January 17, 2015

Walden Circumambulation - Winter's Waterdrum

On Saturday, the sunny, brisk, and windless afternoon calls me toward Walden's frozen basin.  Usually I avoid visiting our hallowed pond on weekends when visitors are at their peak.  But today it all feels convivial sharing the bracing air and ice together.  It is 3 pm and the sun's low angle casts a strong, warm spotlight on all of the activity....fisherman in their favorite places, skaters gliding end to end, families skittering together, a puppy slip-sliding through his first ice walk, elderly couples arm in arm for steadiness, the ever-present wave of Chinese visitors making their pilgrimage and posing for selfies against the gleaming pondscape, another pilgrim above me talking on about the life-changing impact reading Walden had on her life while seemingly inattentive to her own experience here in this moment.

Chung-gachun-wump-wung...the deep pond begins to sing under my feet, its sounds echoing off the hills, amazing and startling some of its explorers.  As the sun lowers and the air cools, the ice expands and becomes more taught across its surface.  The ice's cracking and movements send sound waves through the air pockets and deep water below creating a beautiful, haunting resonance.  This 61-acre water drum calls visitors from near and far to join in shared communion.

Fisherman, beautifully silhouetted in the late afternoon light bring a wilder presence to this otherwise civilized weekend gathering.  Those out at mid-pond have simple effects yet, by their movements, convey a deeper wisdom about the winter elements and this pond's particular nature through their selective movement and enterprise.  While noting this, I am reminded of Thoreau's reflective comment about the fisherman at Walden, "His life itself passes deeper in nature than the studies of the naturalist penetrate; himself a subject for the naturalist."

But I also come here today to find inspiration in the ice.  It is glaringly beautiful and yields a record of this winter's stormy sequences that have stirred, frozen, thawed, and patterned the pondscape.  A hunt for puzzles and treasure through the disciplined focus of the lens, for me, promises a very fulfilling afternoon.

Black ice, drifted snow, and irregular refrozen shapes create abstract patterns that hold stories of the interplay of wind and temperature over the early weeks of winter.  Long, jagged cracks criss-crossing these icy patterns leave a visual clue of the sudden expanding/contracting jolts that send sonorous booming throughout the pond.

This week, another local photographer and Thoreauvian posted a similar photo of the ice patterns below , in part prompting my expedition today.  They cover about a 10x20 foot area near the point rounding into Thoreau's Cove on the northern shore.  These circles appear to be remnants of a creative endeavor, seemingly embossed into softened ice.  Apparent thawing and refreezing make their origin hard to decipher, but I wonder if they might have been inspired by the current Walden, revisted exhibition at the deCordova Museum.

Mysterious impressions
As the sun sinks behind the southwestern corner of the shoreline, the water drum rhythms quicken, and I enjoy watching how the remaining visitors respond to this primeval moment in winter wildness. 

Walking back at last toward the eastern shore, some curved lines in the ice catch my eye, so I turn to view them in the sun's backlight and an angel appears.  Another moment of grace on the ice.

And as only the skaters' blades can still be heard, the sun disappears leaving a blush on both sky and ice.


  1. Nice article, Cherrie; I was looking for Waldens evening and sunset photos (Im a art student), and It was very interesting to read these words (I have indeed read Walden recently), and compare they're sound to that of Thoureau. Greetings from the other side of the Atlantic!

  2. Thank you, Leonardo, I'm glad you enjoyed my offerings. Your comment reminded me that I forgot to post my favorite sunset image taken last December 3rd. You can see it here, http://www.senseofplace-concord.com/2015/12/walden-tonight.html.