Visual Essay

Walden Pond Revisited

THADDEUS Holownia, an artist and professor of fine arts in Sackville, New Brunswick, has always been interested in the American naturalist Henry David Thoreau. From 1845 to 1847, Thoreau lived alone in a one-room cabin he’d built on land owned by his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson near Concord, Massachusetts. Since 1854, the year Thoreau published Walden; or, Life in the Woods about the experience, the site has become a state park with a gift shop, a bookstore, and six hundred thousand visitors a year. The original cabin (sold by Emerson to his gardener, later used for grain storage, and eventually dismantled) now exists in replica only.

In 2001, a Fulbright Fellowship gave Holownia the chance to conduct his own two-year exploration of Walden Pond. He hiked through the area almost monthly, during every season, eventually using a seven-by-seventeen-inch-format view camera to take the photographs shown here. “My original notion was to show the place as it is today, with all the people coming and going, and the architecture,” said Holownia. “But once I’d worked there for a while, I realized things were essentially the same as when Thoreau lived there a hundred and fifty years ago. It’s fourteen miles outside Cambridge, yet you can still go into the woods and find the same solitude.”

“Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars. I cannot count one. I know not the first letter of the alphabet. I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born. The intellect is a cleaver; it discerns and rifts its way into the secret of things.”