Walden

I’ve started reading Walden by Henry David Thoreau. I’m not sure how far I’ll get but, so far, it’s full of beautiful language. The man was quotable.

It does seem like a conceit when you think about it though, believing that you have to remove yourself from civilization to ground yourself and take a look at your life and society. The thing is, it’s a conceit that many of us share. Vacations to, ” get away from it all”. Moving far away from home and getting, “a fresh start”. Somehow most of us (including me) have the idea that physical distance makes emotional distance possible. Does it though?

Thoreau took the idea to an extreme. He chose to hide himself away from society as much as possible and try to ground himself. At least, that’s my understanding at this point. Maybe there were other reasons that I haven’t gotten to yet. But, he was right to an extent. Removing yourself from a problematic situation does give you the ability to think about it in ways that you had not before, in the heat of the moment. Whether that thinking is clear and productive depends on the individual.

I think all of the back-to-the-land movements have been about this in a fundamental way. It is a commentary on the wider society at its heart. Wanting to drop out of mainstream society, even in as limited a way as I want to is an acknowledgment that there is something about that society that you don’t like. In fact, you feel it is, in some way, harmful to yourself or your psyche. That reason may be different for everyone, or it may be mostly the same (the hippies in the 1970’s and their rejection of the Vietnam war), but there is always something that prompts a return to the land. In some way, we feel the need to distance ourselves from a problematic situation so that we can see it clearly and resolve or walk away from it.

For me that prompt is food safety and health. For you it might be too much government, or wanting to connect with a simpler time, or wanting to raise your kids outside of city air pollution. Whatever it is, I’ll bet that, at its heart, it is about dissatisfaction with the mainstream society where you are.

There is a difference between that and what thoreau did though. He was holding a grand experiment. He always intended to return to society. The cabin at Walden was to clarify his thinking and live as simply as possible for a while. I’m not sure if that isn’t the more sensible way to think of these moves. See how long you can live as simply as possible. Consider it a great experiment. If you are able to do it the rest of your life, that’s amazing and you should be commended. If you can’t, it was just an experiment, no harm done. You can rejoin society with a clearer understanding of your own mind. 

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4 Responses to Walden

  1. Mark says:

    I think it’s an easier read if you do Chapter 2 first, then go back to Chapter 1….
    I like what you’re saying here, but I think it’s always good to keep in mind that Walden is not “remote” by any means–it’s about a mile from downtown Concord. And we always heard, growing up in Concord, that when the storms got really bad, he wasn’t above walking the two miles to his mother’s house!

    • Point taken. Being originally from California, we were taught that he removed homself mostly from civilization and “roughed it” as much as possible. I will try reading chapter 2 first though, thanks! I am going into this with very little information really. I know him as a transcendentalist and the general theory which that entails, and I’ve read stand-alone excerpts. That’s it. This should be interesting. I appreciate the advice and the clarification. It’s a bit different when looked at in that light!

  2. I agree with you that wanting to drop out might be an acknowledgment that something about society isn’t quite right for us. For me, it was not wanting to live in the fishbowl of suburbanism. However, I am overwhelmed at trying to keep up two acres. Off topic, I exchange magazines with a friend and she had one that was new-to-me: MaryJanesFarm. Kinda thin for the $ but it has a website: MaryJanesFarm.org if you can’t find the magazine.

    • Cool, I’ll check it out! I really appreciate your help and tips! I think that, with the help of my husband and kids as they get older, We’ll be able to handle a few acres. I hope! And, if it gets to be too much, I have no problem moving again, I’ve moved probably a dozen times in my life. It’ll be fun as long as it lasts.

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