Thoreau’s “business” (Walden 19)

Not Walden Pond, but Holmes Creek, Nebraska, just above Conestoga Lake, early morning, July 2010.

Not Walden Pond, but Holmes Creek, Nebraska, just above Conestoga Lake, early morning, July 2010.

So far, Thoreau has had plenty to say about the high value his neighbors place on things that he doesn’t think are all that important. He’s spoken repeatedly of seeking something higher, more noble. What esoteric wisdom is he seeking, anyway? Or, as a Concord resident might have asked, what’s his line of business? Continue reading

Toeing the line between past and future (Walden 18)

More about yesterday’s entry, specifically the phrase “to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and future.”

You hear a lot of talk about ‘living in the moment,’ but what I appreciate about Thoreau’s words is that he is not only in the moment, but he is there with an awareness of the place of that moment within the span of time, to the extent that he can comprehend it. Eternity future and eternity past, and here you stand, toeing that paper-thin margin where there former becomes the latter.

Again, it’s sometimes said that all you really have is the present moment. True enough. You can ruminate on the troubles of the past, or worry about the future, and that’s where focus on the present moment can help. Continue reading

The meeting of two eternities (Walden 17)

In any weather,

at any hour of the day or night,

I have been anxious to improve

the nick of time,

and notch it on my stick too;

to stand on the meeting of

two eternities,

the past and future,

which is precisely the present


to toe that line.

— Henry David Thoreau, from “Economy,” Walden

(About  “A Year in Walden”)

Adventure on life now (Walden 16)


Big bluestem, Nine Mile Prairie, Lincoln, Nebraska

“When a man is warmed by the several modes which I have described, what does he want next? Surely not more warmth of the same kind, as more and richer food, larger and more splendid houses, finer and more abundant clothing, more numerous, incessant, and hotter fires, and the like. When he has obtained those things which are necessary to life, there is another alternative than to obtain the superfluities; and that is, to adventure on life now, his vacation from humbler toil having commenced. The soil, it appears, is suited to the seed, for it has sent its radicle downward, and it may now send its shoot upward also with confidence. Why has man rooted himself thus firmly in the earth, but that he may rise in the same proportion into the heavens above?” — Henry David Thoreau, Walden Continue reading

Oh no! Someone’s wrong on the Internet!

Wise words from David Cain at Raptitude, in a post titled, “Why most internet activists don’t change any minds”. I’ll have more to say about it below. Cain writes:

On Facebook I quietly unsubscribe from friends who regularly make angry issue-related posts, even if they’re right. I don’t want to be pummeled by “truth,” no matter how true it is.

I understand why they do it. I’ve done it. Ignorance — of overfishing, of puppy mills, of normalized sexism, of what vaccines can and can’t do — can be genuinely dangerous, and wanting to reduce this ignorance is understandable.

Some are able to do it carefully and diplomatically, and I have learned a lot from these people.

But most internet activists let contempt seep into the message. It becomes about making others wrong instead of trying to help them be right. Just visit virtually any issue-related message board. It’s adversarial. It’s normal to blame people for their ignorance.

Ignorance, if that’s what it really is, isn’t something people can fairly be blamed for. We don’t choose what not to grasp, what not to have been taught, what not to have understood the significance of.

Ignorance is blind to itself. When you’re trying to rectify ignorance in someone else, it’s easy to forget that you’re ignorant too, in ways you can’t know. Read full post at Raptitude.

Continue reading

Do you want to be an outsider? (Walden 15)

“The success of great scholars and thinkers is commonly a courtier-like success, not kingly, not manly. They make shift to live merely by conformity, practically as their fathers did, and are in no sense the progenitors of a noble race of men.”

Thoreau has long been part of the canon of Great American Writers, meaning that generations of scholars, some great, have read, taught, and been influenced by him. Do they see themselves in this description? To what extent does respectability involve either: 1) sucking up to those in power; or, 2) being dead long enough that you’re no longer perceived as a threat? Continue reading

Are luxuries “hindrances to the elevation of mankind”? (Walden 14)

Walden Pond, 2010. Via Wikimedia Commons

Walden Pond, 2010. Via Wikimedia Commons

Here is one of Thoreau’s explanations for why he went to the woods:

“It would be some advantage to live a primitive and frontier life, though in the midst of an outward civilization, if only to learn what are the gross necessaries of life and what methods have been taken to obtain them.”

From here he goes into a long discussion of food, shelter, and clothing. At times he sounds like he’s going off the deep end into an extreme asceticism. For example, he writes that “the New Hollander goes naked with impunity, while the European shivers in his clothes. Is it impossible to combine the hardiness of these savages with the intellectualness of the civilized man?”

Not that he went quite that far. “At the present day, and in this country, as I find by my own experience, a few implements, a knife, an axe, a spade, a wheelbarrow, etc., and for the studious, lamplight, stationery, and access to a few books, rank next to necessaries, and can all be obtained at a trifling cost.”

Why would anyone do this? Remember Henry’s earlier comments about work and worry. The point here isn’t to suffer, but to reduce your wants to the point that you don’t have to work all the time to keep yourself comfortable. He wanted to leave himself plenty of time to walk in the woods, chat with strangers, read books, think, and generally enjoy himself. His fellow townsmen would consider it a master plan for maximum laziness. Continue reading