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Globe Editorial

Ecology: Thoreau-ly different at Walden Pond

1855: Henry David Thoreau, circa 1855. 1855: Henry David Thoreau, circa 1855. (Getty Images)
February 7, 2010

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“How sweet is the perception of a new natural fact!“ Henry David Thoreau once wrote in his journal. The author, poet, and philosopher spent two years living in a simple cabin near Walden Pond and was fascinated and inspired by the intricacies of nature. He wandered all over the Concord area, making note of which plants flowered when, and planned to publish his eight years’ worth of observations as a book - before tuberculosis killed him when he was in his 40s. His work was scattered and mostly forgotten until it was reassembled by Bradley P. Dean, a leading Thoreau scholar.

A century and a half later, scientists studying signs of climate change around Walden Pond have turned to these records and their own observations, which have led them to an unsettling fact: the warming planet has helped invasive and nonnative species, such as a flower called the purple loosestrife, gain footholds in and around the pond. The Walden Pond that future generations enjoy may be very different from the one that helped inspire Thoreau’s love of nature.

As the world struggles to come up with a unified, aggressive plan to fight climate change - and as a loud chorus continues to argue, despite of reams of evidence to the contrary, that there’s nothing there to fight - it’s becoming clearer that we could use a few more Thoreaus: people who keep a close eye on nature and understand the profound beauty and spiritual sustenance that it can provide.

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