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The republishing of “The Pond” with its references to Thoreau’s Walden brings back memories of my own obsession with that book, as a kid in high school, trying to find my way off the farm and into some broader understanding of the world.  My childhood was filled with stories from the Bible, and I think I consumed Thoreau as if it were a sacred text, a path through the wilderness.  The message of simplicity resonated with ideas from my own (Mennonite) community, as did the opposition to war and violence in all forms, but his rejection of the institutions of organized religions while retaining a sense of moral authority was reassuring.

Walden Estates, Fairbanks, July 25, 2010

So I must admit that my mind was twisted by a sign posted on the side of a truck (billboards are not permitted by Alaskan law) advertising “Walden Estates” a few miles from my house this summer.  Somehow the idea of Thoreau as a real estate developer had never occurred to me, especially in Alaska, thousands of miles away from the pond.  But the irony didn’t end with the sign—the development itself had been built as temporary, off-base housing for soldiers from a nearby military base, the cookie-cutter houses seemed as far from Thoreau’s cabin built from scraps as one could imagine, and the close quarters and the lack of privacy seem to mock the idea of solitude or wilderness.

Walden Estates, Fairbanks, July 25, 2010

Maybe this only proves the observation recently made by Kieth Richards that in the long run, it’s very difficult not to become a parody of a persona you try to adopt in your youth.  The house I live in isn’t that much different than the houses in Walden Estates, and my own life is far different from the hermit’s solitude Thoreau proposes.  But I still think they should change the name of the development to “Walled-In Estates”.

Walden Estates, Fairbanks, July 25, 2010


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