How many years has it been since I put this book on my reading list? Too many to count, I’m sad to say. I’ve started it a handful of times only to get distracted by life and have to start over. It’s one of those books that you need to take your time with. You need to feel the weight of the words and let them rattle around in your head for awhile. This book, and several others, have been influential to some writers I’ve come to love over the years and I can see why.
It’s in these pages that you are transported out of your current life and into a place where time runs slowly and is only marked by the rising and setting of the sun and the changing of the seasons. Thoreau’s Walden opens a door into a world that reads like an idyllic paradise, like a salve to our time starved selves, like a breathe, a great big breathe of life. There’s an escapism to this book that I find captivating. What an adventure it would be to disappear into the woods for awhile. To leave the 24-hour news cycle behind. To go to bed when the sun sets and wake up when it rises. To eat food that your own hands provide. To lay on the sandy shore of Walden Pond in the summer sun and listen to the birds chatter away in the trees and the deer munch on the green grasses growing nearby. Ah, the silence.
Growing up I was always more interested in what the future might hold rather than what took place in the past. The past was not a place I wanted to dwell for that, at least for me, meant having to remember the day before, the week before, the month before, and I wanted none of it. I wanted the freedom that the future held. It is really only now, in my 30’s that I’m found a sort of peace. It’s from here that I’ve started to travel into the past, not just my past, but the past from which we all arise. I’ve been trying to understand how it is that we’ve come to where we are now. How we’ve managed to get so far away from nature and how our days seem to rush by without us being able to savor them. What is it that we are rushing towards?
Thoreau waxes eloquently about life at Walden and his words have survived the test of time:
“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.”
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”
“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea, be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”
Thoreau paints this picture of being a hermit deep in the woods but he left some stuff out. Such as he spent a brief time in jail for refusing to pay taxes to support the war in Mexico (history.com). The land he lived on was actually owned by his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson not far from his family (usf.edu). Emerson actually lived a mile from him and he would often dine at his dinner table. He was within hearing distance of the bells of Concord. Hi mom did his laundry in exchange for some handyman jobs around house. He also did odd jobs for other people in Concord in exchange for meals (britannica.com). So this hermit notion we have of him is not quite accurate. Also, he wasn’t so completely self-sufficient as many think.
Nonetheless, he makes us take a moment and really think about what’s important. He brings to light those things we’ve hidden away. Once you let him into your mind you cannot let him out. In some ways he has become my tipping point for the year. Walden has inspired me to want to dive into other works and to explore further into our natural world, our connectedness, or lack there of, to fall in love again with a vision of a more perfect world, and to do good, honest work that is in line with my values. And is that not the point of this book?