a transcendental trip

I have wanted to write about my trip to Massachusetts ever since I arrived home – which was very early in the morning on Friday, June 29th – but every time I would start to write, the post would grow longer and longer. I experienced and discovered so much, I of course wanted to share all of it, but reading a post that is 10 pages long (single spaced) would be a daunting chore for anyone. I think I’ve managed to condense the stupendous nature of the trip down to a manageable length, and if not, well, you all have my permission to skim rather than absorb. Though purely coincidental, I suppose it is quite befitting that I am publishing this entry on the date of Thoreau’s birth. Here goes nothing!

I made my sixth trip in three and a half years back to Walden Pond (my second solo trip to date). I called it a “training-cation” because while I had full intentions of spending some much-needed relaxation time at my favorite haunts, I also planned on getting in my weekly triathlon training. I had every intention of swimming across the pond and running all throughout Concord. I even packed my bike in case I felt brave enough to tackle a ride (I love you, Massachusetts, but you have some wicked fast drivers in your midst).

On the night of my arrival, I completed my traditional eat-at-Colonial-Inn-walk-to-The-Old-Manse routine. Though I wasn’t staying at The Colonial Inn this particular trip, I wasn’t going to let that deter me from tradition. The Minute-Man National Park was just as lovely as always with its historic North Bridge, The Old Manse standing tall, and a blue jay flitting about on the stone wall to welcome me back “home.”

The following day, some nasty weather ripped through New England, so I took the opportunity (after a nice long run down the many older streets of Concord) to visit the Concord Museum. The museum housed a replica of Emerson’s study that contains all of the original furnishings. It was truly stunning to see the photograph of Emerson in his study that the museum had posted next to the doorway of the replica room. It was uncanny, as it should be.

The next room in the museum houses what was, for me anyway, the most amazing items I could ever imagine. Before me sat Thoreau’s desk, chair, and bed frame from his cabin at Walden Pond. If I was sure I wouldn’t have been caught and immediately thrown out into the rain, I would’ve reached over the railing to touch the little green desk. I stood in awe – Thoreau’s desk. This is where he penned his journals and his books! I was totally flabbergasted.

I spent the rest of the drizzly day meandering around the local shops, and of course I stopped by the pond to say hello. The following morning I was going to be meeting up with some swimmers/triathletes I connected with online, and I was finally going to swim across the pond. As I looked out over the water that reflected the giant gray clouds and green fir trees, I was filled with the excited anticipation of the morning swim to come.

When I arrived at the pond at 7:00 A.M. the following morning, I admit I was a bit nervous. I had forgotten my wetsuit at home, and couldn’t help but think about how this would be the deepest water in which I had ever been. Walden Pond is 102 feet deep at its core, and I would be passing through that twice. However, I sucked it up and confidently surged ahead. I was sure of my swimming skills, and there were other people in the water I could shout to if I needed help. The girls I met up with stuck a little closer to the beach (they were about 50 yards out and swam from the eastern shore to the western shore), but I had come to swim the longer distance from southern shore to northern shore, and I wasn’t going let anything stand in my way.

The water was surprisingly warm, very calm, and very dark. For those who don’t know, the water appears to be a rich green, which comes from the reflection of the trees that surround the pond as well as from the algae that grows at the bottom. I didn’t see any fish (I was a little disappointed that I didn’t see the giant koi that Laura and I spotted by Thoreau’s Cove a couple of years ago), or any water fowl. The only other creatures I spotted were a swimmer headed back to the beach a little closer to the eastern shore, and a fisherman in a kayak off to my left. My swim was unbelievably peaceful, and I thought to myself that I was happy I had forgotten the wetsuit; wearing only a bathing suit, I was truly feeling the water all around me.

When I got to the Long Cove, I broke rhythm to take in my surroundings.  I slowly breast stroked my way east, realigned myself for a straight shot back, and then treaded water taking in the scene. The bathhouse on the public beach looked so tiny and so far, and I could see the small splashes of swimmers closer to shore. I noticed the kayaker’s fishing lines were tied to his hat as he floated off to my right along the western shore. I looked up at the trees and then continued up to the sky. A thick layer of clouds covered the sun, but it broke through on occasion. There had been a mild breeze on the beach that chilled me to the point of goose bumps, but in the water, it was still and quiet and lovely. Had I been wearing my wetsuit, I would’ve been tempted to roll onto my back and just float for hours, but as it was I was using up energy treading water, so instead I took a few casual breast strokes forward and then moved back into my freestyle momentum. The swim, to say the least, was the highlight of my trip. I felt so proud of myself for doing it, and I felt honored to have traversed the waters of the pond I love so much.

Maritime fun!

I spent the rest of the day in Salem checking out the House of Seven Gables, the house where Hawthorne was born, and the Peabody Essex Museum. All were truly amazing. The history of the HoSG and Hawthorne’s birthplace were breathtaking. The people on tour with me probably thought I was insane because I smiled and “oohed” and “awed” at everything the guide pointed out to us. The PEM was very cool and quite unique. I was lucky enough to arrive while they still had their Ansel Adams exhibit, and it was magnificent. The Maritime exhibit, The Water exhibit, and the American Decorative exhibit (I think that’s what the latter is called) were also fantastic. I loved them all, and I’m so glad I finally had a chance to visit this popular museum.

I feel as though I should note that the meals on this trip paled in comparison to what I ate while in Grand Rapids, but I did find this super hip restaurant called Gulu-Gulu Cafe in downtown Salem. I stopped in for a quick lunch before visiting the museum, and it will now go on the list of places I will to return to when I visit Salem again, which we all know will not be too far into the future.

the dragonfly

Walden Pond from Long Cove

The following morning I hiked around Walden Pond and had, to put it mildly, a truly transcendental experience. Call me crazy, but I honestly felt as though Thoreau was present during my saunter around pond. While sitting at the cabin site, I felt puffs of air on both of my ears, but at different times, as if someone were whispering secrets into my ears. I was sure it was a sign that he was there. I then had a mysterious encounter with a beautiful dragonfly. Later I spotted and was followed by another blue jay, and when I stopped at the Long Cove, the place I had swum to the morning prior, a loon appeared seemingly out of nowhere in the exact spot I had been swimming. That hike was the most memorable of my life. The experience, though completely downplayed here for the purpose of brevity, brought me to tears of joy in the moments it happened. I’ve hiked that pond more than half a dozen times, but I’ve never felt so at peace in those woods as I did that day.

The rest of the afternoon was spent making the most of the somewhat sunny weather. I tried kayaking for the very first time, paddling up and down the Concord River from the South Bridge Boat House to the North Bridge and back. I finally made my way into the Cheese Shop back in downtown Concord, where I discovered a lovely deli. I put together a small Parisian picnic for myself and rounded out my day back on the beach at Walden. My last dinner of Concord was of course at the Colonial Inn where I tried my very first lobster roll. This was a trip of pleasurable new experiences to be certain.

The following morning was my last in Concord, and so I made the most of it with one last run through downtown. I first visited the cemetery to pay my respects to all of the writers buried on Author’s Ridge. I had actually gone up to the cemetery the evening prior after my dinner, but I turned back. Another blue jay had appeared and landed on a headstone about 10 feet away from me, which caused me to stop short in front of the “Sister Sarah, wife of Isaac Britton” headstone that has always fascinated me due to its namesake. I took the beautiful blue bird’s appearance that evening as a sign not to continue up to the ridge as it was growing dark and I felt uneasy having stopped in front of that particular gravestone.

The morning was sunny, and the day promised to be very warm as a heat wave was making its way across the USA. I sat on the cement number post in front of the Thoreau plot and silently paid my respects. For some reason, I had brought my purse with me. I guess it was a force of habit to grab it when exiting the car, but I was instantly happy I did. I removed my change purse, took out a penny, and gently, so as not to disturb the other offerings, set it on top of Henry’s marker. I had plenty more coins, so I decided to lay one on the headstones of all of Henry’s family members as well. I then walked over to Hawthorne and delivered a penny to his headstone, as well as his wife’s. I made my way down the path to the Alcott’s plot and gave a penny to Louisa and her father, Bronson. I had just two pennies left, and so I turned and made my way to Emerson’s great granite gravestone where I bestowed one to him and one to Lydian, his wife. Out of pennies and wanting to say one last farewell to Henry, I made my way back towards the Thoreau family. I sat once more on the stubby plot number marker, and took a long, deep breath. As I exhaled and turned to look at Henry’s sinking headstone, I noticed for the first time the sunlight. The golden rays illuminated only Henry’s gravestone. A smile spread across my face, and I thanked him for a memorable trip.

After a lovely run through my proclaimed “home away from home,” upon which I discovered a new path I had never noticed before that ended up being the same path the Colonial Militia took from Boston to Concord (when I came up on that memorial marker on the path, I squealed with glee), I took my sweaty self to Helen’s for one last breakfast sandwich. I was able to nab the coveted window seat, and as I munched away on the melty, eggy goodness of my breakfast sandwich, I looked up and down the street, soaking in the Concord morning. Though it was only ten o’clock, three teenage girls sat outside Helen’s on a bench eating ice cream cones. I saw people on bikes zoom by, and families with young children strolling down the street, peering into the windows of the closed shops. How lucky they all are to call this place home, I couldn’t help but think to myself with the slight pang of envy.

I finally managed to pry myself away from my seat and make my way back to my hotel to pack up and leave. The plan was to drive to Amherst (which was about two and a half hours away) so I could see Emily Dickinson’s homestead and grave. When I arrived at Dickinson’s beautiful, massive yellow house, I knew I wouldn’t have time to take the tour since I still had another 10+ hours to drive back to North Ridgeville. Instead, I walked around the grounds and then made my way into the museum store. A book on one of the shelves caught my eye, and so I reached for it. It was titled A Spicing of Birds, a collection of Dickinson’s poems put together by a birder. I opened the cover and flipped to the first page. Looking back at me was a beautifully illustrated blue jay. I ran my fingers across the page, then gently closed the book and pressed it to my chest. My heart pounded and warmth radiated all throughout my body. I was on my way home, carrying all of the glory of this trip with me, and I never felt so lucky in all my life.

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2 Responses to a transcendental trip

  1. brickthomas says:

    Thanks for sharing your trip details. For the last couple of years now I’ve been thinking about swimming Walden and your post has pushed closer to that goal. Thanks.


    • jayelldee says:

      I’m so glad to hear it! Swimming across Walden was one of the most amazing moments of my life. Perhaps I will run into you at the pond one day. 🙂 As Thoreau said: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.” Happy swimming!


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