The Thoreau Walden Story

A magnificent testament to a beautiful mind and his interaction with the wonder of nature

I was drawn to the Thoreau-Walden story when I came across the book Walden and the Walden Woods Project because Walden is my name. It has shaped me in ways I could never have imagined when I first picked up Henry David Thoreau’s inspirational writings.

On July 4, 1845, Thoreau embarked on an experiment in simple living in a forest on the shore of Walden Pond, which was owned by his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Why did Thoreau go to Walden?

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion." Henry David Thoreau.

Thoreau discusses whether hunting wild animals and eating meat is necessary and concludes that those who transcend this primitive sensuality are superior to those who cannot, but Thoreau actually ate fish and sometimes woodchuck and salt pork. He encouraged work, chastity, abstinence from alcohol, in addition to vegetarianism.

The following laws formed the basis for the Thoreau-Walden philosophy:

  • One must love that of the wild and that of the good.
  • We instinctively already know true humanity.
  • The hunted animal’s greatest friend is the hunter.
  • No human older than an adolescent would wantonly murder any creature which reveres its own life as much as the killer.
  • You can count yourself as successful if the day and the night make you joyful.
  • If you can subsist on plants and crops rather than animal flesh, you have achieved the highest form of self-restraint.

Thoreau was no advocate of conformity which is evident in the last chapter of Walden, Henry David Thoreau:

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."

His writings influenced Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Aldo Leopold, John Muir and Rachel Carson and her ground-breaking book Silent Spring

What is the Thoreau Walden Woods Project?

The Walden Woods Project is a non-profit organization which was founded in 1990 by Eagles member Don Henley in response to the threat of commercial development within Walden Woods.

The group integrates five core activities of conservation, scholarship, education, program activities, and advocacy/awareness to preserve the land, literature and legacy of the American philosopher, author and naturalist, Henry David Thoreau.

The 2,680 acre Walden Woods is 18 miles west of Boston. It is in Concord, Massachusetts, US which is famous for being the site where the first shot of the American Revolutionary War was fired. It has been protected, not because a war began there, but because it is the place where Thoreau penned his philosophies which were the inspiration for the American land ethic, the national parks system, and the modern conservation movement.

The Walden Woods Project’s fundamental mission is conservation of the 160 acre landscape within Walden Woods where Thoreau lived in a self-built hut for 2 years, 2 months and 2 days, living simply and sustainably. The site has become a national treasure and a model of conservation and preservation, inspiring a worldwide ethic of environmental stewardship.

The Walden Woods Farm

The Project runs a productive agricultural farm at Walden Woods which is a buffer to prevent large-scale development from encroaching on the site, and it is the western gateway to the Woods.

This farm which has been in agricultural production since 1928, also protects a piece of land which is important for preservation of the Walden Woods ecosystem. From the farm they grow and sell a large range of produce to fund the Project’s efforts to conserve more land within Walden Woods, and provide much of the produce for families in the area and so reducing the town’s energy footprint.

Walden Woods Project offers guided interpretive walks, public programs and lectures, and also professional development opportunities for teachers. They believe that every community has a “Walden”, a place in need of protection and care.

The word, Walden, has inspired me to become an environmental steward and advocate, and given meaning to my life, just as it has come to represent a powerful way of thinking about important global issues.


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Maxham daguerreotype of Henry David Thoreau made in 1856