On the cold and drizzly afternoon of Sunday, April 15, 2018, Rev. Dr. Jim Sherblom lectured about “Transcendentalism in the 21st century” to a packed, standing room only, crowd at the new Walden Pond Visitor Center. He spoke about experiencing reality bounded by our senses alone, or guided by reason, intuition, and ultimately unknowable mystery.
Jim then led the crowd on a journey of the imagination along the Old Carlisle Road in Estabrook Woods, into the wildness of the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, paddling along parts of the Assabet, Sudbury, and Concord rivers, and finally from Concord village along the Emerson-Thoreau Amble to Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond.
Along the way Jim indicated where archeologists have found artifacts from indigenous people in the fields of the Old Manse, and along the Reformatory Branch Trail where there was a campground of the Nipmuc tribe of the Algonquin nation (yielding Concord’s oldest artifacts at 11,000 years old). Their imaginative amble crossed over Nashawtuc Hill, walking in Tahatawan’s footsteps, and out to Egg Rock, before circling back to the Clamshell Bank where thousands of indigenous people once feasted.
Jim pointed out the places at the margins of Concord society, the so-called waste lands, where a few last indigenous people lived in Thoreau’s time along with poor Irish immigrants and formerly enslaved people of African descent. Great Meadows was where John Jack bought land in the 1750’s after being an enslaved farm hand for Concord yeoman farmer Benjamin Barron.
This land was later owned by freed slave Caesar Robbins, on which Caesar’s children built a substantial two-family house in 1823. Ellen Garrison grew up in this house to become a founding member of the Concord Women’s Abolitionist Society and Concord’s leading African-American scholar, teacher, and activist.
This transcendental tour then led through the Hapgood Wright Town Forest, Walden Country, the Walden Woods Project, and down into the wilds of Walden Pond. There they explored Thoreau’s beanfield, the granite quarry, cabin site, Concord’s shanty town, and amusement park for Lake Walden. By then all of these imaginary tourists through time had become 21st century transcendentalists, so Jim led them on a final saunter across the railroad tracks over to the cliffs above Fairhaven Bay to watch the sunset over Conantum.
This imaginary adventure was followed by an actual walk around Walden Pond.