“I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone.” — H.D. Thoreau
Well, yes and no. I hate crowds, and I don’t like social events where I don’t know anyone. There are times when I enjoy having a small number of people around me, and other times when, as Greta Garbo was supposed to have said, “I want to be alone”. In general, though, I think that Henry was full of it. The common picture is of his being a hermit, his little 10×12′ cabin on Walden Pond far from civilization. But in truth the cabin was less than an hour’s walk from the center of Concord (nothing for Henry who used to walk all day for recreation), that he went into town regularly to visit friends and family (apparently his mother did his laundry for him), and had many friends come out to visit him. He doesn’t record, but his friends do in their journals, parties held at the cabin, where a dozen or more people would be spilling out the cabin door onto the beach. He enjoyed the company of others, but then afterwards enjoyed the peace and quiet of solitude.
Walden is one of my favourite books, right up there with The Odyssey. I’ve rebound an old edition of the book, and my commonplace book is full of quotes from Thoreau (which, by the way, is pronounced “thorough” and not “ther-Oh”). When I lived in Massachusetts, not far from Concord, I loved to visit the area and, when possible, take the short hike around Walden Pond. Thanks to the efforts of conservationists, the pond and surrounding areas have been saved from developers, and is a popular swimming and hiking spot. A replica cabin has been built near the parking lot, and those willing to walk for a half mile can visit the location where Henry built his cabin, and where a cairn of pebbles and small stones have been left as tribute by pilgrims. If you go into town you can visit the cemetery where Henry and his family are buried. You’ll have to look closely or you’ll miss his grave marker. It’s hardly the monument that you would expect for such a famous person; instead it is barely big enough to stub your toe on, and says, simply, “Henry”. That’s where I left my stone.