This July, as the festivities in honor of Thoreau’s two-hundredth birthday commence, pilgrims will make their way to what’s called the “birthing room” on the second floor of the Thoreau Farm on Virginia Road at the outskirts of Concord. This is where a new species of American thinker was born. With its low ceiling, this quiet, well-ordered bedroom, painted in a soft sage, is a place that invites silent meditation. Thoreau would have appreciated the tranquility. But he also would have directed us to the attic above.
The narrow wooden steps lead to an unfinished garret. The roof is pinned together with eighteenth-century pegs, shingled with modern nails that protrude through the roof. In the eaves are a dozen boxes, mementos from a century of worship at the altar of Thoreau. Postcards, publishing notices, news clippings, proceedings, and countless letters from Thoreau’s anonymous readers. A woman from Cincinnati in 1947 writes a thank-you note to Thoreau’s spirit: Walden saved her life. A man from Ottawa sends his regards: Cape Cod was a place of refuge in the aftermath of his wife’s death. A seventh grader sends his capstone project: a geologically accurate map of the Thoreau’s sauntering routes around Concord.
Many people might think that attic was full of junk; they’d pitch everything in the trash and move on. But Thoreau would have us look again. So, the last time I was there, I did. Next to the map, wedged in all of this junk, were twenty-two mimeographed pages. On the top of the yellow packet were the words: Read More