'Thoreau loved music," said Don Henley, founder of the Eagles band, at last Friday's opening of the Thoreau Institute in Lincoln, Mass., on a hillside above Walden Pond.
It was a glorious June day. Guests were led through woods dear to the naturalist. The site was wedding-like, with rows of white chairs on a sprawling green lawn, irises and poppies in full bloom, chamber musicians playing, and, at the top of the hill, a stately English Tudor mansion.
I was skeptical at first: Why has Henley, who's best known as the drummer and voice behind such Eagles hits as "Hotel California" and "One of These Nights," thrown himself - and his significant earnings - into preserving Walden and bringing Henry David Thoreau to the world with a first-rate education and research center?
As he spoke, there was no doubt that Henley was sincere. He read "Walden" in school and was deeply touched by it. He even brought along his three English teachers. The idea of living simply and close to nature stayed with him. During the past decade, he has championed Thoreau and the new institute.
Eco-musicians are nothing new. John Denver, R.E.M., Indigo Girls, U2, Peter Gabriel, and Sting have all backed earth-friendly causes. And just last week, James Taylor made a pitch for the National Resources Defense Council at the opening concert of his US tour.
Henley's efforts are especially remarkable. That is why President Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton were there to applaud him. And Sen. Edward Kennedy called him a "big fish in Walden Pond" and Thoreau's "different drummer."
Henley's right: Thoreau loved music. And art. He found them a metaphor for life. In "Walden" he wrote: "It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look...."
Bravo to Henley for bringing music and philosophy, entertainers, naturalists, and politicians together for a common cause. And for bringing Thoreau to future generations with what promises to be an important new center.
* For more information, visit the Thoreau Institute's Web site at: www.walden.org/institute