Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Happy Birthday, Henry David Thoreau!

Henry David Thoreau, you're too old to die.

The rain sprang out of nowhere. Lightning shot horizontally across the sky as the clouds darkened. The radio was telling me what I already knew, there were thunderstorms in the area. I don't worry about thunder, but the lightning I mind.

This is doubly true when swimming is the goal. The rain came down harder. It was a blinding rain. My windshield wipers couldn't keep up. Back-and-forth-back-and-forth, I thought they might fly off their hinges.

Sure enough, in the way these things happen, as soon as I got to Walden Pond the rain started to relent. In the parking lot, there was a young woman in a bikini trying to dry her hair with a towel. Trying to dry your hair in the rain. It seemed odd to me. But she was wearing a bikini, so I forgave.

It was blue sky by the time I got down to the shoreline. Lifeguards had required everyone leave the water when the rains came, so the pond was quiet.

I wanted to swim, but it wasn't allowed. 20 minutes, they said. So I just stared out onto the pond. Sometimes a summer shower means the temperature is about to drop and the air is about to get crisp. This was the opposite. The wet air was able to suspend even more moisture in it. Hot and humid became hotter, more humid.

How would I tell Henry that I was here? How would I let him know I was here?

Walk around the pond, I thought. Once around the pond, to tell Henry "Happy Birthday, old man!" Once around the pond for the boy, born on this day 200 years ago, in Concord, Massachusetts.

I began my pilgrimage. The shoreline was empty except for the odd family now and again.

When I got to the far side, I dropped my shorts near a little cove and went for a dip. I wasn't naked. I had my swim trunks on. I went for a dip. The water was cool, but not cold. And it was clear. Man was it clear. A short dip, then back to the shore, shirt on, shoes on, on my way, around the pond. Once around the pond for the boy, born on this date, 200 years ago.

What he did with his 44 years is worth remembering. That Henry David Thoreau must have been an odd duck. The way odd ducks leave an impression. Living in the woods? What a strange thing to do.

An American Impression. An American Original. An American Independent.

Happy Birthday, you strange man.