TIME OF HOPE—AND WHEEZING
Autumn, splendid autumn, was here again—in 1957 it was a season of falling leaves and rising temperatures. Though doctors punctured the bared arms of thousands and Macy's filled flu serum prescriptions (a package good for five shots: $3.98) over the counter, Asian influenza—or something disconcertingly like it—settled in the bones, bellies and bronchial apparatus of innumerable citizens and made them hate themselves and the bright and lovely world. Professional football teams seemed curiously proof against the bugs, but high school games were canceled last week from Butte, Mont. to Port Chester, N.Y., the available manpower of college teams fluctuated wildly from day to day (although perhaps not quite as wildly as their coaches implied) and distracted bettors sought the latest intelligence from campus infirmaries.
The halt and the wheezing were, however, in a minority and most of them recovered soon; millions of Americans were able to draw in a feeling of hope and well-being with October's bracing air. In the North and West, woodland color (see SPECTACLE) astounded the eye, and tree worshipers on double-laned Highway 41 outside Milwaukee caused a truly monumental traffic jam. There was still trout fishing in New Hampshire and the Rockies, still sailing on both coasts, still golf everywhere. Ducks were flying south and 200,000 hunters took to blinds in California alone one rainy day last week. It snowed the same day in Utah's Wasatch Mountains and a dedicated vanguard of Salt Lake City skiers hurried to the heights. Wisconsin hunters bobbled cardboard deer through the brush on wires and blazed away at them to sharpen their reflexes for November's venison; in Omaha a man named Robin Hood, proprietor of a window-washing service, swore to get a deer this year with bow and arrow.
To the young on college campuses, in high schools and prep schools, autumn (much more than January 1) meant the beginning of a new year, of new attitudes, new fads, new enthusiasms. Northeastern college males refer to girls this fall as "heaps." The growing campus tendency toward viewing football players with a sardonic eye has spread to—of all places—Texas (where 541,000 fans have already paid to see college football games this year). At SMU, athletes are known simply as the "animals" and the athletic dormitory is called the "zoo." The first recorded panty raid of the season took place at the University of South Carolina, but it was half-hearted; the old rite seemed on the wane although there was still student exuberance—the Theta Chis at the University of Nebraska stripped one of their freshmen, tied him in a sack and hung the sack on the doorknob of the Tri Delt house. The " Ivy League" buckle—on caps, on shoes, on pants (which is scratching up varnished school desks something terrible) is being worn from coast to coast; and even at Arizona State, Levis, traditional western campus garb, were being supplanted by nonpleated slacks.
Meanwhile, in Baltimore, just before 6:05 o'clock one morning last week, hundreds of curious citizens climbed up on their roofs, breathed deeply of the fresh air and partook of an absolutely new fall sport: Sputnik spotting. That evening a Baltimore disc jockey announced his favorite 1957 fall song: Shine on, Harvest Moons.
DESPERATION AT WALDEN
Walden Pond is doubtless one of the loveliest, as well as the smallest (64 acres), of the world's famous bodies of water. The trees which border it are as bright, this autumn, as they were in the fall of 1845, when Henry David Thoreau, having moved two miles from Concord, Mass., was preparing for his first winter there in a 10- by 15-foot hut, and mulling the philosophical thought which was to make his name and that of Walden imperishable. Not all the trees remain, however—a stretch of eastern shore has been bulldozed to baldness, affording, from mid-pond, a clear view of "Walden Breezes," a trailer camp, and nearby hot dog stands. Walden, as a result, is now a battleground.
The acrimony stems from the fact that the pond has not only been a sort of shrine for generations, but has always been used, locally, for swimming. When three Concord families (the Emersons, the Forbeses and the Hey-woods) deeded the land around the lake to the commonwealth as a public reservation in 1922, and later when simple bathhouses and swimming piers were built, there were no objections. But last summer, after the Middlesex County commissioners agreed (at the request of the Red Cross, which runs the beach) to make improvements, and wangled $50,000 from the legislature for that purpose, the tumult and the shouting rose.
Members of the Thoreau Society (not only in Concord, but in London, New York and other faraway cities) were horrified at news of bulldozers and talk of a paved road to the water's edge. They were more incensed at plans for a concrete bathhouse ("Just like the Maginot Line"). When they heard that one of the commissioners suggested cleaning up "that old pile of rocks"—a cairn at the site of Thoreau's hut on which the devoted have reverently placed stones since 1872—their indignation grew unbearable.
The Thoreau Society hurried into court and got a temporary injunction halting the work. The Board of Commissioners seemed astounded and with some reason, since some of the very people who had asked for improvements were now protesting. "I think it's a great pond and I like to go out and walk through the woods myself," said Commissioner Thomas Bonaventure Brennan last week. "All we ever tried to do was help the Red Cross. I think these people just don't want anyone else to enjoy the pond." So, pending final action in the courts, the matter stood. It was difficult to guess what Thoreau might have thought of it all, but it was hard to feel that he would have been surprised. "The mass of men," he wrote, "lead lives of quiet desperation."