There are few reasons for which I'll wake up at 5:30 AM on a Saturday. The Thoreau Society Annual Gathering in Concord, MA is one of them. Technically it's a multi-day event, but I could only swing the cost of 1 day. And it was a beautiful day that started with a memorial walk around Walden Pond.
At 7am, I was in the Walden Pond lot in line to get my parking pass, standing behind a man who seemed to be having some trouble with the machine. I was there waiting patiently, when suddenly this enormous raccoon comes bumbling by, maybe 3 feet away. I was about to announce, "Holy shit! Look at that raccoon!" when the man turned around and asked me for help with the machine. So I helped him get his ticket, and I have no idea where the raccoon went, and that pretty much set the tone for my day.
After the pond, I attended some interesting talks at First Parish Church and the Masonic Hall. The themes included...
- Environmental humor and satire as a form of activism
- Naturalist observation and curiosity with Bernd Heinrich, accomplished biologist and author
- Thoreau's recognition of non-human accomplishments as culture
- Anne Bradstreet as evidence of the appreciation of natural beauty in early New England
- Thoreau and Darwinism - a missed opportunity
- Thoreau's ambiguous definitions of commerce and the environment, and that they do not have to be opposites
All in all, the sessions focused heavily on Thoreau as a naturalist, which I suppose makes sense considering this year's theme: "Thoreau's Ecological and Cultural Vision for a Tolerable Future." I was hoping for more of a balance of both ecological and cultural. I would've liked to have seen more attention given to Thoreau the abolitionist, social activist, and writer of Civil Disobedience and Slavery in Massachusetts. Maybe talks on those subjects were given on the other days.
Whenever I go to historical or scholarly events like this, I expect to be one of the youngest in attendance. I'm also used to being one of the few queer-presenting people in an audience. But for an event celebrating Thoreau, I was especially alarmed by the lack of diversity in both attendees and presenters. All of the speakers at the sessions I attended were white men (granted, there were a couple concurrent sessions by women, but the topics appeared less interesting). While Thoreau himself was a white man, I think he would be confused and maybe even disappointed at the lack of inclusivity that has happened in his name his over the 150+ years.
I did have a great, although brief, conversation with a board member of the Thoreau Society. We talked about how her family can no longer afford to live in Concord, and how the town is becoming a destination for rich folks only. We also talked about the underrepresentation of women in the Thoreau Society, and how that's changing. Our little talk gave me more to think about than some of the sessions did.
Overall I was glad to spend the day with some fellow Thoreauvians, and I was especially thankful for the beautiful morning at Walden Pond (and that big, beautiful raccoon).