A Man by the Pond
by Jacob Lambert
As the train came to a shuddering halt, Thomas Little stepped down the steel steps and out into the dry summer air. In the distance, he could see an immense pond, one surround by a forest that seemed to threaten the very integrity of the above crystalline sky. The humidity, along with the multitudes of insects swarming around his sweaty, waxen face, made him wish that he had worn something thinner, less heavy, than his current black slacks and grey wool jacket. However, that was the dress for the day, or what the gentlemen at Harvard suggested, but Thomas, now walking around to the other side of the train, his eyes resting beyond, towards the pond, was growing tired of these formalities, these outfits of gloom. Perhaps, the man he was going to see, the one who would lecture next week—depending, of course, on the merits of their conversation—might make his job simpler, giving a concrete “yes,” without his typical allusions to abstract philosophies. Then, hopefully, Thomas could go home and change, see his family, and, possibly, read—but he doubted it. After all, he was going to see Henry David Thoreau.
The walk was a laborious one: tall grass, dried mud, and more insects, each making the journey to the minuscule cabin in the distance tedious, almost painful, but Thomas continued, his stale brown eyes scanning the ‘property’ for the man in question. Then, approaching the wooden refuge, there he was, sitting to the right of the cabin, his attention engaged to a small book in his lap.
“Mr. Thoreau?” Thomas asked, confused as to why the man resigned himself to reading in the dirt when, just inside his tiny home, there was a perfectly apt desk for the task.
For a moment, Thoreau continued to read, as if he had heard nothing, but seconds later, he abruptly slammed the book to a close and turned to view the heavy man to his right. He then stood, stretched, and nodded—saying nothing in reply. The first thing Thomas noticed was the grimy clothes the man wore: tattered, dusty slacks and an equally ramshackle black jacket. His black beard, seeming to cover only his jawline and under, was unkempt, and his hair, aside from growing wild on his head, looked as if he had been sleeping in the woods. But his eyes, deep-set and masculine, emanated intelligence, a sort of searing blue seen only in the hottest part of a flame.
“You are Mr. Thoreau, are you not? Thomas asked.
Thoreau, once again, nodded.
“My name is Thomas Little, sir, and I come on behalf of the university,” he paused, looked around, and frowned. “Say, if you don’t mind my asking, why did you decide to move into such a…such a wilderness, something so far removed from society?”
Seeming to consider the question, Thoreau looked up at the sky, a dim smile forming on his semi-thin lips, and after returning his gaze back to Thomas, placing his hands to his side, he answered. “I wish to meet the facts of life—the vital facts, which where the phenomena or actuality the Gods meant to show us, face to face, and so I came here.”
“I don’t quite understand you, sir. What life can a man profit from this place? There is nothing but sediment and emptiness,” Thomas replied, bewildered by Thoreau’s statement.
At this, Thoreau’s smile widened, his eyes seeming to drill through Thomas’ own. In that smile, Thomas could see another, less appealing characteristic of the man: his unconventional face, the ugliness that surely plagued the tall man, another possible—if not frank—reason for his departure from society: hiding, not basking, in the wilderness of the forest.
“Life! who knows what it is—what it does? If I am not quite here I am less wrong than before,” Thoreau replied, taking a step to the right and walking past Thomas, towards the pond.
“But what about the silence? Does it not bother you?”
Without turning around, for his gaze remained on the pond, Thoreau shook his head, his mess of hair swaying in the wind, which provided no comfort from the increasing heat bearing down on the afternoon turf. “Sound was made not so much for conveniences, that we might hear when called, as to regale the sense—and fill one of the avenues of life.”
It was, Thomas thought, like speaking to someone foreign, someone lacking the ability to translate mind to mouth, like a child searching for understanding in grunts and cries. Thoreau was exactly like what he expected, especially after the briefing at the university, where warnings about the man’s strange sensibilities remained hidden in conversation. Only a few more inquires, Thomas thought, and then down to business.
Walking over to where Thoreau had perched himself by the pond, Thomas wiped the sweat from his face and spoke, “There is a certain melancholy to this place, sir, or does that not bother you as well?”
Thoreau tilted his head to the right and sighed, his hands gently playing with a small twig. “There can be no really black melancholy to him who lives in the midst of nature, and has still his senses. All nature is classic and akin to art—The sumack and pine and hickory which surround my house remind me of the most graceful sculpture.”
“And what of religion? You spoke of God, but what did you mean? Do you attend sermon on Sunday?”
To this question, Thoreau seemed irritated, for he suddenly grunted and tossed the twig to his side, his attention drifting from the pond to Thomas. “The preacher, instead of vexing the ears of drowsy farmers on their day of rest, at the end of the week, (for Sundays always seemed to me like a fit conclusion of an ill spent week and not the fresh and brave beginning of a new one) with this one other draggletail and postponed affair of a sermon, from thirdly to 15thly, should teach them with a thundering voice—pause & simplicity.”
“So you say that it is too dry? Or lacking the vitality of truth? What do you mean?” Thomas asked, but Thoreau had stood up and started to walk towards his cabin, intent on finishing the conversation with the closing of a door.
His entire body drenched from the temperature of the forested sauna, Thomas, picking up his pace to catch Thoreau before he disappeared, shouted at his back. “Are you going to do the lecture then?”
Before there was a reply, Thoreau was out of sight, leaving Thomas to venture back to the train, back to Concord, and though the heavy-set man thought of pursuing Thoreau, trying one more time for the answer, he figured he would just wait, leave the task to someone else more suited to it. The university, after all, did have other representatives, and Thomas, already exhausted, decided to leave the man alone, leave him to his dirt and trees.
“Perhaps, sending a letter would suffice. Surely the man has a mailbox,” Thomas said, turning around, a smile forming on his thick lips.
“Definitely, a letter will do.”
Works Cited: Thoreau, Henry David. Walden, Civil Disobedience, And Other Writings, Authoritative Texts, Journal, Reviews And Posthumous Assessments, Criticism. 3rd ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Co Inc, 2008. Print.
Jacob Lambert lives on Zelda Road in Montgomery, Alabama, where he teaches music and is an editorial assistant for The Scriblerian and the Kit-Cats, an academic journal pertaining to English literature of the late seventeenth-and early eighteenth-century. When not writing, he enjoys time with his wife, Stephanie, and daughter, Annabelle.