BEFORE WE PROCEED much farther on
our first New England early autumn coun-
try walk, before we grow dizzy with red
maples actually turning red in a natural
psychedelic blowmind, we might consider
the dearth of what you might call “ponds”
where I come from. To me, a pond was a
muddy hole you could jump across, and it
housed six or seven crawdads and some
tadpoles. (My friend Mark put dead polli-
wogs in a jar with hand lotion and charged
kids a nickel to look at “elephant sperm.”
delicious melancholy I have yet to see
again. I was bellowing along to Sisters of
Mercy: “Oh Marian, this world is killing
me.” Cows regarded me. Goths in paradise.
“I’m looking for Walden,” I announced. “Pond.” Helpful-like,
as if she didn’t know.
We were guttersnipe naturalists.) When
Thoreau said, “Time is but the stream I
go a-fishing in,” I thought I knew what he
was talking about, though my stream was
rain-shower runo= in an alley. I had been
fishing exactly once in my life, and I felt
guilt about the poor worm that came out
of the water not only impaled on the hook
but sti= as a twig.
So there I was, marching at a splendid
pace! Away to Walden Pond! Or, as my
homeboys would have spelled it, GUAL-DENG! Delighted by every tree! White
fences! Orange and yellow and scarlet
leaves! Concord thinned and vanished and
I was suddenly among farms! Huzzah!
Well-met, shrieking farm dogs threatening me! Bonjour, paranoiac farm wives
hanging laundry and glaring at me from
fields of golden, uh, barley! Eau my gwod!
I saw stacks of lobster pots. I saw pumpkins. It was a shock to me that pumpkins
grew somewhere. Next to lobster pots!
And a red tractor to boot.
Behold the festive black-and-white
New England moo-cow. Scenes bucolic
and poetic—scenes the Alcotts might
have penned. Sad autumn light, what a
hipster pal in Harvard Square had called
“Irish light,” slanted through the trees to
make everything tremble with the most
fate and the epic movements of the uni-
verse and the natural splendour of the Crea-
tor’s delight in the temple of His Creation.
Don’t do me any favors, Deah. And south,
out of town again, across the crazed tra;c
on the highway, and past a tumbledown
trailer park and a garbage dump. What is
this crap? Tijuana?
Gradually, I became aware of a bright
blue mass to my right. A sea. A Great Lake.
This deal wasn’t a pond, man. Are you kidding? Who called this Sea of Cortez a pond?
Down to the water. A crust of harlequin leaves lay along the shore. It was
dead silent. Thin wisps of steam rode the
far shoreline. I squatted and watched and
fancied myself living in a shack, smoking
my pipe, scratching out one-liners with a
quill, changing the world.
An ancient Dalmatian came along. He
was sti= and arthritic, walking at an angle,
grinning and making horking sounds.
His tag said his name was Jason.
“Jason,” I said. “I’m looking for Thoreau.”
“Snork,” he said, and headed out. I followed. We walked past cove and bog and
found ourselves at Henry’s stone floor.
The cairn of stones left by travelers. I was
glad my homeys did not see me cry over
The shack was about the size of my
small bedroom back home in San Diego. I
put my hand on the old pines and felt Henry’s bark against my palm. Jason sneezed
and thumped along to his own meditations. The pond moved in slow motion before us, Henry and me. A train rolled past
the far trees like some strange dream.
Crows went from shadow to shadow,
Was it just me, or did I smell pipe tobacco burning?
I placed my stone on the cairn. I
tipped my collar to my chin. Fall turned
cold fast in those days. “Adios, Enrique,”
I said. Then I headed back to town for a
hot cup of co=ee and a ride home on a
dark train. A
YEAH, WHATEVER. Barking dogs. Screw
you. Farm wives gawking. What’s your
problem? My feet hurt. Past Friendly’s.
Luis Alberto Urrea is the author of, most
recently, Queen of America.