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Fusing the book of Walden with the place

Robert M. Thorson is author of “The Guide to Walden Pond.”
Peter Morenus
Robert M. Thorson is author of “The Guide to Walden Pond.”

Unlike most treatises about the revered locale in Concord, “The Guide to Walden Pond” by Robert M. Thorson is a step-by-step guide to the place where Henry David Thoreau lived, wrote, and philosophized for more than two years.

Published last month by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in collaboration with the Walden Woods Project, the 250-page book explores the people who played a role in Walden Pond, historical events, plants, and animals related to 15 stops around the shoreline.

The book, priced at $16.99, also features 91 color illustrations, four maps, and quotes from Thoreau’s defining 1854 masterwork “Walden; or, Life in the Woods.”

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This is the seventh book published by Thorson, an award-winning author, geology professor at the University of Connecticut, science columnist, speaker, consultant, and expert guide to Thoreau’s Concord who recalls being “astonished” the first time he read “Walden” in 1970.

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Thorson, who now lives in Storrs, Conn., said his first trip to Walden Pond in 1985 was a “personal pilgrimage” to drop a pebble from his previous home state of Alaska at the original site of Thoreau’s one-room cabin. The inspiration for the guide book was born that day, because the trail map provided by the park yielded none of the clues he sought about Thoreau’s experiences.

Since that time, Thorson has led countless tour groups around Walden Pond. The two-page handout he developed for a course morphed into a pamphlet, then a rough trail guide, and finally the full-color edition. He describes it as a hybrid of a travel guide, nature guide, trail guide, and travel literature equally suited to armchair readers as to Walden Pond’s half million annual visitors.

Thorson hopes his effort to merge history, landscape, nature, and literature will inspire others to create their own enhanced Walden experience.

“Walden Pond is a pleasant, but ordinary place made extraordinary by literature,” he said. “I want to help readers fuse the place of the book with the book of the place.”

Thorson will host a talk and book signing on Thursday, April 26, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., at Mass Audubon, 208 South Great Road in Lincoln. For more information, visit robertthorson.clas.uconn.edu.

Cindy Cantrell

Cindy Cantrell can be reached at cindycantrell20@gmail.com.