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Social Distance Files: ‘Walden’ in Sherborn

By Stephen Press
Hometown Weekly Editor

“I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.” ― Henry David Thoreau, from "Walden"

Most of the time, I'm not thinking of the ways in which I'm similar to Henry David Thoreau.

Aside from the fact that the "Walden" author departed this mortal coil more than 150 years ago, I've never contemplated leaving society for a hermitic existence in a one-room cabin.

But these days of social distancing have temporarily made us all into isolationists. And really, he and I do have our areas of overlap.

Like Mr. Thoreau, I grew up in New England. We were both deeply influenced by the flora and fauna of the land of our birth, and the lessons that could be learned from observing it closely. We both spend (spent, in HDT's case) entirely too much time with our noses in books and periodicals. We both were influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson (though I suspect Thoreau did not quote the author in his high school yearbook, as I did).

Thoreau, however, has me licked in both the tax-evasion and neck-beard departments, and rather decisively; I have neither the desire, nor the flagrant disregard for my personal appearance, to pursue either.

Nonetheless, today, the noted Transcendentalist and I will share another thing in common: a pond to ourselves, and an active (in my case, espresso-fueled) imagination with which to interpret what we experience.

I've come to Sherborn's Leland Mill Pond, located on Mill Street by the intersection with Hollis, for myriad reasons, the primary one being that it's open. In the wake of coronavirus, both the Trustees of Reservations and Audubon Society have temporarily closed their properties, leaving diehard hikers and stir-crazy families alike without outlets for their energy. The call of the wild remains strong, though. Sherborn's trails, still being open, are well positioned to answer that call.

The long and short of it: I went to the woods because I wished to be somewhere other than home.

Truth be told, I fully expect the same experience that waited for me when I visited Medfield's Noon Hill over a week ago: a peaceful trail, some very picturesque views, and a profusion of fellow hikers to wave at from a safe distance. While the first two items are there in abundance, it's the complete absence of the third piece that makes this such a welcome visit. Perhaps it's a function of the hour at which I've stopped by - just after 9 a.m. when I arrive - but I run into nobody during my walk. It's exactly what the doctor ordered, both from a social distancing perspective and a soul perspective.

I’ve been taking short detours to green spaces as a means of social escape for years. It's something of a reset button for me, personally. Since the COVID outbreak, however, I've watched as these spaces have shut down entirely or become inundated with fellow travelers. I'm not complaining - far be it from me to criticize the impulse to seek peace in the forest - but it does make it a bit more difficult to enjoy the solitude.

The hallmark of this visit, though, is an ability to hear myself think amidst the stillness. Had my to-do list not been overflowing, and had the rain not been threateningly spitting, I am quite confident that I could sit with my eyes on the pond for hours on end, with minimal interruption.

The trail itself is relatively short and easy to follow, if a little overrun with knotty pine roots that make the path a little less even than some might prefer. There are also a few points that require one to hop from stone to stone over washed-out areas - it's nothing dramatic or too deep, mind you, but nonetheless something of which to be mindful, particularly for members of the community who aren't as sure on their feet.

Really, though, I'm not sure it's the walking you're after on a visit to Leland Mill Pond. My own instinct is to find a particularly silent spot along the trail - one of the many where I can fool myself into thinking I'm miles away from civilization - and dig into it for a long while. I regret that neither the weather nor my timetable enable me to do so properly today; I'm fairly certain, given the necessary pen and paper, that I'd otherwise have ended up writing this article from the shore of the pond.

As it is, my visit is slightly more harried - I have places to go, stories to write, and people to see (from over six feet away, of course). Still, I cannot help but crane my neck to keep an eye on the pond as I leave the forest and head back to Mill Street.

It is wonderful to think that just a couple minutes drive from Route 27, there is a wooded oasis in which one can feel truly isolated, but be completely secure that home remains a stone's throw away. 

It's an even lovelier surprise that such a space remains so unoccupied as I walk through it. I breathe in one last gasp of the solitude before heading back to my car.

Especially during this moment of pandemic, Thoreau's words from "Walden" ring true: 

“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”

Sherborn trails remain open as of the time of print, but the situation remains fluid; fellow Thoreau impersonators should check www.sherbornma.org/conservation-commission before seeking out their own solitude.

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