
Me: What did he do that for?
Boss: I don't know. He was nuts. I think he was the world's first hippie.
Me: (holding the chains) So this is where his shack sat?
Boss: Yeah supposedly, although Tommy (another County boss) tells me when he was a kid he remembers a hotdog stand here.

Did you ever have one of those moments when the stars align just a certain way and something/someone, for no rational reason, draws you? Well, for some unexplainable reason I became obsessed with the guy that lived in a shack in Walden Woods. I wanted/needed to know more.

With a little research the first thing I discovered was the man's name was Thoreau and not Theruss. And Theruss didn't move to the woods because he was a nut, he moved to the woods "to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived" (Walden).

Once I entered college, my obsession with Thoreau continued to grow. I read everything I could about and by Thoreau. But of all the things I read the most powerful to me was his essay titled Civil Disobedience. In Civil Disobedience Thoreau advocates peaceful resistance to a perceived injustice, an axiom followed by Gandhi and Martin Luther King just to name two.

And Thoreau practiced what he preached.

On July 23, 1846 Henry David Thoreau spent a night in the Concord jail for not paying his poll tax as a protest to slavery. It is said that on the night of Thoreau's incarceration Ralph Waldo Emerson went to visit Thoreau and as he looked through the cell's bars at his friend asked, "Henry what are you doing in there", to which Thoreau replied, "Ralph what are you doing out there". I guess that says it all about Thoreau.

During my college years I occasionally skipped class (hey, everyone did it) and drove to Walden Pond, sometimes with friends, sometimes alone. We/I would soak up nature and reflect on how the world's first hippie changed the world.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

cool post!