“Men come tamely home at night only from the next field or street, where their household echoes haunt, and their life pines because it breathes its own breath over again; their shadows, morning and evening, reach farther than their daily steps. We should come home from far, from adventures, and perils, and discoveries every day, with new experience and character.” — Henry David Thoreau, from “Baker Farm,” Walden
When a man lives quietly in a little cabin and rarely ventures much beyond his hometown, what do you suppose he means when he says we “should come home from far… every day”?
Does it mean he’s a hypocrite, setting an impossible standard for others that he doesn’t even try to meet himself?
Or does it mean that he has an unusual idea of what “far” means?
Walden is a book about finding far-ness in your own backyard. Adventures, perils, and discoveries every day? Sure, why not? OK, it is an impossible ideal, and not because we have work to do and can’t go chasing off around the world (because, again, that’s not what this is about), but because some days we’re really open to new experiences and discovery, and some days we just walk by unawares, too distracted with other things. That’s bound to happen. The question is, can we improve our odds, cultivate more of those special, insightful days in which the world around us seems new and unexplored, in which we find “far” right under our feet?
Or to put it another way, experience and familiarity will turn any exotic place or lifestyle ordinary in time. All you have to do is live there a while and it becomes routine. “Far” becomes “near.” Henry went to the woods not because it was unknown to him (it wasn’t; he’d known Walden Pond from childhood) but because he was looking for ways to reverse the usual process, to turn near into far simply by paying attention to it.
(End of chapter, “Baker Farm”)
(About “A Year in Walden”)