Once More to the Pond

E. B. White wrote Once More to the Lake (August 1941) about returning with his young son to the pristine Maine lake where he spent every childhood August. Before arriving, he fears that this “holy spot” will have been spoiled and won’t measure up to his idyllic memories. He is relieved that, apart from the unwelcome noise of outboard motors, little else has changed.

…I knew it, lying in bed the first morning, smelling the bedroom and hearing the boy sneak quietly out and go off along the shore in a boat. I began to sustain the illusion that he was I, and therefore, by simple transposition I was my father….I seemed to be living a dual existence….It gave me a creepy sensation.

This deeply nostalgic essay ends on an ominous note with EBW acknowledging the déjà vu sensation as “the chill of death.” The lake is timeless, but he is not.

Personal Reflections

In New England March is mud season, winter’s homestretch; with the marathon’s finish in sight, the weary runner must still endure mucky footing, a brisk headwind, and, worst of all, the possibility that the race course will be extended without warning by an April freeze.

With the temperature in the mid 50s and the sun shining, I emerged from hibernation and crossed the street to join the throngs of grateful neighbors and their dogs promenading the muddy path around Fresh Pond Reservation.

Unlike EBW’s lake, Fresh Pond is a barometer of social change, a fact of which I am even more aware after browsing through Jill Sinclair’s encyclopedic history of Fresh Pond (Fresh Pond: The History of a Cambridge Landscape, 2009, M.I.T. Press), with its many wonderful archival maps, photos and illustrations. Carved by a glacier, the Pond’s irregular outline is about all that hasn’t changed over the years.

During the Revolutionary War, when George Washington was bivouaced on Cambridge Common, the Pond was considered a safe oasis from the fighting for the city’s women and children. When smallpox threatened Washington’s army, he established a quarantine hospital at the Pond. It was the center of the ice harvest and trade in the 1800s, and the abandoned rail line that runs along its eastern side once carried not only blocks of ice, but bricks from the brickyards to the north (now Danehy Park) and passengers (there was a station stop at the foot of Lexington Avenue until 1925). I also learned that Winslow Homer used to walk two miles each morning to the Pond to fish before breakfast.

The Fresh Pond Hotel was a resort for well-to-do Bostonians from 1797 to 1885, when it became a convent school. In its heyday, under the management of three generations of the Wyeth family, the hotel offered fine dining and recreational boating. The hotel building later was moved to Lake View Ave (I can see if from my kitchen window) and was renovated into condominiums.

Standing on the bluff at the former site of the hotel, I took this photo looking east.

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The hotel was located at the top of the hill, where today’s young sledders start their runs:

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The view looking west and toward Concord’s Walden Pond:

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2 Responses to “Once More to the Pond”


  1. 1 landscapelover July 7, 2010 at 6:25 am

    Hi

    I’ve just found your blog. Thanks for the mention of my book on Fresh Pond. It’s lovely to come across comments about it on the web.

    We are fans of Charlotte’s Web (we have the audio book for long car journeys), so it’s great to see a blog dedicated to its author.

    From your profile, I see you used to live in Paris, so you might be interested in my current musings on French landscapes:
    http://landscapelover.wordpress.com/

    Jill Sinclair

    • 2 jandev July 7, 2010 at 7:12 am

      Jill — I love your Fresh Pond book! It provides a wonderful historical context for my frequent walks around the pond. I am sorry our paths didn’t cross when you lived in Cambridge — and now you’re in Paris, where I was lucky enough to live between 1988-92. As the mother of 2 small children, I spent a great many hours exploring the city’s parks. We lived in the 5th right across from the Musee de Cluny, and the Jardin de Luxembourg was a daily destination. My best friend lived on the Ile St Louis, so often we would meet with our babies in the little park beside Notre Dame. How I envy you! “C’est pour offrir” brought back many memories — at home, flowers seem like an extravagance, but in Paris I quickly adapted to the local custom of buying flowers, souvent pour offrir a moi meme! I was also intrigued by your post on the grass tennis court at the British Embassy (I was a competitive tennis player in my teens).

      This week I am in NYC and have twice braved record-breaking heat to walk the High Line. My kids tease me for my open adoration of public spaces, especially those with flowers! It’s nice to encounter a kindred spirit.


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