Sunday, October 5, 2014

A salute to simple living

At least once each year when our girls were in elementary school, we'd go to Concord and visit Walden Pond. Sometimes we'd swim at the small beach, and sometimes we'd hike the two-mile path around the pond, passing the site of Henry David Thoreau's cabin. I think Thoreau would be pleased to know one daughter is now a leader in arts development while the other assists scholars doing scientific research to improve the environment.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

Thoreau grew up in Concord, the son of a pencil-maker. After graduating from Harvard in 1837, he tried his hand at writing but publishers rejected his work. He and his brother John started an innovative grammar school but it closed four years later when John contracted tetanus and died in Henry's arms. Henry fell in love with John's former sweetheart, Ellen Sewell. He proposed, but her father refused to consent because Thoreau was "a dreamer who wouldn't amount to anything." So Henry went back to pencil-making, but still inspired many of his neighbors. Teenage Louise May Alcott took walks in the woods with him as he explained each tree and flower. He often babysat Ralph Waldo Emerson's children, sometimes living with them while the Sage of Concord was away on lecture tours. In 1845 he quit making pencils and built a tiny cabin at Walden Pond, just two miles from his family home. He lived there almost three years while on a voyage of personal independence and spiritual discovery which he later shared in his book, Walden, available at your local library. If you have five spare minutes and would like to walk around Walden Pond and see a replica of his cabin, visit   Meanwhile, here are a few lessons Thoreau learned while living at Walden.

Walden Pond in autumn

"It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see.  Be not simply good. Be good for something. Goodness is the only investment that never fails. The world is but a canvas to our imagination. What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals. The language of friendship is not words but meanings. Friends are kind to one another's dreams. Wealth is the ability to fully-experience life. The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation, because men have become the tools of their tools. I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately...and not, when I came to die, to discover that I had not lived."

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