Report from Barrio Walden: Chillin’ pondside with Enrique Thoreau

Behold the festive black-and-white New England moo-cow. Scenes bucolic and poetic—scenes the Alcotts might have penned. Sad autumn light, what a hipster pal in Harvard Square had called “Irish light,” slanted through the trees to make everything tremble with the most delicious melancholy I have yet to see again. I was bellowing along to Sisters of Mercy: “Oh Marian, this world is killing me.” Cows regarded me. Goths in paradise.

Right about then, I beheld it. In a field of mown hay. Next to a small house and a slanty barn. Walden Pond. It was about twenty feet across and surrounded by meditative heifers. I removed my headphones and went to the fence and leaned upon the topmost rail and communed with the transcendent. I wrestled with man’s fate and the epic movements of the universe and the natural splendour of the Creator’s delight in the temple of His Creation.

The farmer came out of his house and stared at me. I waved. He jumped in his truck and banged over ruts in his field. He wasn’t smiling.

“I help you?” he shouted.

“Just looking at the pond,” said I.

“What pond?”

“Walden Pond!”

“Jesus Christ!” he reasoned. He looked back at his cows. He looked at me. He looked at the cows. He said, “You’re not from around here, are ya?”

“California,” I said.

“That explains it.”

What ho, my good fellow!

“You walked the wrong damned direction. It’s about four mile that way.”

I looked back, as though the great pond would reveal itself in the autumnal haze.

“Could you give me a ride?” I asked.

“Hell no!”

He smoked as he watched me trudge back toward Concord with a slightly less splendid cadence.

YEAH, WHATEVER. Barking dogs. Screw you. Farm wives gawking. What’s your problem? My feet hurt. Past Friendly’s. Don’t do me any favors, Deah. And south, out of town again, across the crazed traffic on the highway, and past a tumbledown trailer park and a garbage dump. What is this crap? Tijuana?

Gradually, I became aware of a bright blue mass to my right. A sea. A Great Lake. This deal wasn’t a pond, man. Are you kidding? Who called this Sea of Cortez a pond?

Down to the water. A crust of harlequin leaves lay along the shore. It was dead silent. Thin wisps of steam rode the far shoreline. I squatted and watched and fancied myself living in a shack, smoking my pipe, scratching out one-liners with a quill, changing the world.

An ancient Dalmatian came along. He was stiff and arthritic, walking at an angle, grinning and making horking sounds. His tag said his name was Jason.

“Jason,” I said. “I’m looking for Thoreau.”

“Snork,” he said, and headed out. I followed. We walked past cove and bog and found ourselves at Henry’s stone floor. The cairn of stones left by travelers. I was glad my homeys did not see me cry over mere rocks.

The shack was about the size of my small bedroom back home in San Diego. I put my hand on the old pines and felt Henry’s bark against my palm. Jason sneezed and thumped along to his own meditations. The pond moved in slow motion before us, Henry and me. A train rolled past the far trees like some strange dream.

Crows went from shadow to shadow, arguing.

Was it just me, or did I smell pipe tobacco burning?

I placed my stone on the cairn. I tipped my collar to my chin. Fall turned cold fast in those days. “Adios, Enrique,” I said. Then I headed back to town for a hot cup of coffee and a ride home on a dark train.

Photo by Brien Beattie.

Originally published in and copyrighted by May/June 2013 issue of Orion Magazine. Republished with permission.