Sunday morning: my final day in Concord, Massachusetts. I stood near the edge of Cat’s Pond, the only man-made feature in the landscape of Sleepy Hollow cemetery.
When this “new burial ground” had been commissioned by the town, Henry David Thoreau was asked to lay out the survey for this body of water. He did so, and lived to see it completed in 1859. By 1860 Thoreau noted in his journal that the surface of the pond was already covered in lily pads—several bright yellow flowers had opened. Nature was already taking over this artificial element in the landscape.
I found the pond by walking to the bottom of Authors’ Ridge and following the path down the steep embankment. The morning sun ratcheted up the sky; it was hot. Through a small break in the trees I could see a line of turtles basking motionless on a half-submerged log, their backs peppered with green algae. Dragonflies darted back and forth across the surface of the water, occasionally hovering in mid air or lighting on a delicate reed.
Step by step I inched my feet along the path down the leaf-covered bank, sometimes stopping and remaining motionless for several minutes before resuming my descent. The turtles remained on the alert, studying my every move. Silently I counted them, twenty-three in all.
Across the pond a stand of white pines towered overhead. Nearer to me, a red maple spread its branches, intertwined with an adjacent locust tree. Behind me the air stirred, rustling the leaves on the branches. I lifted my arms slightly, letting the breeze cool my body.
From the depths of the wetland came the croak of a bullfrog. I looked up to see the first yellow flowers opening among the lily pads. Henry would have reveled in the scene, of that I was certain.
Meantime, above where I stood, up on the ridge, Henry rested, oblivious to the results of his labors.
No one has ever seen the wind, only the evidence of its passing. The same may be said for the spirit of a man.
I got within ten feet of the turtles before they suddenly mobilized their ranks and slipped into the murky water. Across the pond the bullfrog sounded again, taking note of their untimely retreat.