Girl Planting seeds

What's Your Walden Pond?

Walden_Pond beautiful sceneryBy Deirdre Imus, May 2018
In the middle of last summer, while many of us were relishing the great outdoors, a little-noticed study revealed that the water in Massachusetts’ celebrated Walden Pond has gotten kind of icky. That’s a far cry from the observation Henry David Thoreau famously made about this body of water more than 150 years ago, when he deliberately chose to spend two years, two months, and two days living in a cabin he built near Walden Pond, which he once described as “lovelier than diamonds.”

Not so much these days. According to this new report, Walden Pond has been nearly irreversibly changed by human activity, mainly due to the effects of climate change and urine released by swimmers.  This has led to murkier water that makes it difficult for plants at the bottom of the pond to get the sunlight they need. Additionally, more than a century of tourism has caused deforestation around Walden’s shores.

The researchers warned that as summers become warmer and longer, it will only become more necessary to reduce the amount of human activity at Walden Pond to help protect it from further ruin. If we won’t try to save this beacon of ecology, this most poetic setting that inspired Thoreau and countless others – what will we save?

Not long ago, my son Wyatt was enrolled in a class on U.S. conservation at Rice University, taught by the inimitable Professor Douglas Brinkley. After reading Thoreau’s “On Walden Pond,” he asked students to consider a question that has been on my mind ever since: What’s your Walden Pond?

After I read about these threats to one of Earth’s most cherished beauties, I couldn’t help but think of how the outdoors shaped my upbringing, and affected who I am and the work I do today.  Each of us has a special location that calls to mind the power and freedom of nature. Mine is Fulton Park in Waterbury, CT.

Set smack in the middle of the state, Fulton Park offered a rendezvous with the environment in many different forms. I have the most vivid memories of catching pollywogs and frogs on the pond there with my siblings in the summer, and learning to ice skate on its frozen waters in the winter. We’d swing and swim and skip rocks in the warmth of the sun, exploring creeks in the forest that felt wild and yet close enough to home to be safe. After a big snowfall, we’d bound up Fulton Park’s hills with our sleds in hand, racing to the bottom as the wind bit our cheeks.

As I got older my love affair with nature only grew, and my relationship with the park changed too. I became a serious runner, and Fulton Park’s trails were the setting for practicing sprints, trail runs, hill climbs, and perfecting my pace. Fulton Park was the beginning of a lifelong relationship with and respect for the Earth. It shaped me then and shapes me now, as I tend to acres on the ranch where we live in Texas.

I’ve had other Walden Ponds, too – Central Park and The Imus Ranch, to name two – and I’ve always taken advantage of each and every moment spent in these settings, whether in the middle of bustling New York City or the middle of nowhere New Mexico. It’s important to recognize the role of the natural world in your life not just once a year on Earth Day, but as often as possible. The consequences of forgetting are becoming evident at Walden Pond, and your most sacred spot could be next.


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