When I think of life, I wish for a time of simplicity. Before internet, busy schedules, constant appointments and “to do” lists. When I want to imagine and visualize simpler times, I read Thoreau’s books.
Henry David Thoreau was born in 1817 in Concord, Massachusetts. His name was actually David Henry but chose to be addressed in the former way. He was not successful during his lifetime and never married or had any children. He was friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson. He was a graduate of Harvard College and a teacher. He was highly educated and taught Latin, Greek, French and Science.
Thoreau was a transcendentalist. The idea of a personal relationship with God, self- reliance, reject materialism, and embrace and focus on nature. Thoreau was against slavery, the Mexican-American War and politics. He valued the lessons learned by nature;by simply walking in the woods. He wrote books like Civil Disobedience and Walking. But my favorite book is Walden.
I visited Walden Pond in the summer of 2020. As you walk across the parking lot there is a replica of Thoreau’s simple cabin. The actual site of where his house stood can be found after a short hike through the woods to the other end of the pond. As I walk around it and read the signs, I think about how remarkable Thoreau was in his thinking, in his vision and in his writing.
Thoreau came to Walden in 1845 where he built a small cabin with his own two hands on land owned by Emerson. He lived in somewhat isolation from society for two years, two months, and two days. ” Who knows but if men constructed their dwellings with their own hands, and provided food for themselves and families simply and honestly enough, the poetic faculty would be universally developed as birds universally sing when they are so engaged? But alas!we do like cowbirds and cuckoos, which lay their eggs in nests which other birds have built…” He talks a lot about self reliance, accountability and independence. Ideals so far removed from society today.
In terms of education he writes,” …I mean that they should not play life, or study it merely, while the community supports them at this expensive game, but earnestly live it from beginning to end.” He believed that children learn best by doing. He believed that villages should be universities and elders the teachers.
In terms of politics he writes, ” That government is best which governs least.” He felt that the government was losing its integrity and trying to control too much of people’s lives. He actually refused to pay poll tax and was thrown in jail for the night. He pointed out the foolishness of the political institution and why he disrespected it and therefore refused allegiance to Massachusetts.
In terms of society’s problems, he simply states,” I am convinced, that if all men were to live as simply as I did, thieving and robbery would be unknown. These take place only in communities where some have got more than is sufficient while others have not enough.” Thoreau’s cabin was very meager and he grew his own food and fished. He was not in want or in debt to anyone.
Thoreau’s life tells a story. His story is an inspirational one. ” I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life and to see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” This is a life altering message. Imagine spending your whole life with material comforts and come to the end of your life and realize that you never really lived out what life has to offer. Thoreau died on May 6, 1862 at the age of 44, fully having lived.