Changing perspectives: exploring time through Walden Pond

Thoreau’s discussion of Walden Pond is rich with evocative and thought-provoking language. The language he uses reflects the scenes he’s describing. Surrounded by “celestial dews” and housing a “myriad of ducks,” he portrays the pond as a beacon of tranquility. Not only is Thoreau detailed in his physical descriptions, he also goes to great lengths to describe the pond’s nature or characteristics, taking the reader through its history as he sees it, focusing especially on the pond’s ancientness. 

On page 124 Thoreau gives a sense of Walden Pond’s age, discussing a narrow path along the shore that was likely “worn by the feet of aboriginal hunters.” On the page before, he even uses Biblical imagery to express the age of the pond, suggesting that it was likely there in all its glory when Adam and Eve were driven from Eden. Even when he describes his ax falling into the water, Thoreau urges his reader to understand the long and static disposition: he remarks that had he not disturbed it, it likely would have stayed in the same position—hilt up—until it eventually rotted.  

All of these references to Walden Pond’s history and how inevitably unchanging it is made me think back to McKibben, who shattered the longstanding notion of nature’s eternity. Thoreau’s language pints to his belief in the pond’s stability and steadfastness, where McKibben can’t help but notice abrupt changes in entire ecosystems. Although in a way Thoreau and McKibben have the same core principlesdeveloping a deep respect for nature and all its inhabitants—they seem to view nature in completely different ways. This is to be expected, as Thoreau wasn’t aware of the extent that humans would wreak havoc on the planet, and it makes me wonder what Thoreau would think today. Would he still think of nature as a place of isolation if, as McKibben points out, there’s no new frontier and no corner of the world untouched by human influence?