Walden on the Rocks

In October 1849, 140 Irish immigrants perished when the St. John, the ship upon which they had sailed to “the New World, as Columbus and the Pilgrims did,” crashed on the shores of Cape Cod during a huge storm. We would probably not even remember their fate were it not that their demise was registered, and then narrated, by none other than Henry David Thoreau. This year, which marks the bicentennial of his birth, has focused, rightly, on a life dedicated to nature in its multiple and luminous forms, and his ground-breaking call to civil disobedience. And yet, it is worth also turning our attention to that lesser known experience of his on Cape Cod, the calamity he witnessed such a long time ago and that nevertheless feels so sadly contemporary, so vividly relevant.

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