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Thoreau Along the Merrimack

The Final Day of the Merrimack River Valley Voyagers Expedition

In August of 1839, Henry David Thoreau and his brother, John, travelled up and down the Merrimack River. The journey took two weeks. In 1842, John died of tetanus, and Henry David wrote his first book, “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers,” during his famous stay at Walden Pond as a sort of eulogy to his brother, a “morning work” (note the pun) in the words of scholar H. Daniel Peck.

Thoreau never achieved literary fame in his lifetime. He died at the age of 44 from complications arising from bronchitis. His last words were “moose,” “Indian,” and, notably for a man who had voyaged so far by foot, oar and pen: “Now comes good sailing.”

Since his death and the subsequent rise of his prestige, many have boated the Merrimack inspired by Thoreau’s ideas and writings. During the journey, I am bringing a copy of “A Week,” in a waterproof box. If you want to hear my reflections on how the trip sheds light on Thoreau, follow Merrimack Valley Magazine on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. You should also follow #mrvvoyagers on Instagram and Twitter to see and read reports from the other participants, the support team and spectators. Tune in to see if we make it safely all the way to the Plum Island landing party. In the meantime, feel free to share a favorite Thoreau quote or two in the comments section.

And for the kayakers among our readers, head to Newburyport today and join the flotilla for our final leg. We estimate we’ll be passing the “Black Cow” pier at 1 p.m., and everyone is welcome to participate in the three-mile journey from there to Plum Island.

Left: You do NOT want to paddle over the Great Stone Dam in Lawrence. We will be taking out before the dam, probably portaging by trailer again, as we did in Lowell, and putting back in… Right: The site for our Landing Party on Plum Island, with generous support (and supplies) provided by the Riverwalk Brewing Company, and live music by Thomasina Glenn! Photos courtesy Lane Glenn.

For more on Thoreau, read Reflections on Thoreau’s Bicentennial. Illustration at top of page by Sophy Tuttle.

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