In Thoreau’s Walden, he says, "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."
It’s probably the most famous quote from Thoreau’s journals, written in the mid-1840s right after he built a small 10x15 cabin on his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson’s woodlot. Millions of people since then have taken it as the clarion call for a stab at their own mystical wilderness experiences, and a fine set of words they are. But the truth is, as deliberate a life as he might have lived, as solitary as he may have been, secluded he was not.
His rude cabin on the shores of
He was not a hermit, even though he called himself one fairly often in his writings. Turns out it was tongue-in-cheek, even though, again, the legend lives on. He was a mere 23 years old when he moved to
When I was younger and locked away in the city, I read Walden (and later, Civil Disobedience, when "disobedience" against the ruling factions was still seen as our patriotic right, if not our duty).
In the midst of the chaos of my young life, the thought of living so simply in a small cabin in the woods was heartbreakingly seductive. Thoreau did it when he was broke and without a job, and it worked for him—yes it did. So why not? And during a fair number of fleeting moments, I worked at devising an escape plan that would take me away and plunk me down in a
Apparently I wasn’t alone. I swear, it’s what kept multitudes of us city-dwellers going. So imagine my surprise when I discovered just how close to town
I looked on his writings then as silly (Cultivate the habit of early rising. It is unwise to keep the head long on a level with the feet) and puffy (I stand in awe of my body)—an ode to his unworthy self. Who did he think he was, anyway? Well, it turns out he was a writer, and a pretty good one. That’s why the longevity. (Consider this: Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. I think that there is nothing, not even crime, more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay, to life itself than this incessant business. And this: Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.)
He was a blogger of his time, and I can’t help but imagine a 23-year-old Henry writing about his simple life today:
“Pulled up some weeds this AM, and got a couple rows of beans planted. Jeez, what a job! How’d I get into this, anyway? Oh, yeah, now I remember. Waldo’s fault. He says, “Want to build you a house on my property over there? You can blog yourself to death, and all I want is some of that brush cleared and a few trees going in.”
So I said, Cool! It’s quiet there. Nobody to bother me while I’m thinking thoughts. I said, throw in WiFi and you got yourself a deal!”
Look here for more on Henry David Thoreau.