Thursday, July 12, 2012

On Walden (Happy 195th Birthday, Henry!)

I first read my dad's copy of Walden when I was in high school. It's a 35-cent paperback edition that, if I recall correctly, my dad picked up while he was teaching in East Africa in the early 60's.

Somehow the book survived his motorcycle ride from Africa to the Middle East and Europe, an ocean voyage, and the subsequent pilfering of the motorcycle's saddlebags on the docks of New York City. It has spent another 40+ years on our family's bookshelves, in at least 6 states and the District of Columbia. It's now a loose collection of pages held together by a rubber band.

This book has seen a lot of the world, but it's not for that cachet of adventure that I love it. It's for the sense of adventure found inside its pages -- the sense of adventure Henry David Thoreau found in staying in one place.

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...I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.

What follows is part nature observation, part simple living, part transcendental philosophy, all recorded during two years in which Thoreau didn't venture farther than he could walk in a day. The ultimate message of Walden is one of introspection: explore thyself. But in the process of exploring himself, Thoreau explores the world around him. He watches the birds, the mice, the ants, the weather. And, ultimately, it becomes one process.

In the midst of a gentle rain...I was suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature, in the very pattering of the drops, and in every sound and sight around my house, an infinite and unaccountable friendliness all at once like an atmosphere sustaining me...Every little pine needle expanded and swelled with sympathy and befriended me...There can be no very black melancholy to him who lives in the midst of nature and has his senses still.

That's the spirit that keeps me coming back to this book again and again -- and the spirit that moves me to write the Natural Capital.

Happy Birthday, Henry!