Spirit of Henry David Thoreau's 'Walden' Lives on at State Park

Walden Pond in winter
Visitors walk the chilly shore of Walden Pond. (Photo: Massachusetts Office of Transportation/Flickr)

Over the centuries, there have been many great individuals whose expertise spanned several fields. These figures, known as polymaths, include Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilei, Ibn al-Haytham and Michelangelo. While most of those classical "Renaissance men" hailed from Europe and the Middle East, it's nice to acknowledge less far-flung heroes, like 19th century American writer Henry David Thoreau.

Thoreau's most pivotal works made major contributions to schools of thought like transcendentalism, abolitionism, naturalism and minimalism. In particular, his philosophy of civil disobedience was a major influence on some of the most iconic social justice figures in the 20th century, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi.

Above all, Thoreau is perhaps best known for his book "Walden," which was inspired by the two years he spent living simply in a self-built cabin along the shore of Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts.

This beautiful slice of nature still exists today in the form of a Walden Pond State Reservation. Often considered the birthplace of the conservation movement, this protected 335-acre park features hiking trails, a replica of Thoreau's cabin and the 102-foot-deep kettle-hole pond, which is a popular swimming destination in the summer.

July 12 marks what would have been the 200th birthday of this literary legend. What better way to celebrate the occasion than with a visit to this national treasure? If Concord is too far afield for you, don't fret. Continue below for a visual tour of the reservation, along with some of Thoreau's most poignant quotes selected from his most famous work.

Thoreau statue and cabin at Walden Pond
Thoreau beckons in statue form. (Photo: Paul Downey/Flickr)
"Be it life or death, we crave only reality. If we are really dying, let us hear the rattle in our throats and feel cold in the extremities; if we are alive, let us go about our business. 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." — Where I Lived and What I Lived For, Chapter 2
Walden Pond beach swimming
Beachgoers enjoy the beach at Walden Pond. (Photo: Connie/Flickr)
"This is a remarkable depth for so small an area; yet not an inch of it can be spared by the imagination. What if all ponds were shallow? Would it not react on the minds of men? I am thankful that this pond was made deep and pure for a symbol. While men believe in the infinite some ponds will be thought to be bottomless." — The Pond in Winter, Chapter 16
Site of Thoreau's cabin at Walden Pond
The site of Thoreau's cabin. (Photo: angela n./Flickr)
"While civilization has been improving our houses, it has not equally improved the men who are to inhabit them. It has created palaces, but it was not so easy to create noblemen and kings." — Economy, Chapter 1
Walden Pond cabin
Thoreau's cabin in the woods. (Photo: ptwo/Flickr)
"I am convinced, that if all men were to live as simply as I then did, thieving and robbery would be unknown. These take place only in communities where some have got more than is sufficient while others have not enough." — The Village, Chapter 8
Swimmer at Walden Pond
A swimmer enjoys Walden Pond. (Photo: Janice Cullivan/Flickr)
"Who would have suspected so large and cold and thick-skinned a thing to be so sensitive? Yet it has its law to which it thunders obedience when it should as surely as the buds expand in the spring. The earth is all alive and covered with papillae. The largest pond is as sensitive to atmospheric changes as the globule of mercury in its tube." — Spring, Chapter 17
Child looking across Walden Pond
A child walks the banks of Walden Pond. (Photo: Pablo Sanchez/Flickr)
"I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude." — Solitude, Chapter 5
Thoreau quote at Walden Pond
Thoreau's famous words explain why he went to the woods. (Photo: Alex/Flickr)
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms." — Where I Lived, and What I Lived For, Chapter 2
Trees and sunlight at Walden Pond
The Walton woods... (Photo: Miguel Vieira/Flickr)
"The greatest gains and values are farthest from being appreciated. We easily come to doubt if they exist. We soon forget them. They are the highest reality. Perhaps the facts most astounding and most real are never communicated by man to man. The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched." — Higher Laws, Chapter 11
Interior of cabin at Walden Pond
The interior of the Walton cabin. (Photo: Tom Stohlman/Flickr)
"Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind." — Economy, Chapter 1
Walden Pond
Mushrooms grow on a tree in the Walton woods. (Photo: Pablo Sanchez/Flickr)
"You may melt your metals and cast them into the most beautiful moulds you can; they will never excite me like the forms which this molten earth flows out into." — Spring, Chapter 17
Autumn at Walden Pond
The Walton Pond in autumn. (Photo: angela n./Flickr)
"A lake is the landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth's eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature. The fluviatile trees next the shore are the slender eyelashes which fringe it, and the wooded hills and cliffs around are its overhanging brows." — The Ponds, Chapter 9
Walden Pond panorama
Fall leaves on Walden Pond. (Photo: Pablo Sanchez/Flickr)
"I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them." — Conclusion, Chapter 18