Greg Johnson's Comments

An excerpt from Richard Zacks, An Underground Education:

Most Americans have an image of Thoreau as a rough-hewn, self-educated recluse, who, following the grand tradition of prophets, disappeared into the solitude to commune with nature. We picture his little shack far off in the woods, the man a voluntary Robinson Crusoe, alone with his thoughts and the bluebirds.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Thoreau could see the well-traveled Concord-Lincoln highway across his field; he could hear the Fitchburg Railroad as it steamed along the track on the far side of Walden Pond.

He visited Concord Village almost every day; Thoreau's mother and sisters, who lived less than two miles away, delivered goodies baskets every Sunday, stocked with pies, doughnuts, and meals; Thoreau even raided the family cookie jar during his frequent visits home.

The more one reads in Thoreau's unpolished journal of his stay in the woods, the more his sojourn resembles suburban boys going to their treehouse in the backyard and pretending they're camping in the heart of a jungle.

The children of Concord visited on weekends and the cabin became a popular picnicking spot for local families. One winter, fellow writer Bronson Alcott had dinner there on Sunday nights; Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne were frequent visitors.

"It was not a lonely spot," understates Walter Harding in his excellent The Days of Henry Thoreau. "Hardly a day went by that Thoreau did not visit the village or was visited at the pond." The joke making the rounds in Concord was that when Mrs. Emerson rang the dinner bell, Thoreau came rushing out of the woods and was first in line with his outstretched plate.
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