A Foggy Walk at Walden Pond

Maple, ash, pine and more reflected in the pond

On 10/5/09, Beth and I took a trip to Walden Pond State Reservation. It was a great walk, and only the third one of that long ago blog I’ve been pulling posts from as we revisit those locations. While today, 10/18/20 we returned to Walden Pond State Reservation, the park was a bit different. Dogs are still not allowed. Not sure about the $50 fine, but there is so much wildlife there it makes sense that dogs aren’t allowed. Back in 2009, we were excited to catch the early Fall colors, and it was a bright blue sky. Today’s trip was a bit different, just over 30 degrees F when we started, and our trip started in fog, but it gave such a different look to the photos I took. I hope you enjoy a repeat of that long ago post, along with my photos (and update) from 2020!

fog rising off the pond
We lucked out on a perfect day to capture Autumn in all her glory!

Transcendentalism, sunscreen, and a beautiful day. Or as Thoreau might have said, “simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!”

  • Tucker’s Rating (if he could give one, dogs are not allowed) – 2 wags (and we’d give it a 3 since we got to actually see it). In 2020 – Dogs are still not allowed.
  • Admission Fee – $5 per car (less if you’re 62 or older and they do ask at the gate with a request for ID) Admission limitations – 1,000 guests. In the summer get there early so you can get in, in the Fall get there early so you can enjoy some of the peace and solitude that made this location the favorite of Henry David Thoreau. Later in the day, that mood is missing. In 2020 – no one was at the gate at 7:30 am, but the price is collected year-round and is now $8 per car.
  • Pets – NOT ALLOWED. As a matter of fact, there’s a $50 fine if you try to sneak your dog in.
  • Accessible – Yes. This is a citified park. There were even people there in skirts and loafers walking the Healthy Heart Trail. In 2020 – There is no healthy heart trail marked but there are other trail makers. Instead we saw many markers from Bay Circuit.
We saw both Thoreau trail signs and signs from Bay Circuit
  • In season they have a beach wheelchair available for assistance across the beach and into the water and they have FM listening systems for those who would benefit from the park interpretive programs. (In 2020 these programs and the beach wheelchair were not there).
  • Other Activities – swimming (and people WERE doing that in early October! Even when we went in 2020 when the temp was just 34 degrees!), fishing, non-motorized boating, hiking, picnicking, snowshoeing, interpretive programs, Shop at Walden Pond and the Tsongas Gallery. Please note – NO BIKING on the trails. So if you wanted to do a bit of mountain biking, this is not the place.
A lone fisherman out in a small boat with 7 fishing rods!
This wasn’t the only person on the pond, but the only one you could see in the fog!

When you need a break, head to Walden Pond!

After spending a full day yesterday in Maine with my quartet, and Beth spending the full day visiting parents in nursing homes, we both decided that despite the house needing a major cleaning and organizing, we needed an escape. Checking our list we knew it needed to be a park nearby since we were due again at the nursing home to visit my mother this afternoon. Walden Pond State Reservation seemed to be the perfect option. It was nearby, a place we’d both been to but not at this time of year, and after a few days of rain and cloudy skies, the sun threatened to appear. What better way to catch the early color of Fall against some beautiful clouds and a bright blue sky! Good choice! Although our rating may point to a different story.

The road to get there

We drove out on back roads from home, stopping at Dunkin’ Donuts for bagels, water, and juice. Beth had some new binoculars to try, and we had charged up the camera, so we were ready to go. Taking Rt. 4 out through Carlisle again we drove past our favorite Great Brook Farm State Park and headed towards downtown Carlisle. We smiled when we noticed Ferns Country Store is just getting decorated for the season with giant spiders on the roof, pumpkins all around, and a heavy dose of Halloween fun! The store has been on that same site since 1844. Primarily a deli, bakery, and grocery store, they also sell locally made gifts, and it’s another option to stop if you’ve forgotten something for your trip. And it’s SO photogenic (although we didn’t take a photo!).

Continuing on out to the park we noticed some leaves that had turned but not as many as we’d hoped. Driving through Lexington and Concord we realized how many places there are for people interested in literature and the group of authors that lived in the area, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, and even Margaret Sidney who wrote, “The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew”. The area is rich in history and literature and certainly deserves more than the brief time we had to spend, but we’ll be back. We also drove past Main Streets Market and Cafe, a favorite place of ours for dinner and live music! Friends of ours sing here occasionally and on a couple occasions, we’ve actually joined in the performance.

The alley behind the cafe, now set up with tables, heaters, and umbrellas. Still cold for October.
We had a chilly after-hike breakfast at this restaurant today. Outdoors of course!

We also noticed A LOT of people on the road. Given that the park has a maximum guest number we were hoping that wouldn’t be the case today. Happily, there was room!

Annual Pass Holders Win!

We sat in line waiting our turn to purchase a pass and got a quick taste of what the day would be like. We heard annoying beeping from behind. Beth looked in the mirror and noticed a large van trying to pull past us on the right. They held up an annual pass as they drove quickly past the line… RUDE! We pulled forward and again got beeped at while a larger vehicle tried to sneak past us to get into the park because they were holding an annual pass. This is NOT a two-lane road, and the wait isn’t more than a few minutes, but we strongly urge the park to establish an access-road for annual pass holders because they obviously don’t have time to wait for us non-pass holders to pay the $5 per car fee! The lot was filling fast so we quickly found a spot and began our exploration.

Henry David Thoreau lived here

The first task, checking out the replica of Henry David Thoreau’s log home. As I said, this is a citified park, and the fact that this replica is actually sitting IN the parking lot makes me think that not everyone is prepared to walk halfway around the pond to see the actual site. If it were me I might have built that replica out there, just to get more people to walk, but there you go. No one asked me! The replica itself is complete with a wood stove, a small cot by the window, a writing table, and a chair. Very sweet. Thoreau had a great quote about liking the simplicity of his little retreat. There are quotes displayed around the site and one notes how happy he was with the cabin’s simplicity, as opposed to other homes that were like walking about in a furniture store. Another of his quotes, “I had three pieces of limestone on my desk, but I was terrified to find that they required to be dusted daily when the furniture of my mind was all undusted still and threw them out the window in disgust. (“Economy” Chapter in Walden). Me, I would have just left the dust there, if his mind was undusted and worked so well, why not continue with that approach. Plus, I can’t imagine he didn’t dust anything else, what with a wood stove and 3 large windows providing plenty of access to dust and pollen. But I suppose throwing them out the window just placed them in his “other room”, the place that is now known as Walden Pond State Reservation. In that same chapter of Walden, he wrote, “I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion”, leading me to believe he enjoyed his own company best. I’m thinking he would NOT have enjoyed the number of people jogging, walking, snapping photos, and in general soaking up the essence of Walden Pond. Ironic that the park itself, the source of one of his best-known books about solitude should today be such a crowded and interactive type of place.

Yes, in New England in Concord, they swim when it’s 34 degrees F!

After taking photos of the cabin and the statue of Thoreau himself, we walked across the street and down towards the beach. We were surprised to find children and adults in the water swimming. Some seemed to be preparing for a triathlon and were swimming in lines across the pond (not allowed per the park rules, but it appears when lifeguards are not on duty people do as they feel.) The beach provides public restrooms, a first aid station (only in the summer), and notices regarding activities being held in the park. In the next two weeks, there are foliage walks, a Thoreau Ramble, and Thoreau’s Garret. The announcement board and their web site include a calendar of events, so definitely check it out if you’re headed that way. In 2020, due to COVID19, there are no events planned, accessibility equipment has been removed, and the replica home and shop are closed. We had limited time and wanted to just wander so we refrained from any organized activity.

We hadn’t brought our bathing suits (being October those are LONG stored away) so we headed onto the Healthy Heart Trail. In 2020, view the trail map here. The Healthy Heart Trail is marked on this map. There were many signs about park erosion and we saw immediate evidence. The beginning of the trail is closed, with a detour to the right and up the hill a bit due to erosion. In fact, at one point the old trail just disappears into the water, and some site markers are actually IN the water! But after a short time, the trail moves back down to the water’s edge. There are frequent stone stairways that lead to the water itself. Some are in good shape and are a nice place to stop for lunch, or to just sit and watch the water in the sunlight, and today some swimmers were using them as a way in and out of the water. We had fun trying to figure out what type of fish we were seeing at each spot. For the most part, they’re just minnows but we know the pond is stocked annually and there are perch, sunfish, and small-mouthed bass.

Steps lead up the hills from the path, and then also continue down to the water

Wildlife and path side surprises!

The bridge that crosses over Thoreau’s Cove is pretty and the cove itself is a beautiful spot to catch the autumn reflections in the water. Just beyond we found the site of Thoreau’s actual cabin. It’s marked out with granite columns and includes a plaque to mark the chimney foundation. Thoreau was one of the American Transcendentalists. I’m not going to do a lot of research into that -ism for this blog, but the gift shop at the park carries many good books about the practice, and it’s definitely an important piece of what Thoreau’s experience and way of life were all about. At the cabin site itself we were mildly annoyed by two women who stood there reading aloud about Thoreau’s life from the park display and commenting on how he had “moved so far away” (actually only a half a mile from his parent’s home) and that his mom STILL took care of him, doing his laundry, recommending books, etc. In their eyes, “isn’t that just like a man… make a big deal about being on their own and his mother is still doing his wash!” WHATEVER! If you come all the way to Walden Pond and bother to walk out to the cabin site, why then make nasty comments about the man??? He was obviously talented and an individual thinker of his time.

There is a pile of stones next to the cabin site which grows ever larger since followers of the Thoreau Society and other like-minded people leave behind their own stones… lots of stones, lots of people who appreciate the idea. Let’s respect that and go from there. Not stand around spouting off, trying to sound cerebral and superior while others are trying to appreciate. Again, RUDE!

We checked the map and at this point, we were close to halfway around the pond so decided to continue on. Beautiful views of kayaks slowly paddling, ducks v-ing their way out of the shady spots into the sunlight. It wasn’t long before we came upon an opening in the woods fronting on the railroad tracks. These tracks were here back when Thoreau lived in the cabin and he writes of them, and the sound of the train’s whistle. Now they’re part of the Fitchburg commuter line and while we walked, we twice heard the whistle warning people to stay off the tracks. We braved them ourselves for a few minutes to snap a shot or two…. Then continued our trek around the pond. On this side, we noticed the distinct scent of aftershave, sunscreen, bug spray, and the public restroom… not very nature-like at all. With all the autumn leaves and the freshness of the air, we expected more seasonal smells… in summer I can only imagine the pina colada smell of sunscreen is even stronger! Oh well, we’re not far from the city and as I said, this is a citified park.

Respectful walkers in 2020, not so much in 2009

Many of the walkers were out there to get their fix of nature and fitness… never looking around, not smiling… to be honest, I felt as though they could pour some gravel on their living room floor, open a window, and power walk in place and they’d get the same experience, but here they were. No doubt they were in a park they considered their own backyard, and they weren’t happy to have to navigate around us sightseers with our cameras, maps, and binoculars. Alas, narrow trails, a beautiful day, and lots of people in a fairly small park CAN be tough if you’re on a mission. Happily, we really weren’t, so we strolled back by the beach, watched some kids fishing, took more shots of the clouds and sunlight on the water, and then headed back across the street to check out the Shop at Walden Pond.

As the sun rose and the fog lifted, the colors were spectacular

As I said previously, the shop is a great place to purchase books, prints, posters, and some really cute t-shirts with Thoreau quotes, “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!” “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.” and many more. We bought two walking sticks because early in the walk I learned the danger of walking flat dirt trails in October…. Acorns!!!! It’s like walking on marbles, and in some areas, we felt the need for hard hats! LOL Just be careful! So now we’re outfitted with some great walking sticks, an appropriate souvenir for our day at Walden Pond, the home of the Thoreau Sauntering Society! Back at the car (and again commenting on the olfactory impact of the nearby restrooms), we decided that this is a park you should definitely see as early as possible. The trails open at 8 AM and we would recommend you try to get there that early if possible. In 2020 we arrived at 7:30 am and there were still people who’d been there for a few hours. The boat dock area opens at 5 am! While the park has over 460 acres, they have a huge problem with erosion and so ask that ALL hiking be restricted to the trails. The trail system is not extensive, but definitely nicely maintained, very clean, and clear. There are very few trash containers so as with all public parks, “pack in-pack out” is the best way to go. Dogs are NOT allowed, and they are vigilant, so we recommend you not try to tempt fate. This is a great destination if you’re in Boston for a few days and looking for a quick nature fix with a literary bent. You can also find the home of Ralph Waldo Emerson (a fellow transcendentalist) and other literary greats in nearby Concord. There were definitely friendly people here. A lot of tourists from other countries, families, etc. many willing to help with a group photo or to chat about the pond itself, but it also seems to be a favorite location for a first date or a daily constitutional, so don‘t expect every walker to be a fellow nature lover.

With cooler weather heading in we’re looking forward to winter hiking and hopefully going to parks that are further outside our area. Check back soon! And I can’t resist one more quote:

“Let us first be as simple and well as Nature ourselves, dispel the clouds which hang over our brows, and take up a little life into our pores. Do not stay to be an overseer of the poor, but endeavor to become one of the worthies of the world.” from the chapter “Economy” in Walden.

Autumn colors reflected in the fog
My absolute favorite picture of the day

I’ve got a very old copy of Walden and something tells me at the very least I should go back and read that chapter!

And along the trails, as we walked in 2020, trying to put COVID out of our head, and feeling the stress of the upcoming election and the situation in our country that has divided us and put so many on edge, we found a message from the greater universe along that foggy trail:

A granite stone painted with turquoise and gold, left behind on another granite stone, that says simple "Hope!"
A message from someone – don’t give up hope!

It was a beautiful hike. Different than that one we did just over 10 years ago. We still dedicate these hikes to Ed and Lillian, and our dog Tucker who passed away last year, but was with us through most of those long ago hikes. We’re looking forward to nice weather next week, and possibly a hike in Maine since the border has opened up! Maybe we’ll see you there!

My mom, Lillian, and Beth’s Dad, Ed.
Tucker in his happy place!

If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog, I hope you’ll subscribe. No recipes today, but there are some yummy ones coming in this week! I just didn’t have time to finish writing them up today!