Day at the Pond
As a boy, I read, then re-read Henry Thoreau's book, Walden
Pond. To leave behind the everyday world, seek out
a tranquil spot in nature, and live there for a year became
my dream. "How could he do that?" I asked myself,
and then I asked others. But no one had a reply, for they
were all hurrying here and there, working or playing in
the non-natural environments of our so-called advanced civilization.
The dream gathered strength though, but I found myself caught
up in that world of more and more education, then a busy
career, and beginning a family, and ever increasing daily
work, and watching the daily news. But I knew, deep in my
heart, that one day, I would, as they say, "just do
Alas, the years passed by, and what with children, and then
with their education, and then with their ventures into
the work world and . . . well, one day, life became just
a bit too much. I decided that Henry Thoreau was right -
we have to just get out there and do, rather than wait for
the right time.
In the end, I did it. But, I had only one full day. I decided
that this one day would be my day for a retreat, with no
one else, no worries, no nothing! The spot was easy, for
I had inherited the family farm in upstate New York. My
mother had grown up on that farm, but when WWII came, all
her brothers had to go off to war, and the responsibilities
were too much for my grandparents. The farm was sold, but
then, in 1953, my parents bought the farm and I grew up
there. I treasured the legends, stories, tall tales, and
memories I inherited from those in preceding generations
and from neighbors. Even more, I respected my mother's achievement,
for she convinced the Conservation Department to pay for
her dream, a pond built just beyond the barn.
Over the years, that pond became the focal point for relatives,
friends, sojourners, and all sorts of animals, plants, fishes,
and more. Kids came to go fishing, adults to sit and talk,
and neighbors to rest a while. What better place?
time had come, and I woke before dawn. I dressed warmly
for it was spring, and ate some breakfast. I made and packed
myself a lunch, and set forth with nothing else. I did not
want to be disturbed by books, chairs, water jugs, or anything
that would take away from the experience.
from left column...
walked silently to the pond, and found a place on the
edge to sit, and I watched the stars fade. A light wind
created pretty ripples on the water, and I saw the glimmer
of those stars, perhaps a planet as well, on the water.
The dawn came slowly, and the sky lit up with a touch
of crimson, while the birds sang their wake-up calls.
And the sun cast a warm caress, while I meditated.
All day I sat there, stopping only to walk slowly around
the pond every couple of hours. I noted the varied animals,
including a turtle, a muskrat, a couple of garter snakes,
and a small lizard. I listened to and watched the birds,
including a bright red cardinal, a happy blue jay, a kingfisher,
and a hummingbird, among others. In the afternoon, I ate
my lunch, quietly and peacefully. It is possible that
I even took a short nap, but I was in that state where
you are not really sure you are asleep or awake. While
I was hidden in the grasses and clover and trees sheltering
the pond, a large hawk flew so close I could almost reach
out and touch her as she tried but failed to catch a red
winged blackbird. Late in the day, a doe brought her new
born fawn to the far end of the pond to drink, and they
kept a wary eye out for predators, but I guess I fit right
in, for they ignored or didn't even see me.
My own thoughts began, towards the end of that magical
day, to relax. Just as the ripples on the pond flattened
out when the wind dropped, so too, my own thinking, and
then my feelings, began to calm. Henry Thoreau came into
my thoughts - what a magnificent precedent he set, a challenge
so powerful that many, many years later, I just had to
respond. And quite naturally, I resolved that again, on
another day, I would repeat that exercise. Perhaps I would
even extend my visit for several days.
the darkness emerged from the surrounding trees, and the
sun set, I marvelled at how deeply inward I had looked,
thinking about the things that mattered to me, and about
the environment, and about the meaning of it all. I still
picture that pond, although I live half way around the
world from it now. In fact, that day still ranks as one
of the best in my entire life. I urge others to read Walden
Pond, and to go forth and try it, even if they have but
Robert J. Gregory
School of Psychology - Te Kura Hinengaro Tangata
Massey University, Palmerston North, NEW ZEALAND
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