Over the weekend we visited Walden Pond. As I had hoped, it was frozen over. The Ranger told me the ice measured only 4 inches, and that it wasn’t safe to walk on – it being a very deep pond (102 feet). Nonetheless, there were quite a few people on the ice. We just braved the first couple of yards near the beach. Like the Ranger said: nothing had happened yet, but you could be the first to fall through. No thanks!

Frozen Walden Pond, Feb 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

As we approached we asked Amie where all the water had gone! She knew from reading Stella, Queen of the Snow.

Cover of Stella Queen of the Snow (c) Marie-Louise Gay

– Frozen!

We walked on it, tested the hardness, and made tracks in the snow. Listened to the frogs sleeping underneath the ice. She was all for walking across to the other side, and it took some persuading to get her off again.

Amie on Frozen Walden Pond, Feb 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

We also spotted deer tracks in the snow, and compared their to those of our tracks, explaining the difference by how our feet and shoes are shaped differently.

Lastly we visited the mock-up of Thoreau’s house and shook the bronze statue’s hand (very cold). Amie asked again, as she usually does when we visit Walden Pond:

– But where did Henry go?

– We don’t know. He’s dead. We don’t know where we go when we die.

I think Thoreau might have appreciated that answer.


Cover of The Trouble with Henry (c) S.D. Schindler, Candlewick Press, 2005.

Cover of Henry David’s House (c) Robert Fiore, Charlesbridge Publishing, 2007. Cover of Into the Deep Forest with Henry David Thoreau (c) Kate Kiesler, Clarion Books, 1995.Cover of A Mind with Wings: The Story of Henry David Thoreau (c) Gerald & Loretta Hausman, Trumpeter, 2006.

Not content with an article on D.B. Johnson’s wonderful Henry series, I published another article today, on Suite101.com, about five more children’s books about Henry David Thoreau:

  1. The Trouble with Henry, written by Deborah O’Neal and Angela Westengard and illustrated by S.D. Schindler (Candlewick Press, 2005).
  2. Henry David’s House, words by Thoreau (gleaned from his books by editor Steven Schnur) and illustrated by Robert Fiore (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2007).
  3. Louisa May and Mr. Thoreau’s Flute, written by Julie Dunlap and Marybeth Lorbiecki and illustrated by Mary Azarian (Dial, 2002, no longer in print).
  4. Into the Deep Forest: With Henry David Thoreau, written by Jim Murphy and illustrated by Kate Kiesler (Clarion Books, 1995, out of print).
  5.  A Mind with Wings: The Story of Henry David Thoreau waswritten and illustrated by Gerald & Loretta Hausman (Trumpeter, 2006).

Read it here!

Amie and Baba at Walden Pond, October 2007 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Amie and Baba at Walden Pond (click on My Flickr to the right for more)

  • The Pond

All three of us went to Walden Pond today (Amie no longer calls it “Walrus Pond”). It was 83 degrees F, that’s 28 degrees C! We had not expected it, so we were rather overdressed (long pants).

The pondwater was warm enough for Amie, who has been suffering from a cold, to go in whole. This time we did take care to take her shoes off first thing – but we were too late with the shirt. Her diaper swelled up like a balloon half her weight, but she was unperturbed. She floated and splashed and drank the pondwater (we asked her not to, but what can you do?).

We collected stones and leaves and dirt.

Walden Pond in summer can get very crowded, but as you can see from the photo, today was fine, surprisingly for such a hot Saturday on a long weekend. There were mostly families with children, many of them as unprepared for a swim as we were but goin’ in anyway. It felt rather neighborly.

  • Then we met Henry

On our way back to the parking lot we visited the replica of Henry David Thoreau’s house. When we arrived the door was open but Amie wouldn’t go in. The bed, with its messed-up brown blanket, scared her a bit. She said:

“I want to see Henry!”

A young couple who were also looking in through the doorway laughed and the girl pointed at her boyfriend, saying:

“There’s Henry!”

The young man took up the role with ease and gave us a tour of his house: the three chairs, the fireplace, the table and the bed.

Amie stared.

And she stared. Was it because he didn’t at all look like the bear in D.B. Johnson’s books? Or did she stare so because she has a sense of Thoreau’s stature, or of the fact that he’s the past and, actually, quite dead…

Who knows what goes on in that little head of hers. More than we give her credit for, I’m sure!

Photograph of Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau

(July 12, 1817 – May 6, 1862)


  Cover of (c) D.B. Johnson’s Henry Hikes to Fitchburg, Houghton Mifflin Cover of (c) D.B. Johnson’s Henry Climbs a Montain, Houghton Mifflin Cover of (c) D.B. Johnson’s Henry Builds a Cabin, Houghton Mifflin Cover of (c) D.B. Johnson’s Henry Works, Houghton Mifflin

We love Thoreau around here.  Ever since our visit to Walden Pond, Amie often asks to be read her books about “Henry David Thoro-ow”. We have several children’s books about Henry, but the core of our collection is the series written and illustrated by D.B. Johnson:

  1. Henry Hikes to Fitchburg
  2. Henry Climbs a Mountain
  3. Henry Builds a Cabin
  4. Henry Works

We love these so much, I wrote a raving review about them for Suite101.com. Go have a look-see!

Amie walking (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

  • Thoreau’s gift to me 

Walking around “Walrus Pond” the other day, I had that great feeling of belonging. I haven’t gone there often (this was my third or fourth visit in the ten years that I live here), and perhaps that is why it is each time so special.

I’ve read Thoreau, of course, lots of it. He was the one who gave me a way to feel at home in this country, especially in this part of the country. I used to feel so homesick for the medieval cathedrals and the old Roman antiquity of Europe, but Thoreau gave me a wonderful alternative: nature, wildness. Walden Pond now exemplifies an America where I feel welcome, at home, wholesome.

  • Amie investigates belonging

I noticed that Amie, at the beginning of two, is looking into “belonging” as well. When building towers with her blocks ( a relatively new development: she discovered the blocks box a couple of days ago and spontaneously started building)  she will ask, of a block: “Where does it live?”

Amie’s first tower of blocks (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

She knows where she lives: “I live in Boston” or “I live in Brookline library”. And where some of her friends live, “in New York”, “in Washington DC” (all names she can pronounce without a problem), “and that is far away”.

In November we are getting on a plane to travel to exactly the other side of the globe to visit grandparents. I am so curious to see how much she will understand of distance, and family.

  • A different kind of belonging

She is also working on a different sense of belonging  – though I would like to think about just how different they are.

When I was about to drink from DH’s glass – we share a glass during dinner; question of less dishes, and less loading and unloading dishes – she stopped me and said: “No, Mama! That’s Baba’s!” It was a great opportunity for a Spiel about sharing and “thank you” and “you’re welcome”.

She will also hold out a piece of food from her plate to me and say: “You want it, Mama? I’ll share it with you, I’ll give it to you.”

  • Amie at Home

It is a great privilege to witness her forging a sense of place, finding words for home, and physical spaces, trying out different relationships, figuring out which people belong there, with her.

It is my job to make her feel at home and to show her that she can be at home in other places as well: to give her not one particular physical place, but an anchor.

A mobile anchor. 

This anchor is herself and her nearest family, and a feeling of home that she can take with her wherever we go.

Practically, I’m thinking of a feeling of safety. Routines are a key part of that now that she is a two-year-old with a growing sense of entitlement, expectation and time (it strikes me now that so much of place is really time).  We have sound bedtime and potty routines, we always have breakfast and dinner together, and we each have “jobs” that we do no matter what (Baba drop her off at daycare, she plays and has fun, and I pick her up).

Most of these routines we can take with us, wherever we go.

  • A Family on the Move

When (and where) I grew up it wasn’t necessary for parents to take this issue under such conscious consideration. Home and place were unproblematic and often taken for granted. I moved once, as a child, and then only two kilometers from our old house.

But we are not that kind of family. We will always be traveling, if only to see our families scattered across the globe. Our jobs are not as secure as my parents’ jobs were. And who knows how much we’ll be on the move, given what the future will bring…

amie at walden pond, September 2007 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

We were all set for a relaxed weekend, when at 10 in the morning our place was suddenly bombarded by a deafening noise: our upstairs neighbor was having her floors sanded – without warning to us. Well… It was still going on when time Amie’s naptime came around, so we had to flee, and after trying to get her to nap in the stroller – that’s not going to happen anymore! – we got in the car and drove to Walden Pond.

We spent two wonderful hours there. Amie loved it, picking up stones and sand and throwing them into the water, and before I knew it, getting in up to her ankles, shoes and socks and sleeves and all! 

I stripped us of socks and shoes, rolled up the trouser legs, and we made sand clouds by wiggling our toes, stomping our feet. Threw rocks of course, and stuck twigs into the loose sand. Admired little stone houses built by previous visitors to the small beach. We admired the sunshine on the waves, got dizzy looking at them – Amie kept saying: “I’m going! I’m going now!” – and once or twice nearly fell in.  And made waves.

The weather was  glorious and the water warm from an entire summer. There were maybe thirty other visitors – a stark contrast to our last visit over a year ago, when we had to fight to find some towel space on the beach.

I picked up Amie and carried her on my hip almost halfway around the pond, telling her about Thoreau – we didn’t make it to the site of his cabin.  She may have understood something of it. It doesn’t matter. She came home and told her Baba: “I went to Walrus Pond!”

amie at walden pond, September 2007 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Yes, she is wearing her PJs. Baggy, flowery ones.

I felt pretty bad about the car drive. The question of whether a nap was worth it became useless as soon as it was clear that Amie wouldn’t even go to sleep in the car (she didn’t: she was a wild child by the time we got home!). Next time we’re taking more people along, and/or we’re getting there by alternative means.