Tag Archives: people

Thoreau and the half-wits (Walden 104)

“Half-witted men from the almshouse and elsewhere came to see me; but I endeavored to make them exercise all the wit they had, and make their confessions to me; in such cases making wit the theme of our conversation; and so was compensated. Indeed, I found some of them to be wiser than the so-called overseers of the poor and selectmen of the town, and thought it was time that the tables were turned. With respect to wit, I learned that there was not much difference between the half and the whole.” — Henry David Thoreau, “Visitors,” Walden Continue reading

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Thoreau’s friend the Canadian woodchopper (Walden 103)

While in the woods, Thoreau met a French Canadian woodchopper who was a “true Homeric or Paphlagonian man.” (Paphlagonia was an ancient Roman province on the Black Sea.) His name was Alek Therien. Henry does not name him in the book, but describes him at length; he obviously likes and admires the man, and his comments tell us a lot about the characteristics that Henry valued in a person.

“A more simple and natural man it would be hard to find. Vice and disease, which cast such a sombre moral hue over the world, seemed to have hardly any existence for him. He was about twenty-eight years old, and had left Canada and his father’s house a dozen years before to work in the States, and earn money to buy a farm with at last, perhaps in his native country.”

Henry liked him because he was sincere, unpretentious, thought for himself, and lived simply. He was good at what he did but wasn’t obsessed with work. He was friendly and sociable but spent a good deal of time alone. Continue reading

Where Good Ideas Come From

Which is more important to the creative person, solitary contemplation or interaction with others? My previous post about introversion vs. extroversion kind of dealt with this, in that certain personality types tend to favor one or the other, and that both types are important to innovation. Continue reading

Snowbound: an instant community of stranded travelers

“Is there any way open to Omaha?” I asked the fireman in the yellow coat.

“Nope,” he said for maybe the two hundredth time as he stood greeting motorists on the I-80 offramp at Avoca, Iowa. Somewhere up ahead in the howling blizzard lay a couple of jackknifed trucks blocking the Interstate. Maybe I could detour around it, I thought, and get as far as my in-laws’ place before the rest of the highways closed. Just forty more miles. That’s all I needed.

Instead, I wound up coaxing my little car up and down the hilly streets of Avoca, population 1,500, looking for the Lutheran Church, one of the places where travelers were sent after the motels filled up. Continue reading