I’m close to finishing Walden, by Henry David Thoreau.
This is impressive for me, since I’ve attempted it many times.
‘Visitors’, is the one chapter that has stood out to me the most. Thoreau paints portraits of people who stopped by his house on Walden Pond. Some, he writes, seem to be uncomfortable and anxious outside, and others “generally seemed glad to be in the woods.”
Those that dismissed his ‘position’ in life, were generally “restless committed men, whose time was all taken up in getting a living or keeping it” and “young men who had ceased to be young, and had concluded that it was safest to follow the beaten track of the professions.”
Since all readers of Walden are ‘visitors’ in a sense, it made me wonder, who do I identify with? What would I say or think if I was there, looking around his home and surroundings?
In my life, and my daily behavior, I really should side with the “men of business”, who thought only of the “solitude and (lack of) employment.” I’d say: What do you really do all day? What are you contributing back to society? You couldn’t live this way if you were poor!
Concord, not that far away, seemed to me full of things to buy and sell and people to meet. It symbolized ambition, enterprise and potential. Walden Pond, in contrast, is an echo chamber (with chipmunks and flowers).
But I can’t truly identify with the haters of Walden. In the way I’ve seen and experienced life so far, I’ve found no proof that people or ideas are that black and white. It would be easy to dismiss Thoreau as a weird guy, and to happily go back to my work in the town. I could sleep easy, if my life and values were so precisely categorized and calibrated.
If I visited Walden, I’d like to think I’d be genuinely interested in his life and activities. I’d admire his mission, ask lots of questions, and listen.
But at the end of the day, I’d admit, truthfully, that it’s not for me.