Archive for March, 2016

Walter Brain was a close personal friend and mentor to many 

people who study the life  of Henry D. Thoreau, including myself.

He has touched and enriched all our lives and will be missed greatly.

Born in Lima, Peru in 1936, he attended universities in Lima

as well as the U.S., earning a Master’s Degree in Landscape

Architecture from Harvard University.  The Thoreau Society was

fortunate to have Walter’s and poems appear in in its quarterly

Bulletin as well as in the Concord Saunterer.  Walter also participated in

special events at Annual Gatherings and served as a member of its

Board of Directors.

Walter was a staunch advocate of the Walden Woods

Project and frequently expressed concern for the gradual loss of land

to the expansion of the new high school that he felt was infringing

on their edges.

As a practicing Landscape Architect he designed and

supervised construction of an elevated walkway across Concord’s

Mill Brook connecting Keyes Road parking lot and the rear of the

Christian Science Church in Concord Center.

A stickler for detail, Walter knew the correct names of plants

and animals, and knew many bird calls that he would emulate in the

field.  Frequently, when I was walking with Walter in the Town

Forest he would call out to the birds.  On one occasion I was quite

startled to see a great horned owl swoop from its nest and soar close

over our heads!  Walter only chuckled.

Walter was an advocate for Concord’s annual bird census

and an active participant in these events.  He often walked with Field

books containing plant names, photos and written descriptions so

that he could identify an unfamiliar plant on the spot.  During his

walks in the town  forest he also carried a walking stick that he used

with great relish to whack what he saw as invasive plants.  He also

carried field glasses and a camera to identify and record both

botanical and archeological discoveries.

He would point out “Jack in the Pulpit” flowers which he

frequently observed while walking n the Town Forest near the

home-site of Brister Freeman, a former Concord slave immortalized

in Elise Lemire’s outstanding book Black Walden.  Elise mentioned to me that Walter

first called to her attention the Brister Freeman

home-site initially recorded by Henry Thoreau on his survey maps.

Walter was understandably quite proud of and protective of his

discovery of the original dirt fence bounding the site.

Walter had knowledge of and concern for endangered

Concord plants such as the Calla Lilies that he pointed out growing

near my home adjacent to Cambridge Turnpike.  He was concerned

that they could be lost due to scheduled road widening.

Annual walks in the Town Forest were scheduled to

correspond to the annual Riverfest.  Walter’s availability for

participation would always depend upon the timing of his annual

visit with one or more of his three sons and grandchildren who live in

Boston, Munich and London.  He had his priorities straight.

Following our walks in the Town Forest Walter and I

typically returned to my home for lunch and a cold beer.  Walter also

enjoyed discussing with my wife his knowledge of a famous Spanish

poet (Jorge Guillen) whom she had as an instructor while a Spanish

major at Wellesley College.

In his poem “Home Trek,” Walter asks,

Am I going anywhere?

For I feel I’ve arrived, though never did I leave

And have been here all along, seduced by these fields.


For those of us who knew him, Walter will continue to be here, a

presence in the woods and fields he loved and worked to protect.


This article originally appeared in

The Concord Saunterer: A Journal of Thoreau Studies, N.S. Vol. 23, 2015


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