Category Archives: General

The New Henry in Town

By Corinne H. Smith

When Richard Smith moved to West Virginia at the end of 2017, he left behind nearly a two-decade legacy of portraying Henry David Thoreau in Concord, especially at Walden Pond, where he greeted visitors as Henry in the Thoreau house replica on a regular basis.

Last summer while Smith was contemplating his move, another Thoreauvian, Brent Ranalli, was exploring the idea of taking his efforts at historical interpretation to the next level. Ranalli did not know there would soon be an opening for some one to portray Henry David Thoreau in June 2018.

Brent Ranalli as Henry David Thoreau at Thoreau Farm.

Ranalli’s path first intersected with the Thoreau crowd when he participated in a panel presentation at The Thoreau Society Annual Gathering in 2009. The subject of the session was the publication of Environment: An Interdisciplinary Anthology, a textbook which Brent helped to edit. He quickly felt a camaraderie with the people involved and attending the conference. He has been a regular presenter at each Gathering ever since.

Ranalli is interested in Thoreau’s fascination with Native Americans. He admires how Thoreau was able to take on a walking style that many of his friends equated with that of an American Indian. Ranalli has written and spoken about Thoreau’s gait, as reported by the people who were close to Henry. His research made him wonder: Why not study Thoreau’s gait by donning Henry’s style of clothing and portraying Thoreau himself? Ranalli began to gather parts of the wardrobe and the props he would need for this venture.

Meanwhile, Visitor Services Supervisor for Walden Pond State Reservation, Jennifer Ingram  was responsible for finding a new historic interpreter who could portray Henry and fill the void Smith had left. Over the winter, Ingram sent queries to members of the local historical collaborative in Concord. While she pursued some leads, none of the applicants seemed to fit the position.

Ranalli eventually heard about this new opening through The Thoreau Society, where he is a member, and contacted Ingram. She was immediately impressed. He certainly had the background and the interest; was in the right age range; and had the right build to portray Thoreau.

Ingram had a final test for Ranalli, however. The two met at the Pond office one day, and went to sit in the replica for an hour. Ingram felt that this experience would be critical for the prospective Thoreau. It would offer the reality of the interpretation. If the potential Henry didn’t feel comfortable being in this space, or if he felt he had to leave after a few minutes, then that would be that.

Instead, Ranalli stayed.

“It felt comfortable,” he said. “One could make a home there. With the replica furniture and the working wood stove, the house definitely feels authentic. It makes it easy to enter the world of the 1840s.”

He had not only passed Ingram’s test, but one of his own. And, he interacted well with the public who stopped by the house that day to meet Henry.

This month, Ranalli did his first Henry gig at an Acton elementary school. (He was careful not to talk to any classes that included his own sons as students.) He reports that the appearance went well. He was stymied only once. This was when someone asked what kind of car Thoreau would drive, if he were alive today.  (I suggested that Thoreau would be likely to take public transportation.) Yet, Ranalli feels as though he has already gained a deeper understanding of the author-naturalist by stepping into his shoes.

Brent Ranalli will portray Henry Thoreau at Walden Pond State Reservation on Sunday, May 27, 2018, beginning at 1 p.m. Be sure to stop by and chat with him as he “is” Henry at the house replica. Just don’t ask him about cars!

Corinne Smith is the author of Henry David Thoreau for Kids among other books; a frequent contributor to The Roost;  and is a tour guide at Thoreau Farm.

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Mars and the Spider

By Tom O’Malley

Tom O’Malley in the birth room at Thoreau Farm.

In this time of war, I am not surprised to see the planet Mars burning brightly in the night sky. Ah, Mars, the red planet. No other heavenly body calls up such fantastic images in the human imagination. My Mars is the Mars of Ray Bradbury, a frail, sand-tossed world where elegant alien creatures await the demise of their species aboard fabulous ships that ply the wine-dark waters of their evaporating canals. Mars. I have seen your polar caps through the lens of a small backyard telescope, and have conjured pictures of ice and water flowing down to byzantine towns along the equator.

I remember back in 1969 when Neil Armstrong was kangarooing on the lunar surface, enthusiastic NASA men were predicting human landings on Mars by 1980. I planned to go myself, until I found out that advanced Math was required in the astronaut world. So here we are in the 21at century, and there are no footprints on the red planet yet!

Last year, Mars was one of the brightest objects in the night sky. I did not want to pass up the opportunity to get a good look at our celestial neighbor, so my daughter Nora and I headed out to our cabin in the country to get an undistorted view of this mysterious planet. We arrived a bit before dark. Everything was quiet as the sun descended into the treetops. Our resident barred owl hooted welcomes to the evening.

Back up in the woods, the chickadees and jays settled into their night time perches. Off in the distance, a lone coyote barked. Nora and I sat on the porch step waiting. She looked back to the house.

“Look,” she cried.

I turned, half expecting to see the god of war sitting on our roof. Instead, a daddy long legs spider meditated on the gutter.

“Let’s check it out,” I urged.

We approached cautiously.

“Is it sleeping?” asked Nora.

The spider remained still.

“I doubt it. I think it is just practicing patience.”

Nora thought about that for a moment.

“Then I think you should kill it now,” she urged. “Crush it before it gets into the cabin.”

I was shocked at first. Perhaps the approach of Mars had somehow transformed my daughter from a cheerful teenager to a blood thirsty spider killer. Then the spider moved gracefully along the gutter line. Her tai – chi movements, so slow and deliberate, charmed my Nora. Her bloodlust disappeared.

“No. Let’s not kill the spider dad. It’s a dancer!”

My heart buoyed. Peace was restored in our valley.

As we studied the spider, so domestic over our doorway, Mars crawled above the horizon, a drop of blood beaming in the darkness. It was the brightest object in the sky.

Perhaps war and peace are not really opposites. After all, the mythical war god and Venus were secret lovers. Imagine the weary warrior pulling off his armor at last. Finally, he opens his battle scarred arms to the goddess’s soft embrace. Mars had never allowed himself to be so vulnerable, so unguarded. And from this union, the grizzled warrior, perhaps, found peace at last.

That night, Mars beamed bright beyond hope. Nora and I sat silently and watched its journey through the Zodiac. Our spider danced undisturbed along the wall. And at least for these few hours, Mars put down his tools of war and embraced the steady heart of love.

Tom O’Malley is an adjunct professor of English at Canisius College. 

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Thoreau Replica Cabin and Other Unique Objects for Sale in Our Auction

Looking for your Walden? We have a Thoreau inspired cabin (10 ft. by 15 ft.) built by Thorough Homes in honor of the Thoreau Bicentennial offered in our auction. The cabin was the centerpiece of our 200th birthday party at the birth place. Own a piece of Thoreau history!

Cabin built by Thoroughhomes.com is up for auction.

Ken Lizotte, chief imaginative officer of Emerson Consulting Group, has donated a book publishing consultation and lunch. If you are thinking about writing a book or have written one, Ken will help you navigate the publishing world.

Get away from it all and spend a long weekend in a beautiful Sebago Lake vacation home offered by Jack and Linda Maguire of Maguire Associates.

And tour historic Concord with local historian and native Concordian Joseph Wheeler!

The auction features natural history tours; collectibles; original art; rare books; collectibles; plants from Thoreau Farm; Steamship Authority Hy-Speed ferry tickets to Nantucket, and more items added daily.

Start your bidding! The auction ends March 29, 2018.

For information on how you can bid or donate to  Thoreau Farm’s auction on Biddingforgood.com, email Margaretcb@thoreaufarm.org .

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