Hundreds of autographs don't cramp Don Henley's fingers as he raises money to save Walden Pond's woods

SINGER SIGNS FOR A PIECE OF 'HEAVEN'

February 10, 1992|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

Getting a Don Henley tour on the road is a fairly complex operation, involving musicians, technicians, support staff and a small caravan of buses and trucks. There was none of that when the rock star rolled into Baltimore Friday evening, however -- just Henley, a woman friend, and a single road manager/bodyguard, all crammed into a rented Lincoln. No drum kit, no amplifiers, no stage lights, no busily scurrying roadies.

There were plenty of fans, though. In fact, several hundred spent the better part of an hour lining up outside the Gordon's Booksellers shop in the Rotunda, eagerly waiting to meet Henley.

Bookstores aren't his usual venue, of course, but neither was this a typical tour. Henley wasn't here to sing but to sign -- that is, to autograph copies of "Heaven Is Under Our Feet," a book he organized and co-edited.

"It's been an experience for me," he says of the tour. "I get to meet my fans face-to-face."

Meet them he does. Although store employees estimated that more than 1,000 turned up for the signing, Henley stayed almost three hours past the announced 8 p.m. cut-off so those in line wouldn't have waited in vain. Merely the thought of that many autographs is enough to give most people writer's cramp, but Henley was surprisingly stoic. "You keep going," he says with a laugh, "and after a while it just gets numb."

Some of Henley's dedication no doubt stemmed from the crowd's size and enthusiasm, both of which stand in stark contrast to the small turnout and surly bookstore staff encountered at a Washington signing earlier that day. But most of it stemmed from his passion for the project, and belief in the book itself.

"Heaven Is Under Our Feet" is not a collection of rock-star reminiscences, but a book about -- and dedicated to -- the legacy of Henry David Thoreau. It's a benefit book, with celebrity contributors ranging from singer Bette Midler to actor Tom Cruise to cartoonist Garry Trudeau. Royalties from the volume go to the Walden Woods Project, a non-profit foundation devoted to protecting Walden Woods and its environs.

Henley founded the Walden Woods project, and feels that preserving the sanctity of this famed area in Massachusetts -- the woods themselves, not just Walden Pond -- is essential. "This place is important for its symbolic value, for what it represents," he says. In his preface, Henley cites Edmund Schofield, the current president of the Thoreau Society, who argues that "When Walden goes, all the issues radiating out from Walden go, too." And the singer simply refuses to stand by and let that happen.

"If we can preserve Appomattox and Gettysburg and Vicksburg," he says, "surely we can preserve the place where man tried to establish harmony with nature and with his fellow man. Because what happened on this little spot resonated around the globe." Indeed, "Heaven Is Under Our Feet" speaks to Thoreau's influence on Mohandas Gandhi's belief in non-violence, and Walden's resonance for Japanese Buddhists.

Still, it hasn't been an easy fight. Early preservation efforts, Henley says, "only focused on the pond. And the pond is 62 acres, part of a 425-acre preserve. But the whole of Walden Woods is 2,680 acres, and the woods figured just as prominently in Thoreau's life and literature. He walked miles and miles every week through these woods, and there are sites which are just as important, if not more important, than the pond."

Since initiating the Walden Woods Project two years ago, Henley and his group have raised enough money to purchase a parcel that had been earmarked for condominium development. But acquiring the other endangered second section of Walden Woods has proved more problematic.

This land is held by Boston Properties, a corporation headed by developer Mort Zuckerman, who Henley says "didn't take me very seriously when I first came along. He sort of patted me on the head, and said, 'Oh, go away, little boy. You've been duped.' "

Zuckerman since has learned differently. "Now, he and his partner say they're willing to negotiate," reports Henley. "But the problem is, they paid $3 million for this land back in the early '80s. But they were asking $7.3 million for it a few months ago -- a full $4.3 million over and above the purchase price, and they haven't built a thing -- claiming that they have that much money tied up in legal fees, architectural fees, permits, architectural drawings . . .

"We had it appraised last year at $2.8 million, which is below what they paid for it. The real estate market in Massachusetts is probably the worst in the United States. But they say, 'We don't want to make a profit on this land, we just want to recover our costs.' We are willing and able to pay them fair market value for this land, but we don't believe that it is incumbent on us, as a non-profit, land-preservation organization, to cover those costs. So that's where the discrepancy lies."

(Spokesmen for Boston Properties were unavailable for comment Friday).

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