Walden is considered to be a shining example of the earliest forms of American non-fiction. I wouldn't be surprised if the academics and literary journalists who came to that conclusion were not themselves American, and that the particular distinction bestowed upon Mr. Henry David Thoreau was less of a compliment and more of a broadside because, well.
Thoreau was a jerk.
His language is pretty and his rhythms are refined to a most impractical extreme, but it's easy to become lost as a reader in the flow of those prettinesses and refined verbiage and neglect the words.
Well. Not that easy to neglect the words, as it turns out, as the US Parks Department has seen fit to print them on a weatherproof sign and stick them into the ground by a natural phenomena that they, as an organization, had nothing to do with until thousands of years after its formation.
The Pemigewasset River does some pretty amazing things as it cuts through Franconia Notch in New Hampshire. It moves shockingly fast through narrower and narrower gaps between boulders dropped by changes in acceleration of glaciers long removed. It sputters and jets and falls over itself in a desperate race downward and southward to, eventually, Massachusetts and beyond to the Atlantic Ocean.
One of the river's perambulations on this course, through some combination of luck, gravity, and time, is The Basin - a swirling ovular pool carved out of the bottom of a massive rock, always moving, fifteen feet to its bottom on a section of moving water usually a tenth that depth. Its surface shimmers a deep-sea black in a land of red rust stains and green mosses. It is very, very loud by The Basin, and cold. It evokes awe in the perennially nonplussed. It can't not.
And printed on a card laminated so thoroughly as to withstand the brute force of decades of nature and tourists alike, is this thought from Thoreau:
"This pothole is perhaps the most remarkable curiosity of its kind in New England."
A pothole fifteen feet deep, much like the ones that may have lined the Concord, Massachusetts road he would later walk from Walden Pond to his mother's house whenever he became sick of the diet of beans that his little experiment furnished.
Thoreau was so practiced in his disaffection, so enamored of his pontifications on the advantages of the natural life that actual nature, real, honest-to-god nature reminded him of nothing more than a rut worn into a road in the middle-class town in which he was raised.
Somebody at the US Parks Department, apparently, realized this. Printed below Thoreau's pontification was this thought from Samuel Eastman's White Mountain Guide:
"One of the beautiful haunts of Nature, a luxurious and delicious bath fit for the ablutions of a goddess."
There. That's more like it. That's about right.
(I didn't have a camera with me,
but if I had done, The Basin
would've looked something like this: