By Liz Summer, I Start Wondering Columnist
Walden — often referred to as “Walden Pond” by Henry David Thoreau — is a masterpiece published in 1854, the romantic period of American Literature. In it, Thoreau describes his longing for a return to the simpler life. He conducts a grand experiment and resides alone for two years in the woods on the bank of Walden Pond, a glacial remnant lake in Concord, Massachusetts. There, he revels in the timeless quietude and tranquility as he pursues the daily requirements of finding food and shelter. He eventually returns to civilization to reflect upon the experience.
Finding Thoreau’s Tranquility in Today’s World
The irony for present-day readers is that the civilization Thoreau returned to is logarithmically less complicated technologically then our world today. From our perspective, returning to the “simpler time” would be returning to what he would consider to be the “rat race.” This is yet another example of how perception clouds one’s interpretation of events as good or bad.
Definitions of rat race aside, any reasonable person from any generation who knows me would agree that my own situation is heavily impacted by modern technology and time constraints. Pressure and responsibility just go with the territory of serving in the key role as science officer in a biotechnology company.
This pressure, though, has created a window through which to see a miracle that I otherwise might have overlooked – my own “Walden Pond.” This pond is not a crystalline lake containing all the elements needed for my own sustenance. Instead, it is what on the surface would be accurately described as a mankey, a snake-filled, weed-choked, 100-foot-in-diameter mud pit. It sits in my back pasture and serves as a drinking hole, the sort of feature usually referred to as a “tank” by local ranchers.
Taking an Au Naturel Approach
My Walden Pond revealed its true nature quite slowly. I started with a simple premise – to keep it as pure to nature as possible. This means that managing the pond is simple; I actually relinquish the urge to “manage” and “improve” and “design” and “repair” and — most of all — “fix” the pond. Instead, I put a little chair next to the pond in a tiny cleared spot and there I sit. I take my approach from my Southern grandmother who had a sign on her porch that said, “Sometimes I Sits and Thinks, and Sometimes I Just Sits.”
From this small unpromising pond I witness the great cycles of nature where inexplicably a burst of one type of creature or flowers emerges. One month, the sky will be filled with thousands of glittery dragonflies – five or six species at least – engaged in aerial acrobatics required to snag small pray from the sky. At another point, the surface will be clear of weeds and then suddenly a carpet of tiny duckweed (each tiny leaf no bigger than size 11 font “o”) forms a silver green mat as impassive as an asphalt parking lot, blanketing the waves. Other seasons the extreme choruses of frogs fill the summer nights with jubilant songs.
Learning to Rejoice in Nature’s Cycles
One summer before I fully learned the true power of Walden Pond, I witnessed a tiny miracle. After months without rain, Central Texas was gripped in the claws of a fierce drought. The pond slowly receded, sad mats of drying algae exposed to the heartless baking of the summer sun. It was enough to make me consider filling the pond; anyone would perceive that as a logical and necessary move towards “helping” it.
But instead, I just looked more closely — and glimpsed special life that thrives particularly well along the edges of a drying pond. It was, as it were, their “time in the sun.” For the most part, I first saw thousands of tiny insects. But soon tiny toads – no larger than the tip of a pinky finger — followed the insects’ explosion. Each toad was able to hop maybe a ½-inch at a time. Each was so impossibly fragile and defenseless, living out their destiny as best they could in the space between the sun-baked cracked mud and the dark gooey depths.