. . . as the sun arose, I saw it throwing off its nightly clothing of mist, and here and there, by degrees, its soft ripples or its smooth reflecting surface was revealed, while the mists, like ghosts, were stealthily withdrawing in every direction into the woods. . .
- Henry David Thoreau, in ''Walden''
The renowned naturalist would scarcely recognize his cherished Walden Pond today.
Vanished like the mists is the bucolic simplicity that so attracted him when he lived by its shore from 1845 to '47. Thoreau's little house has given way to two cement bathhouses, a concrete pier, and the hubbub of 15,000 swimmers and boaters on a summer's day.
Fortunately, Walden's tomorrow promises to be a little more like its yesterday. This winter the Commonwealth of Massachusetts - current owner of the pond - plans to restore a more natural setting by tearing down the pier and the cement bathhouses, installing more authentic wooden shingles on a remaining bathhouse, and replacing the concrete walls around much of the pond with granite and stones. It is the welcome result of a 10-year-old-plan, now funded. Further ahead is the idea of ultimately removing the trailer court across a winding road from the pond. Thoreau would approve of this, too.
These actions would not end the use of the pond for swimming and boating: It is a major recreational spot for Concordians and others, not likely to lose that status despite the efforts of some to end both swimming and boating. In the last few years steps have been taken to limit the number of people able to use it by restricting parking, although on a summer weekend the beach still resembles wall-to-wall people.
Despite the changes, concessions to the inroads of the 20th century will remain: the major highway near one corner of the pond, and the town dump just up the road.
But beginning next summer it should be easier for visitors to stand by the shore, perhaps on the site of Thoreau's one-room home, and visualize Walden as he saw it during two years of contemplative solitude, living away from the Concord community.
There are many Waldens in America, beautiful places crowded upon by civilization, although not so celebrated by prose. Thoreau himself felt pressured by that crowding. More oases of woods and water need to be reclaimed.