I spent Friday, October 13 at Walden Pond, Concord Massachusetts enjoying the natural beauty of the place and reflecting upon the writings of Henry David Thoreau, a naturalist and philosopher who espoused the virtues of mindfulness in his book of essays, Walden.
The website of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation had this to say about Thoreau’s experiment in simplicity.
Henry David Thoreau was a 27-year-old former schoolteacher when he went to live at Walden Pond in the summer of 1845. His friend and fellow Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, who had recently purchased 14 acres of woodlot on the northwestern shore of Walden Pond, agreed to let the young writer conduct his “experiment in simplicity” there. Near the end of March 1845, Thoreau borrowed an ax and began cutting and hewing the timber for a small, one-room house. With help from friends, he raised and roofed the simple building and, on July 4, 1845, he moved in.
Thoreau remained at the cabin for 2 years, 2 months and 2 days. During that period, he fished, wrote, walked, entertained visitors and took the first recorded depth measurements of Walden Pond, which is believed to be the deepest fresh water kettle pond in Massachusetts. The Walden Pond State Reservation comprises 300 acres of land for hiking, swimming and boating.
Thoreau’s Walden provides an engaging description of life in the woods by the pond. He described the building of his cabin in great detail including an itemization of all materials, which cost in total, $28.12.
I dug my cellar in the side of a hill sloping to the south, where a woodchuck had formerly dug his burrow, down through sumach (sp) and blackberry roots, and the lowest stain of vegetation, six feet square by seven deep, to a fine sand where potatoes would not freeze in any winter. (p 21)
Thoreau also captured many fascinating moments, like the battle between two distinctly different colonies of ants, his rambling walks in the woods or his views on nature.
This is a delicious evening, when the whole body is one sense, and imbibes delight though every pore. I go and come with a strange liberty in Nature, a part of herself. (p. 63)
The indescribable innocence and beneficence of Nature – of sun and wind and rain, of summer and winter – such health, such cheer, they afford forever! … Shall I not have intelligence with the earth? Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould (sp) myself? (p. 67)
An image of the first edition of the book is provided here featuring an illustration of his cabin by his sister, Sophia. The original book was titled, Walden; or, Life in the Woods.
As I strolled along the Pond Path in the full sun of a cool fall day, I was initially envious of the opportunity that Thoreau took advantage of. The idea of embracing a lifestyle of solitude in the woods of central Massachusetts holds a certain appeal to me. Yet, as I reflected upon my own situation, my independent lifestyle, my financial security, it occurred to me that the only thing holding me back from conjuring an equally tempting adventure was my own limitations. We all make decisions that shape our lives, sometimes multiple times in the same day like: should we change jobs, should we date that person, should we help that stranger, should we speak up, should we stand up for our principles?
And it dawned on me … that each one of us is capable of making the decision that will change the trajectory of our life, and perhaps the lives of many others. And so I will think a bit more before I jump into that next big decision that appears to be off in the distance, but that I suspect, is literally upon my doorstep, just waiting for me to make before I die.
Thoreau, H.D. (1854). Walden. Boston: Ticknor and Fields.