“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” Henry David Thoreau.
My friends tend to be a bit cynical. Nothing is sacred—when I brought up that I was reading Thoreau in class, they immediately took to calling him nothing but an over-read hippie living in his parent’s backyard, who didn’t even live off the land like people think he did. He was a Ralph Waldo Emerson-wannabe whose 200-page-long rambling was somehow called a masterpiece.
Well…sure, yeah. But the thing to remember with Thoreau was that while he appreciated nature deeply, it was never his mantra to leave civilization altogether. After all, a lot of his work is quite political. He did love Emerson, and actually lived on land owned by Emerson (not his parents). However, beyond the cynical retaliation my generation sometimes tends to have, Thoreau is a pioneer of minimalism and the positives of solitude.
My grandfather once gave me a shirt two sizes too big with that quote on it. He’s also given me about three different copies of Walden, and once mailed me a copy of Civil Disobedience, with his own highlights and notes in the margins. He’d often sketch trees, birds, lakes and mountains in the corners of the pages before giving them to me.
I think he saw introversion in me from a very young age. He too is an introvert, and spends quite a lot of time walking alone in the woods, fishing, reading, and sketching. He once sent me a letter with the only “I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude,” written in it, another Thoreau quote.
It’s nice to have someone like that to look up to. Someone who won’t call you anti-social for wanting to be alone, but who will actually encourage it—in healthy doses, of course. I do think he was smart to tie nature to my ideas of solitude, though. Being alone in nature allows for all the positives of being alone without any of the negatives. You don’t feel lonely or unproductive when in nature.
While I think I have the “solitude” part down, I still have to work on “simplifying” things. That’s alright. Perhaps this summer I’ll go back to Walden Pond. Maybe being in that sacred place will help me understand, just as it helped Thoreau so long ago, and my Grandfather when he was my age. Perhaps this is our version of a pilgrimage.