Alas, poor Henry

I’ve always wondered about the odd pose the bronze Henry David Thoreau statue strikes outside the replica cabin at Walden Pond. Is Henry eternally frozen while staring at his fingers, or is there something in his seemingly empty palm that he is contemplating? When I was an admittedly odd child, I used to spend countless hours in bed at night contemplating my own hands, marvelling at the way they moved and gesticulated, their movements (even the most subtle) being something I could control without even thinking about it. What sort of divine designer, I wondered, invented something as simple and mundane as the human hand? Did God craft the Universe with similar-looking–albeit divine and supernaturally abled–hands, or is God’s handiwork of an entirely different kind than ours?

Having stared more than a bit at my own hands and fingers, I’ve always smiled at Thoreau’s bronze statue: was Hank a kindred spirit? After sauntering through the slippery, sand-like snow at Walden Pond yesterday, I had to smile–and snap a picture–when I saw the work of unknown, presumably human hands who’d rolled a snowball for Henry’s brazen consideration. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Hamlet encounters the barren skull of a deceased old friend and laments his passing while contemplating his skull: “Alas, poor Yorick!” Is Thoreau thinking something similar as he contemplates what looks like snowy skull, marveling at the impermanence that brings snow in February, melt in March, and green leaves in April and May?

Frozen shore, Walden Pond

I’ve lived in New England for about fifteen years now, and during that time I’ve circled Walden Pond countless times, in various weathers, both alone and with companions. Yesterday Leslee, some mutual friends, and I stomped and slipped through the squishy, sometimes ice-crusted snow that circles the pond, occasionally stepping aside to let hikers with snow-shoes, boots, and YakTrax pass us in the opposite direction.

Unsafe ice

The ice at Walden Pond looks solid these days, and yesterday we saw several hardy souls traversing it on skis: a chilly, wind-blown endeavor. And yet, signs urged us to distrust the pond’s seemingly solid, snow-clad surface, as did several thinning spots where dark water seemed ready to breach the skimming surface of pristine white snow. Alas, poor Henry, the lesson of snow, skulls, and dead writers is that impermanence surrounds us: although a brazen figure stands in all weathers outside a replica of Thoreau’s humble house, the snow in his hands is destined to pass, melting in the hot hands of spring’s eventual thaw.