If Thoreau were to visit Walden Pond today, I wonder what he would think. Would his spirits be lifted by the absence of the sound of motor craft and the sight of so many people recreating in the waters of the pond when they could be shopping or watching television in cool, conditioned air? Of course, there is also a shop at Walden Pond where you can make Thoreau-related purchases in the comfort of A/C. My personal favorite was the “What would Thoreau think” tee shirt. Irony, anyone?
Henry David Thoreau and his brother John took a trip along the Concord and Merrimack Rivers in 1839, for which the treatise A week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers derives its title. In this text, Henry bemoans the taming of the Merrimack with the rise of factory towns along its shores. One could argue, and many have, that it was all downhill from there. Ever after, the way our culture has defined and dialogued with regard to nature has shifted away from the romantic and modest toward possession, control, and use for the benefit of those with the means to procure it.
Ignorance or an inability or decision to ignore signs from our surroundings seems to be another tendency we as a species has inherited over time. Is this also a result of the Industrial Revolution, which shifted our culture away from self-sufficient, agrarian communities, to anonymous workers on a line?
Just today, while walking around the shore trail at Walden Pond, I overheard a fat, balding man who was sitting partially submerged in a shallow shoal of the pond telling another man sitting in a kayak about the awful state of politics in this state.
“They won’t teach creationism I the schools, but they will teach that man came from a baboon. Yeah. Right. Politics!”
I won’t point out the irony, as I do not wish to insult the baboon species.
In the past two weeks, I have visited two different nature preserves with signage requesting that pets and dogs be left at the gate or at home, yet individuals seem to either take no notice—you might call it being completely oblivious—or to selectively choose what their direct and peripheral vision discovers in its path. Or perhaps, those with dogs under a certain size and weight do not meet the minimum requirements to fit under the same respectable, canine category as a husky or Labrador. They are certainly cute, but are they really dogs? Really?
So, I know this post has taken on a rather intense, dare I say sardonic, tone. Please accept my humblest of apologies. I would prefer to vent my frustrations in prose than reflecting it back to whence it originated, which is, namely, Massachusetts drivers.
Leaving Thoreau for a moment, what do you suppose Darwin think of evolution gone awry in eastern Massachusetts? I mean, seriously. Massachusetts drivers are an entirely unique brand of Darwinian beast in a taxonomy all their own. When I lived in Alaska, I flew in tiny Cessna Air Taxis to travel between Juneau and Gustavus. At the end of each flight, I would thank the pilot for my life. I am not sure who to thank now, but I am certainly relieved each time I survive an excursion that requires vehicular travel and/or perambulating in areas in close proximity to automobiles with Massachusetts residents at the wheel.
Just the other day, I was nearly run off the road by a gentleman who was reclining far back in the driver’s sit and engaging in the most intense (and downright disgusting) nose-picking activity I have ever witnessed. What a way to go! The romantic obituary writes itself.
This morning, I turned at a light onto a tiny on-ramp. This lane was joined by two other lanes of traffic held tenuously back by a yield sign. The couple in the car joining me were incredibly put out and seemed to take little heed of the yield sign—maybe in this state it is only meant as a suggestion—and decided to lay on their horn for a full 30 seconds, tailgate me for what felt like a mile, and then sped around me as soon as it was possible to do so.
Now, I am not saying that I don’t give in to the temptation of road rage at times, but this was a bit much to take. Not to mention that the couple were of the age that one would consider to be wise, sage elders of the community. Is this kind of behavior we should be modeling to present and future generations of Massachusetts drivers?
I have oft wondered these past few months about the hidden wisdom and intent of the universe in providing an opportunity—should I choose to accept it—to move from the wilderness of Gustavus, Alaska to the urban wildness of Lowell, Massachusetts. I have a number of working theories.
For one, it is fascinating to me that I can work for an agency so varied in its telling of the American story that one can interpret these stories from wilderness areas feeling the affects of climate change to an urban park where the industrial story set in motion a far-reaching ripple in the social and ecological fabric of this nation and the world.
I was afraid that in returning to Massachusetts, the fears and behavior patterns of my youth would resurrect themselves, overwhelming everything I have learned and all perspective gained living overseas and in remote, rural areas.
Growing up in a Massachusetts suburb, I never felt like I fit in, and I was haunted by this awareness. It was like a genetic and social defect. I didn’t wear the right clothing, I wasn’t popular, I didn’t live in an enormous home on the rich side of town, and I didn’t go the “cool” temple. I spent a lot of time wishing I could fit a certain mold. It wasn’t until high school, when I started running cross-country track that I met a group of strong, fiercely independent young women who welcomed me into their circle for who I was. Though I don’t keep in regular touch with these women, I am thankful for the time in my life when we were inseparable.
For much of my adult life, I have been searching for a community where I feel valued and loved for the strange being that I am. I have found this in bits and pieces. Gustavus seemed to welcome oddballs, the more charismatic and idiosyncratic the better. The irony was that these qualities were not embraced in the professional realm where I worked to the point where they seemed to be interpreted as threatening and potentially hazardous.
How ironic then to move to an environment where the fast-paced culture keeps my nails bitten to the point of bleeding and my heart rate quickened, yet my artistic and creative skills are thriving and nurtured. I still don’t feel like I belong, but different from a younger version of myself, I don’t feel like I need to. I am proud to be myself fully and to project my marieke-ness without shame.
Fondness for Massachusetts, its wooded havens, the luxurious waters of Walden Pond, and the many songbirds who somehow are able to survive in this frenetic corner of the world, may resume!
Perhaps, Thoreau would even be able to plunge beneath the surface and embrace this quirky culture, though I have my doubts.