Walden Film

Michael Ken
3 min readDec 7, 2023

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

-Henry David Thoreau

Sometimes, you stumble across an article or video that sets free a feeling or idea that was buried deep inside. For me, Walden, a 22 minute documentary, is just that type of perfection. Produced by Ken Burns, narrated by Robert Redford, and full of scientific and literary scholars, Walden captures the essence of Henry David Thoreau’s life at Walden Pond in a short film. The film also features commentary by the Founder of the Walden Woods Project, none other than Don Henley. Yes, that Don Henley (renowned member of the Eagles and voice of the hit Hotel California).

In the opening scene, Henley says, “You can walk through a place and not really look at it, but if we look closely at places, they take on meaning.” Thoreau was one of those special writers that brought meaning to thousands and thousands of people, from writers to historians, biologists, ecologists, and even famed civil rights activists like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.

“Thoreau’s experiences at Walden would impart to him a profound new vision of the world, which he would write into the pages of a book that would transform a small pond in Massachusetts into something extraordinary and revelatory for generations to come.”

The film does a good job of relaying how the book Walden transcended the story of one person living at a pond, and how Thoreau’s search for “the essential facts of life” has meaning for all people everywhere.

“Walden is not a book about life in the woods. It is a book about life in the world. It transcends the present moment and reveals the deep connection between every person who’s walked this earth through the ages.”

I found the documentary riveting. It gives context to my own experiences of living in the woods. I’m no Thoreau, but his story inspires me, daily, to observe nature and listen to what it has to teach. It has given me focus and purpose in both my life and my writing. Those who follow Thoreau into the woods discover an interesting truth: that Thoreau’s articulate account of his life at Walden came secondary to his rich personal experiences while he was there.

Thoreau said the reformation of the self leads to the reformation of society. In a day and age of political and social unrest, Thoreau offers us a practical path to improve our situation by both looking inward and taking action.

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Michael Ken

My journal about life in the woods. Visit intothewoods.blog to see my complete journal, photographs, and articles.