I have great faith in a Seed
-Henry David Thoreau
The snow is melting in Walden Woods and spring is around the corner, says the latest newsletter from The Walden Woods Project, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this month. “It's hard to believe that on April 25th, our organization will celebrate a quarter century of protecting the land, literature and legacy of Henry David Thoreau,” says the Project’s Executive Director Kathi Anderson.
The newsletter arrived in my mailbox a day after a daylong drive in the Sahyadris, to Shivthar Ghal located in Varandha Ghat on the Bhor-Mahad road, not very far from Pune. I had first visited this place – also known as Sundarmath or beautiful monastery – as a kid, decades ago. Since then it has lost much of its natural charm. Human activity is on the rise as is evident from the unbridled construction activity and the influx of tourists in the area.
Shivthar Ghal is a cave in the hills, underneath a natural waterfall. One of Maharashtra’s revered saints, Samarth Ramdas, lived here for 22 years and dictated his Dasbodh, a classical 17th century Hindu Advaita Vedanta spiritual text, to his disciple Kalyanswami. It is believed that this is where he first met Shivaji Maharaj.
The cave was discovered in 1930 and renovated after the Samarth Seva Mandal was formed in 1950. The campus includes the actual cave under the waterfall, a Ramdas Swami temple, dining hall and accommodation. During monsoons, the area use to be as picturesque as it was tranquil. However, human activity is threatening the peace now, and in absence of something like a Walden Woods Project to foster an ethic of environmental stewardship and social responsibility, there seems little hope for Ramdas Swami’s abode.
Is there a lesson to be drawn from the Walden Woods Project, which came into being in the early 1990s when faced with the prospects of a major office building and a large condominium complex being built in Walden Woods. The Walden Woods Project not only succeeded in preventing such a devastating outcome and in permanently protecting the once endangered sites, it has gone on to preserve nearly 170 acres in and around Thoreau's woods - and is still protecting threatened land.
As Kathi Anderson says: “Fundamental to our mission is protecting the land that inspired Thoreau and fostering an ethic of environmental stewardship and social responsibility with the programs we deliver to people of all ages.”
I’m sure there is a way for us to protect and preserve our natural heritage. Why can’t we have our own Walden Woods Project?