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Accidentally finding Walden Pond

In my book, “Pebble in the Water,” I quote the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, whose words have never spoken more clearly to me than they did this week as I spent a week in Massachusetts while speaking to three medical groups: “Every journey has a secret destination of which the traveler is unaware.”

As with most trips, wife Sally and I experienced some low moments: having to pay $32 a day to park our rental car at our downtown hotel; facing cold, biting winds; sitting through I-93 backups; leaving a suitcase at one of the hospitals I spoke at; and enduring a few “who-peed-in-your-Wheaties?” folks who were just plain grumpy. But that’s just life.

But life is also the more serendipitous moments, like when you’re sitting in a little deli in the woodsy environs west of Boston — a place called Weston — and the song on the radio is James Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James,” with that oh-so-wonderful Massachusetts line: “The first of December was covered with snow, and so was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston/Though the Berkshires seemed dream-like on account of that frostin’… .”)

Like when you stumble across a used-book store a block from your downtown Boston hotel, Brattle Books, that is not only teeming with great (and cheap) titles, but, you find, is one of the oldest bookstores in the country (1825). (And will ship your books home for free, which is cool, since I bought 25 pounds worth.)

Like when you not only get to sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” at Fenway Park, but the Red Sox tradition “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond. (And the Sox beat the Yankees 9-3.)

None of the moments were expected. But all are now stowed away on my mind’s hard drive in a file called Unexpected Moments of Bliss.

Ah, but none compare to something that happened Thursday afternoon — all because we decided to not play it safe and take freeways, as suggested by MapQuest, to an “American Nightingale” speaking gig I was giving to Emerson Hospital employees in Boxborough, about 25 miles northwest of Boston. Having plenty of wiggle-time for driving mistakes, we decided to take back roads, which, in Massachusetts squiggle all over the place like noodles on a plate of spaghetti.

Never mind that we saw, in Brookline, the police blockade involving a suspected terrorist. Never mind the gorgeous forests you suddenly find yourself driving through, and the 100- and 200-year-old houses, tucked tidily into the trees like something out of Thomas Kincaid paintings. The real “moment” came when Sally said: “Did you see that sign? Walden Pond.”

It was, I figured, some quaint grocery store’s attempt to draft on the famous place where writer Henry David Thorough had “lived deliberately” for a couple of years back in 1845-1847, then written his book about it. But I was wrong. It was the real deal.

We had accidentally come across Walden Pond, a place I’ve long been intrigued with and wanted to see but, honestly, had never even Googled to see its exact location. Admittedly, Massachusetts is a small state. But out of 35,782 miles of roads, the idea that I’d come across this somewhat hallowed place by accident is incredible.

Near Concord, Mass., it sits along a narrow, densely-forested road that reminded us of the west end of the Old McKenzie Highway (the twisting Sisters — sounds like a rock band — -to-Highway-126-above-McKenzie-Bridge route). Perhaps two dozen people mingled on the shores of the lake, which, at 61 acres, is about one-fifth the size of Blachly’s Triangle Lake. (Though, at more than 100 feet deep in places, much deeper.)

The State of Massachusetts Forest & Parks System is in charge of Walden Pond. You can walk inside a replica of the cabin Thoreau built; given the place’s small size, it was a good thing H.D. was a loner. You can peruse a non-cheesy gift shop where you won’t find, say, Henry David soap-on-a-rope but can buy “Most men live lives of quiet desperation” t-shirts. And you can walk around the lake, though much of the trail was closed because of high water. You can even fish if you’d like, but signs — in the spirit of What Would Henry Do — warn that you should recycle your fishing line in the “Monofilament Recycling Bin.”

Not having tons of times, we took a few photos. I splashed some Walden water on my face. And — confession time — I bought a “simplicity, simplicity” coffee mug to remind me to slow my life down as I sip my hot chocolate. Then we were on our way.

We never would have found the pond had we taken the well-traveled road, er, interstate. We found it because we at least dared to seek a bit of minor-league adventure. Dared to venture into the unknown. Dared, in Robert Frost’s words — and I think Thoreau would approve — to take the road less traveled by.

And that, of course, made all the difference.

Enough of me. Have some accidental “secret destinations” of your own? Love to hear them.

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